Windows 10 - No group policy editor? Policy Plus!

Updated: October 20, 2018

If you wish to enable, restrict or control certain administrative functionality in Windows, there are multiple ways you can implement tweaks. But in the end, it all comes down to registry changes. You can make these manually, with a registry editor (regedit.exe) or you can make them using Group Policies. The latter is a set of administrative templates that allow system functionality to be shaped and then replicated across multiple nodes, simplifying management. Although changes still happen in the registry under the hood, Group Policies are exposed to users via a friendly human-readable UI editor, and they are safer than manual registry work. The only problem is, you don't get Group Policies in Windows Home.

Indeed, I've noticed a lot of people clamoring over the fact that Windows 10 Home does not have this magical group policy editor, which comes with a handy name of gpedit.msc. This is nothing new. Going as far back as Windows XP at the very least, Home editions of the Windows operating system did not have the group policy editor, and people who wanted to make changes had to make registry tweaks. Which is where the utility named Policy Plus comes in. After me.

Teaser

Tell me more

I shall. First, the attempt to include gpedit.msc into Home versions of Windows is not a new thing. It's been done for every single version of Windows, and always with rather bad results, I must say. You would get tweaks that show how to enable or run the Group Policy Editor in Windows Home, but it meant hacking system files and possibly invalidating the support/warranty, and worse yet, this rarely worked. Sometimes, you'd have a UI but the changes would not actually be implemented into registry. You'd only get a bogus visual effect. For that reason, I'm not going to talk about any method where you hack files across system folders.

Policy Plus does things differently. It presents a UI, in a manner, style and wording that is very similar to how gpedit.msc looks and behaves like, but it uses its own functions to access the registry and make necessary changes. Policy Plus is a standalone tool, it is compliant with Windows support, and it works in all versions and editions of Windows, namely 7 through 10, Home through Enterprise, although technically, you do not need this for Pro, Ultimate, Education, or Enterprise builds.

Testing, testing

I download the tool and ran it (as admin). It is very consistent with gpedit.msc, but then, it also differs slightly in how it behaves. By default, it will present a smaller subset of administrative templates than what you'd expect. But it also has the option to download these (wait, don't). We will get to that soon.

Main view

View options

Share options

The tool has a lot of nifty features. Apart from the obvious usage, which is just like gpedit.msc, it lets you import and export policies and registry changes, so you can replicate those across multiple systems. It also comes with a powerful search function, with detailed filtering.

Cortana search example

Filter options

Support definitions

Showing only Windows 10

However, please note that if you filter, say at least Windows 10, it will only show options that have been added in Windows 10, but there are also options from previous versions of Windows that may still be applicable. This means the presented set is more sort of an exclude rather than include list.

Making changes

I started by trying a few obvious, visible changes. Like camera access. For each selected policy, you have several options. You can implemented changes for the computer (all users) or for your user. Some policies are only available for one or the other, some for both. You get detailed explanations on what each policy does. Moreover, in some cases, you will note a non-intuitive Enabled option to block/stop/disable certain functionality, and in others, the other way around. Some of the policies are kind of double-negative options, like do not allow whatever, which means you need to enable it to prevent something from running.

Working

Working, zoomed

Edit policy details

Semantic Policy, Details, Element Inspector

If you want to learn even more about the particular policy, you can right-click. There are several options here, all extremely useful. You can check the Semantic Policy Fragment, i.e. how the system interprets the particular settings (and then you can script this if you need to). You can also get policy details - again, useful for scripting. Finally, the Element Inspector will show you the detailed breakdown of registry paths, keys and values that are affected by the particular policy, so you know exactly what's happening behind the scenes.

Semantics

Details

Element inspector

Element inspector, more

Extra templates

Policy Plus contains only a subset of available administrative templates. You can import more. You can manually download and install these, or do it through the tool's menu. Now, this will effectively import all administrative templates from around Windows 2000 onwards. This is good if you need to administer multiple systems running different editions of Windows, but it will create an unnecessary clutter otherwise. I tested this in Windows 10, and then had to sift through hundreds of policies that were only applicable to XP or Windows Vista or alike. There's really no reason to do this unless you truly need to. Just keep whatever's available by default, as that's the smallest subset that will actually result in actual, meaningful functionality changes on your system. If you do use all these templates, search and filtering can help.

Acquire ADMX

Download templates

Templates downloaded

With new templates

Don't forget to save!

Once you're done, you must save the changes via the file menu. Otherwise, policy changes won't be written and you won't see any difference in the system behavior. Let the tool write the changes and then you can test what gives. BTW, should I remind you that having system backups and images is always useful before doing something like this?

Policies saved

Results

Policy Plus works as advertised. The camera example from earlier is a good example. With the new policy in place with forced deny, the user no longer has the option to turn the camera on/off. I tried some other random settings, and again, you get the expected results.

Camera disabled

No magical solutions

One thing that you need to remember - Policy Plus is NOT a replacement for buying the "higher" editions of Windows. For instance, on Windows 10 Home, there was no option to stop telemetry or Windows Updates. Certain features are just not there, and having a UI does not change that. Policy Plus can only do what the system can do, with a nicer frontend and more safety than rummaging through the registry. This is definitely not a short way of having enterprise functionality. It does not work that way.

WU settings

Most of these options only apply to Windows XP through 8.

Irrelevant options for Windows 10

Telemetry policies

And some of these settings only work in Pro and above.

Conclusion

Policy Plus is an excellent administrative tool for advanced Windows users. It makes most sense for those running Home editions of their operating system. There are some rather cool features in Policy plus, like the ability to inspect each option in detail, powerful filtering, and the extra templates. The usage isn't trivial though, and you need to be careful, but overall, it works reliably and safely.

You should also be aware that Policy Plus does not replace missing functionality. It will not render Windows Home into an omnipotent enterprise player. It's all about exposing the registry in a more convenient way and replicating the work across multiple machines - that's its true strength. For ordinary work, well this is an overkill. My testing with Windows 10 Home shows that you can implement most of what you need through the settings plus some extra tweaks of various services. But when you need a little bit of extra admin rigor, this program can be quite useful. It's definitely a keeper. Take care.

Cheers.

You may also like: