For ages, organizations deploying Windows installations wanted a uniform look for their machines, to work on their professional image towards employees, partners and customers.
Now, in Windows 8, a couple of new Group Policy settings have been introduced to centrally manage the new user interface features.
In this blogpost I’ll discuss the five new Group Policy settings and how you can use them to give your Windows 8 installations a uniform look.
You can use these settings in addition to your current set of uniformity settings:
1. Prevent changing lock screen image
For a consistent image to the outside world, we might want our company-owned machines to display the company logo on the lock screen. This is easily achieved in the image in combination with this Group Policy setting. If you want to use your company-owned bitmap, make sure to place a file with sufficient dimensions in *.jpg, *.bmp or *.png format in C:\Windows\Web\Screen.
This setting is found within Computer Configuration, Administrative Templates, Control Panel, Personalization.
When this policy is enabled and the user goes to the Personalization settings in the Modern Control Panel, he/she will see the message “Some settings on this page have been disabled by group policy.” on the “Lock Screen” tab.
2. Prevent changing start menu background
This Group Policy setting prevents users from changing the look of their Start screen background, such as its color or accent. If you enable this setting, users will no longer be able to change the look of their Start screen background and they will instead see the Start screen background set prior to enabling this setting, for instance the choice you’ve made for the Default User profile.
When this policy is enabled and the user goes to the Personalization settings in the Modern Control Panel, he/she will see the message “Some settings on this page have been disabled by group policy.” on the “Start screen” tab, as depicted below:
Just like the previous Group Policy setting, this setting can also be found within Computer Configuration, Administrative Templates, Control Panel, Personalization.
3. Always use custom logon background
This setting, while located somewhere completely different within the Group Policy hierarchy, complements the above two settings, by changing the background color of the logon screen to the background color of the Start screen of the default user profile.
This setting is located in Computer Configuration, Administrative Templates, System, Logon.
4. Apply the default account picture to all users
This Group Policy setting is useful in environments with local and domain accounts, only. Microsoft accounts (previously known as Windows Live IDs) already have an account picture.
While this is not particularly a new Group Policy setting for Windows 8 (it applies to Windows Vista and above), the implications of this setting are more prominently visible in Windows 8 and its behavior has changed.
Not only is the account picture in Windows 8 located on the Logon screen, also, every time you open the Start screen it is displayed in the top right corner and you click it to log off and switch user accounts. In contrast to Windows Vista and Windows 7, where the account picture was displayed on the top right of the Start menu, but the buttons to log off, etc. were located in the bottom right.
Also, the way to change this setting is different from earlier versions of Windows, where you would (re)place jpg files. Using this setting you can enable Windows to display a default User Account Picture from C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Default Account Pictures. It is enabled by default, but when you overwrite the three default user.png and guest.png pictures with 448 x 448 pixel, 20 x 20 pixel and 200 x 200 pixel representations of your company logo, be sure to force this setting to enabled.
5. Do not sync personalize
This Group Policy setting is useful in environments where users log on with Microsoft accounts, like environments relying heavily on Office 365.
‘Sync your Settings’ is a new feature, that Microsoft Marketing uses to label Windows 8 as ‘cloud optimized’. This feature allows Microsoft accounts (previously known as Windows Live IDs) to synchronize settings, passwords and favorites between Windows 8 installations.
Of course, these settings might interfere with the defaults you might have set to make the desktops of your Windows installations look nice.
Since disabling all Windows 8 synchronizations is a bit like shooting at a mosquito with a cannon, this Group Policy setting can be used to only deactivate the synchronization of the desktop personalization settings (like the theme, background image(s) and sound scheme used on the Windows 8 desktop) and personalize (which includes the user account picture), while leaving the other synchronization options intact.
These settings can be found in Computer Configuration, Administrative Templates, Windows Components, Sync your settings, along with all the other fine-grained synchronization Group Policy settings. I suggest you enable both the ‘Do not personalize’ and ‘Do not sync desktop personalization settings’ to keep the uniform standard intact as much as possible.
The Complete Guide To Personalizing Windows 8
How to personalize Windows 8–Change your lock screen
Sync it up: Hands on with the preview of Windows 8’s cloud sync service
Sync Your Settings – Enable or Disable in Windows 8
Windows 8: Control and Limit Syncing between Computers
How to Sync Windows 8 Settings with Microsoft Account
Troubleshoot sync problems
Windows 8 Tip: Syncing Settings and Files with Multiple PCs