Microsoft releases SteadyState documents for Windows 7

These documents contain a wealth of information for keeping public Windows 7 PCs running after Microsoft discontinues SteadyState support

Last week I wrote in Tech Watch about Microsoft discontinuing support for Windows SteadyState -- a blow to admins who have to keep publicly shared PCs up and running.

If you're in charge of a group of publicly exposed PCs -- whether they're in an Internet cafe, a library, a corporate common area, a school, or the McMurdo Station Penguin Shop -- I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that Microsoft just published a lengthy, detailed description of ways you can use Windows 7 to more or less duplicate the SteadyState feature set. The bad news is that you have to install Windows 7 on your public PCs (this won't work with XP or Vista), dive into 100 pages of documentation, and master the Microsoft Deployment Tookit 2010 in order to make it work.

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Windows SteadyState started nearly a decade ago as a free software package that helped libraries lock down their new Gates Foundation-donated PCs. Over the years, many thousands of sites have used the package. Although Microsoft released a Windows XP and Vista compatible upgrade to SteadyState almost two years ago, it never ported the package to Windows 7. Last month Microsoft confirmed SteadyState's orphan status: no more downloads after the end of the year, and the support forum goes dead next June.

This new Steady State documentation should help the prototypical librarian who has to keep a handful of PCs alive in spite of the slings and arrows of outrageous curious teenagers. It'll also prove interesting and worthwhile for IT folks who want a different perspective on locking down corporate PCs. Even if you know the Group Policy Editor like the coffee menu at Starbucks, seeing all of the settings presented in a different context may give you some worthwhile ideas.

Start with the overview (in Word docx format), called Creating a Steady State by Using Microsoft Technologies. It's a 30-page reference to setting up and locking down user accounts and profiles; using GPE to control what applications can run and get updated; restoring hard drives using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (or other commercial packages); and using virtualization to make everything bad go away. Although I found it more than a little condescending in places, just ignore the tone and cute examples: The reference includes dozens of links to other documents and sites, many with extensive discussions.

After you skim the first reference, pick up a copy of Group Policy Settings for Creating a Steady State. This 60-page document takes every single Windows SteadyState setting, and the nearest Group Policy analog. Some SteadyState settings don't have comparable Group Policy settings, but this reference gives you ideas for approximating the older features. I found this list worthwhile because it gave me a different way of looking at old Group Policy values.

Finally, there's an Excel index to the second document, called the Windows SteadyState Reference Spreadsheet. I didn't find much use for it. Searching in Word works better.

One surprising observation: Much of the information on offer applies to Windows XP and Vista, as well as Windows 7.

If you're a librarian saddled with responsibility for keeping PCs alive, wading through all of this information will leave you wondering why you ever took on the job -- trust me, sifting through cyclical references in Finnegans Wake is both simpler and more satisfying. But if the inner working of Windows intrigues you, and you need to ride herd on publicly defiled PCs, these two papers contain a wealth of worthwhile information.

This article, "Microsoft releases SteadyState documents for Windows 7," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.