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IT administrators who use Group Policy and Microsoft Office at their organization can manage and maintain Office through the right policies. By adding the appropriate Group Policy templates for your version of Office, you can control key settings for the suite in general and for each specific application, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook.

How to use Group Policy to manage Microsoft Office

Your first step is to download the necessary Group Policy ADMX and ADML template files for your version of Office. On a Microsoft Download page, you’ll find the files for Office 365 ProPlus, Office 2019, and Office 2016. On this page, you’ll find the files for Office 2013. Click the Download button at the appropriate page (Figure A).

Figure A

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Next, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Download button at the appropriate page (Figure A).
  2. On the next page, choose the downloadable EXE file for 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) depending on which bitness of Office you use.
  3. Click Next and then save the EXE file.
  4. Run the downloaded EXE file to extract the files it contains.
  5. Accept Microsoft’s license terms.
  6. Select a destination for the extracted files.
  7. Open the folder for the extracted files, and you should find an Excel file, an ADMX folder for the ADMX files and language files, and an admin folder for the OPAX files if you use the Office Customization Tool to deploy Office.
  8. Open the Excel spreadsheet for the Group Policy settings to see a list and description of the ADMX templates and other files as well as the specific policies for each template and each Office application (Figure B).

Figure B

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Next, you need to copy the ADMX files and the ADML language files to the appropriate folder or container for your Group Policy administration. If you use a Central Store for Group Policy, the steps are different than if you use a single computer or a handful of computers with locally stored templates. The Microsoft Support article on How to create and manage the Central Store for Group Policy Administrative Templates in Windows explains the Central Store option. I’ll explain the option for storing the templates locally.

On your computer, the Group Policy templates are stored at C:WindowsPolicyDefinitions. Copy the extracted Office ADMX files to this folder (Figure C).

Figure C

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The ADML files are stored in the specific subfolder for your language (e.g., en-US). Open your specific language subfolder for the files you extracted. Copy the ADML files to the same subfolder under PolicyDefinitions (Figure D).

Figure D

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Next, open your Group Policy Editor or Management Console. The Office templates will automatically load and be available. You’ll find them in two different locations. For machine-specific settings, go to Computer Configuration | Administrative Templates | Microsoft Office (2016 or 2013). Here, you can control certain licensing options, manage various security settings, and enable automatic updates (Figure E).

Figure E

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For user-specific settings, go to User Configuration | Administrative Templates. Here, you’ll find a folder for Microsoft Office for controlling general Office settings. You’ll also find folders for each of the specific Office applications–Access, Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, Project, Visio, Word, and Skype (Figure F).

Figure F

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There are obviously a lot of policies and settings here to review. You may want to start with the general Office settings and then move to the policies for each application. You should also continually consult the Excel Group Policy settings spreadsheet as a frame of reference as you set your policies.