Server 2012 – Creating Always Maximized Internet Explorer Desktop Shortcuts to Websites via Group Policy

One annoying thing that happens a lot in Windows is the odd window size in Internet Explorer when clicking on any URL type shortcut icon. Unfortunately, with the URL type shortcuts, there’s not really a way to guarantee how the window size will be positioned every time as most of the time it goes by your previous IE window’s state but we all know there are scenarios where that isn’t always the case.
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Server 2012 – Set Internet Explorer Home/Start Page via Group Policy

If you want to set the user’s home page initially but then allow them to change it to whatever they want, on the Common tab in Group Policy Preferences, just make sure to check the box “Apply once and do not reapply” otherwise, any changes the user makes to their home page will be lost the next time they log in.
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Server 2012 – Add a 32 Bit Internet Explorer Shortcut Icon on the Desktop via Group Policy

On an 2012 RDS Server, when running a software restriction policy, your 64 bit browser won’t work unless you specifically create a rule to allow it. In addition to that, on an RDS Server, there’s not really any advantage to using the 64 bit version of IE because almost all plugins were only built with 32 bit support.

That being said, at first I had some trouble creating a desktop icon for the 32 bit version of IE using Group Policy Prefences. Strangely enough, if I set the path in my shortcut to %PROGRAMFILES(x86)% it still brought up the 64 bit version of IE somehow, WTF?! Basically to figure this out, I just copied the shortcut properties of the IE icon on the Classic Shell Start Menu.
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Foxit Reader 7.0 – Set as the Default PDF Viewer via Group Policy

When locking down your RDS Server, here are the registry keys needed to set Foxit Reader as the default PDF viewer per user via Group Policy Preferences to disable the annoying first run pop-up (technically, you can use just the last registry entry only and it will work but adding all of the keys is probably the safer approach):
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Server 2012 – Restrict Access to Specific Drives via Group Policy

If you’re familiar with Group Policy, there’s been an administrative template available since the Windows 2000 days to restrict access to the drives in File Explorer. The only problem with that template is that it only gives you the options to remove access to either all the drives or drives A, B, C, and D which is isn’t very flexible.

In search of a more granular option, I found this very helpful post here that explains exactly how to restrict access to specific drives using registry keys. Here I’m just going to copy the table and show you how to add a Group Policy Registry Preference to achieve the same thing.
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Server 2012 – Remove Network Icon from File Explorer Navigation Pane via Group Policy

After much research, some poking around in the registry, and a little dumb luck, I’ve discovered a way to disable the Network icon from the left side of the File Explorer navigation pane on a PER USER basis using Group Policy Registry Preferences.

Basically, I borrowed the concept from other posts and made it work for the current user profile. One problem that I ran into trying to use the HKLM key was that I couldn’t update the key using the SYSTEM account via Group Policy and I didn’t want to manually edit registry permissions on a bunch of RDS Servers. On top of that, more importantly, I didn’t want to disable the Network icon for my administrator accounts too! So here’s what you need to do… Continue reading “Server 2012 – Remove Network Icon from File Explorer Navigation Pane via Group Policy”

Classic Shell – Registry Entries for Custom Windows 7 Style Start Menu

When applying the Classic Shell Group Policy Templates in Windows 2012 RDS, there is an option called “Menu items for the Windows 7 Style”. In order to customize the menu items, you first need to make changes to some user profile that is using Classic Shell and then go and retrieve the entries from the HKCU\Software\IvoSoft\ClassicStartMenu\Settings\MenuItems7 key in the Registry to know what to enter there. Even on the Classic Shell forums, they didn’t have it documented so here goes…

First, you should have a list of entries titled “Items(1-23).Command=” followed by the friendly name of the item.


Following each one of those entires, you may or may not have an additional entry for each item titled “Items(1-23).Settings=” followed by one or more of the display options depending on how you want it displayed.


