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Customize IE8 through Group Policy

Author by Shannon Fritz

I think most administrators have developed an almost unconscious routine that they perform when they log into a new machine and open Internet Explorer for the first time. You know how it goes, that wizard opens and you click the second dot, Next, select Express and Finish. Then if you're going to be there for a while you might change the search engine and if you're me you'll be tempted to change the way IE handles popups too. I decided to figure out how to defeat this wizard and set my preferences at the domain level so I would never have to click through that again. Here's a list of what we'll do in this guide:
  • Diable the "First Run Customize" wizard
  • Set the default Search Provider(s)
  • Let Internet Explorer decide what to do with Pop-ups
Remember, when you set these in a GPO they become enforced settings and the user is not allowed to change them.  This could be good or bad, depending on your environment, but for me it was more good than bad. So let's get started by creating a new policy or edit an existing one if you like.

Disable the "First Run Customize" wizard

The most irritating is one of the easiest to eliminate. Just navigate to User Configuration -> Policies -> Administrative Templates -> Windows Components -> Internet Explorer. Edit the "Prevent performance of First Run Customize settings", Enable it and decide if you want to drop the user at their home page (my favorite) or the "Welcome to IE" page. Now tie the policy to an OU that your computers reside in and you are all set! If you'd like you can set this on the Computer Configuration instead of (or along with) the User Configuration too.

Default list of Search Providers

I had a client ask me how to set the default search engine and I found Ben's blog post. There he shows how to set Google as the search engine but I wanted to be able to pre-populate the drop down menu with additional options. Unfortunately, if you want to set the default to provider to something other than Bing you have to remove the option for the user to add a providers themselves. They can still change their default, they just cannot add more to the list. What I have put together is a policy that will add Google as the default search engine yet also include Yahoo! and Bing as options, list the search suggestions and included their icons just to get fancy. Once you place the policy files on your domain controller you can find the policy under the User Configuration -> Policies -> Administrative Templates -> Windows Components -> Internet Explorer. There you can decide which search engines you want displayed by Enabling the setting. You should be able to add your own search engine options by reading through the ADMX and ADML files. It's fairly straight forward.

Pop-up to Tab

Personally I prefer popups that load a new browser window to open in a tab instead of another IE window. It's a setting you can control from GPO and what's nice is popup windows that have a defined size still pop into a new window, so I like to make that change. Just navigate to User Configuration -> Policies -> Administrative Templates -> Windows Components -> Internet Explorer. Enable the "Turn off configuration of tabbed browsing pop-up behavior" policy and set it to "Let Internet Explorer decide". This can also be set on the Computer Configuration if you like.

Download the ADMX Template


Shannon Fritz

Infrastructure Architect & Server Team Lead