Tech Tip: Get a grip on the System Policy Editor

Windows 9x ships with the System Policy Editor. You can use the System Policy Editor to exercise control over the local system as a powerful interface to the local registry and to directly manipulate the registries of remote Windows 9x computers. The System Policy Editor can also help you create policy files (.pol), which provide a central configuration file for your networked Windows 98 computers.

Install the System Policy Editor

To install the System Policy Editor on a Windows 98 computer, you need the Windows 98 CD or the Windows 98 Resource Kit CD.

Follow these steps:

  1. Go to Control Panel | Add/Remove Programs.
  2. On the Windows Setup tab, click Have Disk.
  3. Browse to the \netadmin\poledit folder on the CD, select the Poledit.inf file, and click OK.
  4. Select the System Policy Editor check box, and click OK.

When you run the program from the CD, it copies the application files to the C:\Windows folder on your computer and places the System Policy Editor in the System Tools folder on the Start menu. It also copies the policy template files (.adm) to the C:\Windows\inf folder on your computer.

If you just copy the contents of the Poledit folder to your computer, it won't register these changes. You'll have to carry out further configuration to add the policy template files.

Edit your registry with the System Policy Editor

To open the System Policy Editor, click Start | Programs | Accessories | System Tools | System Policy Editor. When it opens, select File | Open Registry.

In this mode, the System Policy Editor groups registry settings under two icons: Local Computer and Local User. If you double-click one of them, you'll find a selection of settings that you can configure.

To save your changes, click OK to return to the main System Policy Editor window and select File | Save. Then restart the computer.

Note: Editing the registry is risky, so be sure you have a verified backup before making any changes.

Keep users from altering their configurations

You can use the System Policy Editor to overcome one of the bigger drawbacks of Windows 9x in a corporate environment: no security from user configuration.

The standard policy template files, Common.adm and Windows.adm, include a number of settings that you can employ to keep users from accessing those Windows configuration settings. When you open the Local User settings in the System Policy Editor and expand the Control Panel tree, you'll find options to restrict users from accessing individual applets in Control Panel.

For example, you can disable the Network applet so that users can't make changes. You can also restrict the Printers applet so users can't delete printers from the local computer.

Where are all my options?

If you open the Windows 98 System Policy Editor and find that all the options in the File menu are unavailable, it's possible that you have no policy template files (.adm files) loaded into the System Policy Editor.

The .adm files are text files that point to registry values in Windows 98. These files associate the registry values with descriptive text in the System Policy Editor, and they limit the choices and values that can be entered against those entries, which makes the System Policy Editor more useful to the administrator than the standard registry editor.

Common.adm and Windows.adm are the standard .adm files, and they shouldn't normally be removed from the Policy Editor. To add the templates, select Options | Policy Template and click Add. If the System Policy Editor was installed correctly, the .adm files will be in the C:\Windows\inf folder. You'll need to add the Common.adm and Windows.adm files separately. If these files are not present on the computer, it's a good idea to reinstall the System Policy Editor.

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