Last week, Microsoft shipped to MSDN subscribers, the bits for the first update to Windows 8.1. Regular users of 8.1 will get the update starting today, through Windows Update. A natural question would be, did Microsoft make any outwardly visible improvements or changes to Group Policy in this new release? The answer is, surprisingly (or not surprisingly :-)) little seems to have changed. A quick scan of the ADMX (Administrative Template files that shipped with Windows 8.1.Enterprise Update 1, shows that the following ADMX files changed:
So, essentially not much has changed. The main change in INETRES.ADMX, which contains Admin Template settings for IE 11, is that Microsoft added a policy for enabling the new “Enterprise Mode” feature and specifying the location of the list of websites that should use Enterprise Mode. This is found under “Computer (or User) Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Internet Explorer\Use the Enterprise Mode IE website list”.
The STARTMENU.ADMX change is completely behind the scenes. They basically changed the underlying registry value for disabling the policy at User Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\Start Menu & Taskbar\Go to the desktop instead of Start when signing in, from 0 to 2. So, essentially you won’t ever notice this change!
The TASKBAR.ADMX change is at least a little more substantive. Microsoft added a new policy at User Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\Start Menu & Taskbar, called “Show Windows Store apps on the taskbar”. By default, when this policy is enabled, any Windows Store (i.e. Modern Apps) that are running in the background will appear as icons on the traditional desktop taskbar. If you disable this policy, then they won’t appear on the taskbar (and users can’t change the option if either enabled or disabled is set for this policy).
The EAIME.ADMX change adds a new policy for the Microsoft IME (Input Method Editor) which relates to non-English language input. Specifically this ADMX change adds a new policy called “Turn on cloud candidate” under User Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\IME.
Beyond these few ADMX changes, I’ve seen no other obvious Group Policy changes for this update to Windows 8.1, as opposed to the base 8.1 Enterprise install. I suppose this is not too surprising. The release was minor, and couple that with the general lack of “big developments” in Group Policy these days, and we get a ho-hum release when it comes to GP. Still not found anywhere in this release are more substantial control over the Modern UI and Modern apps, through GP, other than the Start Menu screen layout control that you had in previous Windows 8 releases. It’s too bad. If Microsoft is trying to encourage enterprises to move to Windows 8, leaving large swaths of it unmanaged via policy means that enterprises have limited options to lock down the Windows 8 experience for their users (see my previous post on the lack of lockdown options for the Charms menu).