How To: Prevent users changing Windows settings

If you share your computer with family members, it can be very annoying to find that settings have been changed, or software installed or uninstalled, without your permission. If you set up computers for other people to use, such as company employees, then you may wish that you could prevent them from changing the settings you have made, or from adding or removing software. Well, it's possible.

Windows has a system called Group Policies, which allows the system administrator to control what activities other computer users are allowed to do. You can restrict what users do down to a fine level of detail, from what items they can see in the Control Panel, or whether they are allowed to access the Control Panel at all; to whether they can move or resize the Task Bar and whether any changes to the desktop are saved when they log out. The group policy settings are stored in the registry. However, the standard Windows control panels provide no way to change any of these settings.

Group Policy Editor

Windows XP Professional comes with a tool called the Group Policy Editor. This allows an administrator to change the system policy settings as required. The Group Policy Editor is not included in Windows XP Home.

If you have Windows XP Professional, you can start the Group Policy Editor by clicking Start, Run and entering the command gpedit.msc.

The Group Policy Editor is included in Windows XP Professional, and it's pretty complicated to use.

However, the Group Policy Editor is a powerful tool that should be used with care. It is a tool designed for use by professional system administrators who have received appropriate training in how to use it. In untutored hands it is easy to deny yourself access to your own computer. This is why the Group Policy Editor is not included in Windows XP Home. But even if you do have Windows XP Professional, you should consider using a safer alternative.

Third party software

One such alternative is Tweaking Toolbox XP, a Windows XP configuration tool that's safer and easier to use than the Group Policy Editor and which can be installed and used on both Home and Professional versions of Windows XP. Tweaking Toolbox XP presents all the most useful policy settings, and many other settings that affect the look and feel of Windows, and allows you to change them to suit your needs.

Tweaking Toolbox XP makes it much easier to customize Windows XP policy settings.

The settings that can be changed are conveniently grouped into categories, and help is available to explain the effect of each setting. For safety, Tweaking Toolbox XP creates a system restore point each time it starts, allowing any changes to be reversed should a problem be experienced.

Find out more about Tweaking Toolbox XP.