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Group Policy Preferences Overview

Requirements and Features
By Darren Mar-Elia, SDM Software

The Group Policy Preferences (GPP) feature was first made available at the release of Windows Server 2008. GPP is technology that Microsoft acquired when they purchased DesktopStandard and was referred to as PolicyMaker. Essentially, GPP is a set of client-side extensions and a management interface that adds to the policy capabilities that were previously available from Windows. The name “Preferences” underscores the fact that all of these new policy capabilities added by GPP are just that— preferences rather than policies that cannot be undone by an end-user. That being said, they do allow for a wide variety of additional configuration capability through Group Policy that previously had required complex logon scripts to automate.

Despite its coincident release with Server 2008, you do not need to have Server 2008 deployed in your environment in order to deploy and use GPP. In fact, the new policy features in GPP support XP, Server 2003, Vista and Server 2008 “clients”. In order for clients to process GPP policy settings, they must install the GPP Client Side Extension (CSE) package, which is available from Microsoft’s download site ( There is a version for each platform so ensure that you install the correct version. The CSE package does not ship as a .MSI file, so unfortunately (and ironically) it can not be deployed using the GP Software Installation feature. Note that SP1 for Vista installs the CSEs by default. All other platforms currently require a separate installation. Its also important to note that some platforms require a pre-requisite package called XMLLite before you can deploy the GPP CSEs. More information about XMLLite can be found on any of the GPP CSE download pages. It is worth noting that if any of the following conditions are true on your client systems, they do not need the XMLLite package pre-installed:  Windows Server 2003, SP2 and Windows XP SP3 already include XMLLite, and thus it’s not required as a separate install before you install Group Policy Preferences on those versions of the OS Windows Server 2003, SP1 and Windows XP, SP2 with Internet Explorer 7 installed also do not need XMLLite, as it is included with IE 7.

In addition to installing the GPP CSE on all client systems that you want to deploy GPP settings too, you need to be able to manage those settings. That means having a version of the Group Policy

if over-used! Now let’s look at each main feature within GPP and describe how it can add value to your Windows configuration management tasks. update or replace an existing one.  Environment: The environment extension is per-computer and per-user and lets you configure both system and user environment variables (e. the “Marketing” OU using the native GPO linking.Management Console (GPMC) and Group Policy Editor MMC snap-in that recognizes those settings. you then need GPMC installed. this much granularity can be both a blessing and a curse. GP Preferences are found within the GPME snap-in under Computer or User Configuration\Preferences. Before we get into specific features. you must be running either a Vista. This is significantly different from previous Group Policy filtering capabilities in that previously your only control over which computers and users received a GPO were by using security group filtering. or are on a specific IP address range. linking of the GPO and/or WMI filters. With those pre-requisites. In order to manage GPP settings. or only during a specific period of the day. Note that with all GPP settings. there are probably very few scenarios that require you to still use logon scripts to configure aspects of your environment. you must install the separate Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) package and then install the Group Policy Management feature that is part of RSAT. this can be installed as a separate feature called “Group Policy Management”. allows you to set very granular filters on individual policy items within a GPO. SP1 system or a Server 2008 system. using both GPMC and the “new” GP Management Editor (GPME). Files: Both a per-computer and per-user extension that lets you distribute files to your end-user computer or user.g. Features GPP comes with a large number of new capabilities for policy-based configuration management. On Server 2008. you might use this to distribute shortcuts to your user’s desktops or data files required for a local desktop application. So. in addition to targeting say. It’s a fair statement to make that once you are leveraging GPP. as the name implies.msc and see GPP settings. SP1. you will not. so if you expecting to start gpedit. you can both report on and manage GPP settings just as you would the normal GP settings. Itemlevel targeting. you can choose different actions for this extension.  . You can create a new environment variable. Once that is installed. %temp%) on a given target system. Item-level targeting allows you to have different filtering criteria for each setting within a given GPO. within either a Windows Settings or Control Panel Settings subfolder. there are no less than 27 filter criteria that you can use to control individual settings within a GPO. On Vista. Note that GPP settings are not supported on the local GPO. you can also use item-level targeting on GPP settings within that GPO to target only the market computers in that OU that are on laptops. its worthwhile to point out one significant capability that GPP brings that is not available in any of the “native” Group Policy settings. This is a feature called “item-level targeting”. Indeed. or delete an existing one. Obviously. For example.

