Group Policy preferences, introduced with Windows Vista and Server 2008, gave network administrators new ways to use group policy to manage Windows computers. Preference settings can replace scripts for mapping drives, configuring printers, managing registry settings, files and local users and groups. Some items that are difficult to impossible to set using scripts such as Power Options, Internet Explorer settings and scheduled tasks can be configured with preferences. Preference settings can be targeted more precisely to users or computers than previous methods. With the introduction of Windows Vista and Server 2008 twenty preference settings became available. Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 have recently added more, including settings for Internet Explorer 8.
Unlike traditional Group Policy settings, changes applied by preferences can be undone by the user of a computer and can be configured to not be reapplied when the Policy is refreshed. This flexibility makes it more practical to apply many settings to specialize a computer for a specific purpose and still allow users to adapt it to their personal needs.
Even though Group Policy preferences were developed after Windows XP and Server 2003 were created, those operating systems can by updated with Client Side Extensions (CSEs) that allow them to process some preference settings. Windows Server 2003 domain controllers can also be configured with a Central Repository of ADMX and ADML files that define old and new GPO settings. Using the Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) installed on a Windows 7 computer, an administrator can then create and edit GPOs with preferences. This allows existing Active Directory Domains that have yet to be updated from Server 2003 to support the very latest policy options for their Window 7 and Vista clients.
So, don’t wait until you deploy Windows Server 2008 R2 to enjoy the benefits of Group Policy Preferences. Get started now by checking out Microsoft’s official white paper on preferences here.