There are a number of ways you can tweak Windows, whether you are looking to improve performance, iron out irritations, improve security or change the appearance of something you dislike. Some settings can be changed through the Control Panel, some by using a third party tweaking tool, or you may prefer to dabble in a little registry editing. But if you have the Professional version of Windows 8 there is also Group Policy Editor and here we have rounded up ten top tweaks you can apply in this way.
Group Policy Editor can be accessed in a few different ways, but the easiest is to press the Windows key and R simultaneously, type gpedit.msc and press Enter.
1. Block Control Panel Applets
There are numerous reasons to block access to individual control panel applets, not least of which is prevent other users from changing the settings you have put in place. You can tackle this in one of two ways, either blocking access to particular applets, or only providing access to specific applets.
Navigate to Local Computer Policy\User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Control Panel and double click either ‘Hide specified Control Panel items’ or ‘Show only specified Control Panel Item’ and then select Enabled.
Now click the show button and for each applets you want to either show or hide, or enter the relevant canonical name using the list provided by Microsoft.
2. Disable Aero Shake
If you like flicking windows around but don’t want this to lead to other windows from being minimized, navigate to Local Computer Policy\User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Desktop. Double click the entry labelled ‘Turn off Aero Shake windows minimizing mouse gesture’, select Enabled and then click OK.
3. Disable Toast Notifications
Windows 8 now has a new way to display notifications. Modern apps can generate toast notifications that appear to the upper right of the screen. If you would rather that these were not displayed, navigate to Local Computer Policy\User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Start Menu and Taskbar\Notifications. Double click ‘Turn off toast notifications’, select Enabled and click OK.
4. Block Startup Items
There are different ways in which programs and scripts can be configured to run when Windows starts, and the Group Policy Editor provides a quick and easy way to block them all in one place. Go to Local Computer Policy\User Configuration\Administrative Templates\System\Logon and set both ‘Do not process the legacy run list’ and ‘Do not process the run once list’ to Enabled.
Interestingly, the ‘Run these programs at user logon’ can also be used to add ‘hidden’ startup items that many other users will not know how to disable. All you need to do is provide the path to the documents or executables that should be launched.
5. Block Removable Media
Removable media such as USB drives can be useful, but they can also be a huge source of problems, particularly if you are administering a system used by people who insist on trying to install their own software or are lackadaisical when it comes to staying virus-free.
Navigate to Local Computer Policy\User Configuration\Administrative Templates\System\Removable Storage Media and a wealth of options are shown to the right. There are a number of different types of removable media to choose from and it is possible to disable both read and write access as required.
6. Prevent Password Revealing
A new feature of Windows 8 makes it possible to remove the asterisks that mask passwords as they are entered. While this can occasionally be useful to ensure that passwords are entered correctly, it is also something of a security risk and can be disabled.
Navigate down to Local Computer Policy\User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Credential Interface and then enable the ‘Do no display the password reveal button’ option.
7. Minimize Explorer’s Ribbon
Windows 8’s ribbon is a controversial addition to the UI, but Group Policy Editor can be used to force Explorer to start with the ribbon minimized. All you need to do is browse to Local Computer Policy\User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\File Explorer and enable the setting labelled ‘Start File Explorer with ribbon minimized.
8. Customize the Places Bar
The Places bar is supposed to provide easy access to frequently used locations on your hard drive, but it is not immediately obvious how to go about changing the default locations that are shown. If you have opted to minimize Explorer’s ribbon in the previous tip, you are already in roughly the right section of Group Policy Editor.
Head over to Local Computer Policy\User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\File Explorer and open the Common Open File Dialog branch. Double click the entry labeled ‘Items displayed in the Place Bar’, select Enabled and then enter up to five locations before clicking OK.
9. Stop Session Restoration in Internet Explorer
The option to restore tabs from a previous browsing session in Internet Explorer is certainly useful, but in the case of a shared computer it can also represent a privacy threat. If you would rather plug this hole, head to Local Computer Policy\User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Internet Explorer and enable the ‘Turn off Reopen Last Browsing Session’ option.
10. Permit Installation of non-Store Apps
Just as is the case with Android and iOS, Microsoft is keen that users only installed apps that have been made available through official channels. We have looked at how to sideload apps in Windows 8 before, and this is a great option if you are a developer or just don’t want to be tied down.
A quick tip to finish with: there is no need to restart your computer for the settings you have changed to take effect; you can force an update from the command line. Hit the Windows key and R simultaneously, type gpupdate /force and press Enter.
Of course, these are just ten of the many tweaks and changes you can put in place using Group Policy Editor. If there are any others that you think are essential, share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.