This extension does not copy . Data Sources: This is a per-computer and per-user extension that lets you manage system or user ODBC data sources used by applications that leverage databases. which are stored encrypted within the GPO.lnk files around. So. . Because this extension provides the ability to easily push registry values to computers and users through a GUI interface. and because it supports all the different value types in the registry. the extension lets you set a user limit on the share and even enable the Access-Based Enumeration (ABE) feature on Server 2003. Note that using this extension along with item-level targeting by user group. the icon that appears with the shortcut and any arguments for the target that the shortcut executes Drive Maps: This is a per-user extension that lets you control drive mappings for end users. You can create. You can create. within a single GPO.g. but rather creates shortcuts on the fly. this extension effectively eliminates the need for creating custom ADM files for pushing out registry modifications through Administrative Template policy. web URLs and Windows shell objects (e. Ini files are an old Windows configuration method that pre-dates the registry. you might use this setting to delete temporary folders that get created on computers. This extension lets you choose the ODBC driver type. delete and update shares. and provide credentials for the connection to the database. you can effectively replace logon scripts that map drives based on group membership. In addition. For example. you could use this extension to deny the use of all thumb drives or all CD burners. Registry: Both a per-computer and per-user extension—this extension is powerful in that you can create.        Folders: Both a per-computer and per-user extension that lets you create. delete or update values within text-based ini files. You can actually use this extension to update individual key-value pairs within an INI file without having to write a new file down to the computer or user. delete and update drive mappings to UNC paths and can control which drive letter is mapped (or use next available). Ini Files: Both a per-computer and per-user extension that lets you create. on any target system. but that are still used by some applications. for example. Network Shares: A per-computer extension only—this extension lets you create shares on target computers—be they desktops or servers. You can also choose to hide or show the particular drive letter to the user. that meet your specifications. My Computer). update and delete folder structures on target systems or users. Note that this device restriction capability is less granular than that provided in native Group Policy for Vista. Shortcuts: This is both a per-computer and per-user extension that lets you create and distribute shortcuts to computers and users. Devices: This is a per-computer and per-user extension that lets you allow or deny use of devices based on the device class. but does provide a basic device restriction capability for XP clients that did not exist otherwise. You can specify all of the normal parameters of a shortcut. but in fact does not expose the ability to control share permissions. in fact. You can manage shortcuts to file systems. including the “Start in” field. delete and update registry keys and values on target systems. SP1.