As of Classic Shell version 4.1, here is a list of the Command names and their descriptions:

admin - %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Administrative Tools
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Batch Script – RDS Start Menu Application and Taskbar Shortcut Removal Tool

Customizing or locking down a new server for Remote Desktop Services in a Server 2012 environment can be quite a time consuming and daunting task. Countless hours will be spent setting up Group Policies, testing them, and deploying them. But far worse than that, you will waste massive amounts of time researching for jacked up ways to do simple things, such as unpinning items from the Taskbar and customizing the Start Screen.

In the past, I had already configured a company wide Group Policy for our old 2003 Terminal Server environment and it was simple and easy. No guesswork, no crazy workarounds, shit just worked. The Group Policies covered almost every scenario or task needed to lock down a server but unfortunately, that is not the case any more.

It seems Microsoft has made the process of doing pretty much anything ridiculous and overcomplicated. As a side rant, we (the world) desperetely need a good open source solution for a thin client type environment with something that mimicks Group Policy. I know I’m not the only person out there that would love to give Microsoft the old stink finger once and for all! I for one am tired of sitting and watching companies succumb to the endless money pit that is Microsoft licensing. Where you at Linux Devs?

Anyhow, I decided to write this script for a lot of shortcomings I’ve encountered along the way. One of which that I want to gripe about is that resorting to changing file permissions to remove shortcuts is just plain fucking retarded and redirecting all of the user’s start menus to a network share seemed like massive overkill to an already complicated scenario. On top of that, I had 6 separate Remote Desktop servers to fully setup and configure so I needed to streamline the process a bit. Suprisingly enough, my solution relies solely on batch scripting (and a little makeshift VB).

Enough chit chat, the script is extremely well documented so here are the highlights/features:

  • Removal of the Server Manager and PowerShell links in the Taskbar
  • Ability to backup the All User’s and Default User’s Programs directories to a zip file
  • Ability to copy the All Programs Start Menu shortcuts to a list of administrator or power user profile directories
  • Customized list of applications to remove from the Classic Shell Start Menu or the Windows Start Screen
  • Deleted Start Menu Program entries go into the active user’s Recycle Bin and can be restored if necessary
  • Remove System Tools, Accessories, Accessibility, Administrative Tools, Windows Store, PC Settings, Control Panel, Run, Command Prompt, and PowerShell shortcuts from Menus

Download the “Custom_RDS_Start_Menu.bat” script here.

:: Author: Nathan Thomas
:: Date: 02/11/2015
:: This script should be ran on the RDS server after your server administrators have already
:: logged in at least once so that they get all the shortcuts they need (otherwise you will 
:: need to manually copy them later on) but before your end users log in for the first time.
:: In addition, it assumes you have not already made changes or any customizations to the
:: All User's or Default User's Start Menus profiles and that you have already installed all
:: of the applications that the server will be running. Please note that if you decide
:: to install software after you've ran the script, you will manually have to remove that
:: program from the All User's Start Menu folder and copy it to your administrator profiles
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Server 2012 – Remove Pinned Items on the Taskbar via Group Policy

I have researched for hours and hours and have looked into numerous different solutions on how to remove pinned items from the taskbar in Server 2012 and have not really found an elegant solution to the problem. Microsoft intentionally made it an extremely ridiculous and convoluted process to be able to add and remove pinned items from the taskbar. I guess it was meant to help prevent it from getting all fuckered up but for christ’s sake, I shouldn’t have to jump through effing hoops just to do such a seemingly rudimentary task.

Part of my particular issue lies in the fact that I’m setting up a completely locked down 2012 RDS environment where the users don’t even have access to the command prompt, powershell, or the ability to run VB scripts. This alone rules out almost every solution out there that I’ve found.

I have even gotten to the point of where I tried using Group Policy Preferences to create a HKCU RunOnce key to run a batch file to delete the necessary files, add the proper registry keys, kill the explorer.exe process, but then I can’t start explorer again without using cmd.exe and I don’t want the user to have to log off and back on again and we can just have a missing shortcut sitting in the freaking taskbar, it confuses people. WTF!!!
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