Windows SteadyState is a handy tool for managing stand-alone PCs in public venues that cater to a motley crew of guest users. In a recent, terse announcement, Microsoft pulled the plug: "SteadyState will be phased out effective December 31, 2010. Microsoft will no longer support Windows SteadyState after June 30, 2011."
Thousands of libraries, small organizations, nonprofits, Internet cafés, schools, and admins who support Windows computers available to the general public are up the ol' creek without a PC paddle. Even large organizations with pools of publicly available PCs that aren't connected to the corporate network have come to rely on SteadyState.
Microsoft's free Windows SteadyState lets admins lock down Windows PCs, without the overhead inherent in establishing a domain. Instead, SteadyState runs on an individual PC, not over a network. It includes the ability to wipe changes to a PC's hard drive clean and start all over with a specific configuration every time Windows reboots.
SteadyState caches all of the writes made to the PC's boot drive. The administrator can have SteadyState clear the cache every time the PC reboots, restoring the PC to its original state. Downloaded Windows updates get special dispensation; they aren't zapped when the cache refreshes.
The program's settings allow the administrator to restrict access to many parts of Windows: the Registry Editor, Task Manager, adding or removing printers, burning CDs or DVDs, and much more. Internet Explorer can be blocked or limited to specific sites. Specific programs can also be blocked, either for specific users or for all users. An administrator can even hide entire hard drives, making them inaccessible. Users can be allotted a maximum number of opportunities they're allowed to access the machine, and an administrator can force a reboot after a specific amount of time. Pretty slick.
Sound too good to be true? Or at least too good to be free? There's a reason why Microsoft has been giving this one away.