etc. The passwords themselves are stored as 256-bit AES encrypted strings within the GPO’s setting storage in SYSVOL. And. which means that you can set an immediate task to execute as soon as Group Policy processes this setting. You can also configure power schemes. This means you can. you can use this extension along with item-level targeting to map printers based on criteria such as user groups or IP address ranges. you can also use this extension to update the passwords on existing accounts. and if something changes in your VPN configuration. in fact. and probably the most common way of connecting up a user with a printer. TCP/IP or Local printers. It also supports something called an immediate task. While this extension is somewhat redundant to the existing Group Policy security setting . also use this extension to update or remove existing associations. Basically this provides a Group Policy interface into the Windows Task Scheduler on target systems. Power Options: This per-computer and per-user extension lets you configure power management settings on XP/2003 systems (note that Vista/2008 comes with GP-based power management options already). you can use this extension to associate all . These schemes define.pdf files with a particular PDF Writer. For example. think of this feature as a more flexible version of Restricted Groups policy. Shared printers are per-user only. Network Options: This per-computer and per-user extension lets you manage VPN and Dial-up Networking (DUN) connections on your systems. you can delete all members from groups and you can add/remove members from groups. But. on battery. You can of course. for example. for example. Scheduled Tasks: This per-computer and per-user extension lets you create scheduled tasks to execute applications at particular times. how the hard drive and CPU behave. Local Users and Groups: This is both a per-computer and per-user extension that provides a variety of control around local user and group accounts. For example. more interestingly. Services: This is a per-computer extension that lets you control service configuration. You can rename groups. You can use it to install Shared. on laptops when you close their lid or press the power button. Within this GPP feature. you can use this extension to create a new local user on all of your desktop or server machines. delete and update existing groups and their members. which include things like enabling hibernation and setting the behavior. This is true for all passwords that are supported in GPP. centrally create a VPN client configuration for all of your corporate users that require VPN-based remote access.       Folder Options: This is a per-computer and per-user extension that lets you set file extension associations. like the local administrator. thereby giving you the ability to make periodic mass password changes to the local administrator account on all your machines. You can configure power options. you can create. like the Drive Maps extension. you can easily update those connections using this feature. how long before the monitor shuts off when the system is plugged in vs. Printers: This per-computer and per-user extension lets you manage printer mappings. including creating your own custom schemes. for example. such as Adobe Acrobat. As for group management.

g. Apply once and do not reapply: Normally. currency. data and time are displayed. Internet Settings: This per-user extension provides additional control over IE 5.g. Regional Settings applet. Update. as well as customizing “Classic Start Menu” behavior. Item-level targeting: Provides the granular targeting that we have already discussed. Although GP already provides both IE Maintenance policy and Administrative Templates settings for controlling IE security and behavior. While you can’t configure service security using this extension. the GPP version of this feature gives you more control. Delete. how numbers. this extension supports the ability to perform actions on the service (like stopping and starting it) when the policy is processed. General Behaviors In addition to the features listed above. Note that this extension supports both XP and Vista. Create. such as default user locale.g. Replace) or in the case of a change to the underlying setting (e. 6 and 7 configurations.   . the user un-does a setting that has been delivered by GPP. each policy item in GPP supports some general behaviors to help future control how the settings are applied to users and computers. restart after failure or run an external program when the service fails). Start Menu: This per-user extension lets you control the configuration of the Start Menu and its various options. then the setting is applied once but then never again. set the size of Start Menu icons and how many programs appear. Remove this item when it is no longer applied: Let’s you forcibly remove the policy setting when the policy falls out of scope of the user or computer (otherwise the policy setting is left in place). such as the ability to configure all of the options on IE’s Tools. These are:    Stop Processing items in this extension if an error occurs: prevents further GP processing for a given extension if an error is encountered. Advanced tab as well as more common aspects such as the Connections tab. and the user’s default country location. preferences apply based on the action you choose (e. this GPP extension provides some additional control that these two earlier policy areas do not. If this option is checked. home page and the size of Temporary Internet Files and browser history. you can configure elements of a service such as the account that it uses to logon to the system (along with password changes to those service accounts) as well as the recovery behavior of the service (e. Internet Options. This option is useful for making one-time “suggestions” for a given setting that the user can override. Regional Options: This per-user extension provides the ability to control the options available in the Control Panel. From here you can enable or disable items that should appear on the Start Menu. In addition.   that lets you configure service startup type and security. Run in logged-on user’s security context (user policy option): per-user GPP settings will normally run in the context of the system account unless this option is specified.

in addition to all of the added configuration capabilities within GPP. SP1 or Server 2008 to manage these new settings. but the fact that it is there. And while you do need at least Vista. . means that there are few configuration tasks on Windows that can’t be performed centrally using Group Policy. as well as very granular targeting of policy. Care need be taken to ensure that you don’t go overboard with item-level targeting. GP Preferences provides a wealth of additional policy configuration capabilities.Summary As you can see. they can be processed by any systems running XP and above with the CSE package installed.