Month: March 2019

How to rein the Start Menu in Windows Server 2016

How to rein the Start Menu in Windows Server 2016

In this article I am going to show how to control or rein the start menu in Windows Server 2016. There are a lot of articles describing how to handle the start menu in Windows 10, but very few about Windows Server 2016.

Even though the steps are almost identical in Windows Server 2016 compared to Windows 10, there are a few differences. For instance in Windows Server 2016, you don’t have to remove all the “crap” applications, like Candy Crush, trial editions of Office etc. as they are simply not included with this operating system, as it is an LTSC edition of Windows Server.

Some of the best articles out there are written by James Kindon and James Rankin, I have followed these guys for quite a while, and they know what they are doing. Some of their guides can be found here:

James Kindon:
https://jkindon.com/2018/03/20/windows-10-start-menu-declutter-the-default/

James Rankin:
https://james-rankin.com/articles/management-of-start-menu-and-tiles-on-windows-10-and-server-2016-part-1/
https://james-rankin.com/articles/management-of-start-menu-and-tiles-on-windows-10-and-server-2016-part-2/

James Rankins article is great because it focuses on how to persist, or roam, the start menu, if you haven’t read it yet, it’s highly recommendable.

Both James Rankin and James Kindon adresses the Start menu Tiles, and historically these tiles have been the source of all kinds of issues since they were first introduces in Windows Server 2012/2012R2, but the start menu is not just tiles, it’s also part “old school” start menu, like the one we have in Windows 7 and this part of the start menu, can be handled in a few different ways.

In this article I’ll will cover 3 ways on how to handle the start menu. The start menu in Windows Server 2016 is “split” in two areas the”old school” part is the part in the red box below, also know as All Programs or Programs, in the green box we have start menu tiles.

I’ll will not be covering the different ways to handle the start menu tile configuration, as both James Kindon and James Rankin have provided excellent guides for that part. However I will touch on how to manage app tiles leveraging Citrix Workspace Environment Management.

You will need to have some knowledge of Group Policy and Citrix Workspace Environment Managent and a basic understanding of how a Windows profiles works is also recommended.

I’ll be focusing on 3 different scenarios. Each scenario provide certain levels of usability, or lack thereof, in the start menu and start menu tiles sections

Here is a “before” screenshot of how the start menu looks at the first logon with my test account:

This is a pretty default start menu, one I have seen in many Session Host setups. As you can see I have a range of different applications available to me in the Programs area of the start menu, and of course the default pinned application tiles.

14-07-2019. Extensive edits have been made to the different scenarios outlined below. A colleague of mine made me aware of another, and cleaner approach on how to clear the All Users programs. And unfortunately I may have switched some screenshots and text boxes around in scenario 1 and scenario 2.

Scenario 1 – Total lockdown

This configuration, is by far the easiest one to configure and requires next to no work at all and it will provide a clean start menu with no visible applications. The All Programs section of the start menu i disabled and not visible to the user.

Isn’t this the cleanest start menu you have ever seen?

This configuration can be achieved by configuring the “Remove common program group from Start Menu” and “Remove All Programs list from Start Menu” which can be found in:
User Configuration/Administrative Templates/Start Menu and Taskbar

This setting will remove the common shortcuts found in C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs and prevent them from being visible in the start menu.
Remove and disable setting, does what it says, removes and disables the Programs area of the Start Menu.

If you do not have the Remove and Disable setting available, you may need to get the latest Windows 10 adminstrative templates.

You will also need to delete four folders in the user’s profile:

%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Windows PowerShell
%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\System Tools
%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Accessories
%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Accessibility

In this case I have configured each folder to be deleted via Citrix Workspace Environment Management like this:

Note that Citrix Workspace Environment Management doesn’t usually take Windows variables, like %APPDATA%, so in this case I have used the so called dynamic token ##UserAppData## which is the equivalent to %APPDATA%. As the folder is deleted, there is no need for the action to run everytime the user logs on, so make sure to click the “Run Once” checkbox.

You will of course have to configure the “Delete Files/Folders” action type.

Repeat this process for the remaining three folders and don’t forget to assign the actions.

One major downside with this scenario is that it may be fairly difficult for the user to pin applications to the start menu, as they are not able to browse any apps via the start menu. However using Citrix Workspace Environment Manager users are able to pin apps to the start menu. This can be achieved via the Citrix Workspace Management Agent, like this:

Right click the the Citrix WEM Agent in the taskbar tray and select “Manage Applications”. In the list of applications, select the app and then click the “Start Menu” and “Start Menu (P) check boxes and click “Update shortcut(s)”.

A possible use case for this scenario could be if your users have gotten used to accessing everything via desktop shortcuts and don’t have the need or demand for using the start menu or start menu tiles.

Scenario 2 – Moderate Lockdown

This configuration is almost identical to Scenario 1, however due to a slightly less restrictive group policy configuration, users are able to access both the Programs and Tiles areas of the start menu.

Here you’ll notice that a nice and clean Programs area of the start menu is available and no tiles are present.

That can be achieved via the group policy setting:
“Remove common program group from Start Menu” which can be found in:
User Configuration/Administrative Templates/Start Menu and Taskbar

This setting will remove the common shortcuts found in C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs and prevent them from being visible in the start menu.

And as described in scenario 1, we will also have to delete these four folders:

%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Windows PowerShell
%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\System Tools
%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Accessories
%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Accessibility

This scenario delivers a nice and clean start menu where all tiles have been removed and all apps in Programs have been removed. The user will however have to go and find the apps they need on their own.

Scenario 3 – Moderate Lockdown and app shortcut management

This solution is the most flexible solution as it enables us to have more or less full control with the start menu and its appearance. This scenario is basically the same as scenario 2, however we are going to use Citrix Workspace Environment Management to build a start menu, and group the different applications shortcuts.

Here we have a nice and clean start menu, as shown in scenario 2. The Search and Settings shortcuts are, in my opinion, harmless as Search only opens the search bar in the start menu, and settings can be locked down via Group Policy or registry.

Now we bring in Citrix Workspace Environment Management to populate the start menu with application shortcuts.

Just look at this! Doesn’t it bring tears to your eyes?

Citrix Workspace Environment Management is great at populating the start menu, and provides range of different possibilities of grouping application shortcuts etc.

Application shortcuts in Programs, the same apps pinned to the start menu.

Based on your or your users need, you could populate the Programs area and then leave it to the users, to configure the needed tiles using the Citrix Workspace Environment Management agent, as outlined in scenario 1.

This concludes the article. Reining the start menu in Windows Server 2016 can be a daunting task, but if you have Group Policy and Citrix Workspace Environment Management in your arsenal of tools, you will now be able to combine these to provide a great start menu configuration for your users and provide different levels of lockdown and user customizations.