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How can I have a desktop retain changes by admins, but not by users?

How difficult is it to set up "virtual" desktops? I administer a K-12 school network and am converting from Novell to Windows Server 2003 with XP desktops. I want a single login on an XP desktop that loads a specific desktop (i.e., student vs. teacher vs. admin). But if the user is a student, it doesn't keep changes to the local computer (i.e., games, local installations, etc.), whereas the administrator could install and retain changes. I have network space for student data.

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The trick isn't to reverse any changes that the students made -- which is tough on a computer that's shared with teachers and admins -- the trick is to prevent them from making those changes in the first place. I recommend that you spend some time learning group policy, software restriction policies and similar features. Also, put your student accounts in the Users group -- not the Power Users or Administrators groups. Just putting their accounts in the Users group alone is enough to prevent them from changing much of anything except their personal settings. And you can manage their personal settings using group policy.

This was first published in July 2003

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