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How do I access the Policy Editor in Windows 7 Home editions?

In a prior article, I discussed how to turn off thumbnail caching in Windows 7. Unfortunately, the
very simple approach outlined in that article only works if you have Windows 7
Professional or better.

If you have one of the Home editions, the tool used to make the setting
change isn’t available.

Since this is a problem that extends well beyond this one example setting, I
thought it might make sense to discuss the alternatives in a more general


Policy Editor

The tool that’s missing from Windows 7 Home editions is the Policy Editor. It’s a simple tool that allows you to browse and change many different settings used by Windows 7. Here’s what it looks like:

Group Policy Editor

There it is, and if you’re running Windows 7 Home editions you can’t have it. Sorry.

“Extra caution is required, as errors while editing the registry can have side effects …”

Registry Editor

Almost all the settings controlled by the policy editor are, in fact, simply registry entries. The implication is that instead of using that tool to make the changes one could go in with the registry editor to make those changes instead.

And for the most part that’s true, with two small issues:

  • Extra caution is required, as errors while editing the registry can have side effects and in the worst case scenario can prevent Windows from booting.

  • There’s no easy way to determine which registry setting does what.

Typically, a little internet research will answer the second, and taking a full system backup (or at least setting a restore point to backup the registry) prior to making changes will address the first.

Example: thumbnail caching

Whether or not Windows Explorer cache’s thumbnails is controlled by the registry key:


What that means is that we would run regedit (Windows Key + R to open the run box, and then type in “regedit” and press OK), and then expand each of those nodes in turn. For example, after opening regedit and expanding HKEY_CURRENT_USER by clicking on the triangle to it’s left, I’d see this:

Similarly expanding each of “Software”, “Microsoft”, “Windows”, “CurrentVersion”, and “Policies” in turn leads us to:

Regsitry Editor opened to Policies node

As you can see, there is no “Explorer” subnode, and yet that’s what we need. This implies that the setting is not configured, and Windows will use the default behaviour. To set it explicitly we’ll create the keys necessary.

Right click on Policies and click on New, and then Key.

Registry Editor creating a new key

The new key will appear with a default name, but it should also be in “edit mode” ready for you to type in a new name. (Press F2 to enter edit mode if it’s not.) Type in a new name: Explorer, and then click on it:

Registry Editor showing new Explorer key

Right click on the Explorer key we just created, click on New and then DWORD (32 bit) Value. Give the new value a name of NoThumbnailCache, being careful to copy the capitalization exactly:

Registry Editor showing new NoThumbnailCache value

The value, however, is incorrect – we need to set it to 1 to disable the cache.

Double click on NoThumbnailCache to open the edit dialog:

Regsitry Editor editting NoThumbnailCache

Set the value to 1, and press OK.

Thumbnails are no longer cached.

Registry Setting Alternative – Sort of

As you can tell, making registry changes manually can be somewhat tedious if it’s not something you do often.

One alternative often made available by some sites is the “.reg” file. This file contains the complete registry setting in a single text file.

Here’s an example of such a file’s contents:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00 [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer]

You can also create a .reg file by hand using notepad (make sure you save as a “.reg” file – you may need to remove notepad’s addition of “.txt”).

Given a “.reg” file with that as its contents simply double-clicking on the file in Windows explorer will automatically enter it into the registry using registry editor.

Here’s the file (zipped): Right-click on that and select Save As to save a copy to your machine. Unzip the contents (typically just open the zip file in Windows explorer) to get nocachethumbnails.reg. Zipping is often used to bypass certain anti-virus measures, as well as avoid other issues.

Warning: be very, very careful when downloading or entering “.reg” files from websites you may visit. While it’s a very easy way to make a simple change to your registry, it’s also a very easy way to add malware or otherwise disrupt your system. Make sure you trust the source.

Registry Settings? What Registry Settings?

Of course the question is: what registry setting do I need for what policy? We’ve used one example here, but what about all the many other settings that the policy editor can be used for?

Reader Mary, in her research on this topic, came across the Group Policy Settings Reference for Windows and Windows Server on the Microsoft website which lists the policies and their corresponding registry settings. (It’s in the form of an Excel spreadsheet, so you’ll need Excel or a compatible program such as OpenOffice’s alternative.) For Windows 7 you’ll want “WindowsServer2008R2andWindows7GroupPolicySettings.xlsx” but there’s a spreadsheet there for Windows Vista as well.

Rethinking Home

As you can see, if you have Windows 7 Home, you might need skills that are closer to that expected of a professional in order to make simple configuration changes like this. For this and a couple of other reasons, I actually recommend avoiding Home editions altogether if you can afford it. Windows 7 Professional is where I recommend most people land.

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4 comments on “How do I access the Policy Editor in Windows 7 Home editions?”

  1. I normally use a registry tracker to show me what changes the policy editor makes, then write an inf file to reproduce it. I prefer inf files over using reg files, but either one works.

  2. Great article Leo! It is a tricky area (the registry), but you’ve made it approachable in this article. Well done!

    For all of its drawbacks, the registry is quite nice when it comes to subtle configuration issues like this. As long as windows keeps, we should all be good to go.

  3. Hi Leo, thanks for a very informative website in general, and this article in particular.
    Reason I landed here is I am proud new owner of a W7 lappie, after my Asus V6V gave me six or seven years of great service (over the past few months has finally got slower and slower).
    Exciting time, moving up to W7.
    I was always very happy with XP pro, and was pleased that my new Lenovo B570 came with Home Premium, and not some ‘more basic’ installation, or so I thought.
    Just had it a few days now and as I progressed in my understanding of the new system I discovered I can’t access secpol.msc, nor gpedit.msc.
    When I learnt of and ventured towards Windows Anytime Upgrade I was shocked and appalled to discover a couple of things (at least according to wiki):
    W7 Starter is mainly for Netbooks
    W7 Home Basic is only sold in emerging markets
    Consequently, my version of W7 is the regional equivalent of XP home, which means it is not as flexible as I expected and would like!
    Oh yes, and all the fanfare I hear about the advantage of being able to run XP software on W7 looks like it won’t be happening either!!! What a con!
    In England here the price of upgrade on the WAU site is a healthy £120 for W7 pro and £125 for W7 ultimate!!!
    If I’d have realised all this I might well have paid that much more and got myself a more advanced lappie with one of them already installed.
    At the end of the day my main criticism is the inaccurate and over-inflated title of my operating system, ‘Windows 7 Home Premium’, should be just W7 Home, this gives a much clearer picture of what you are getting.
    BTW, purchasers of the upgrade on the UK Amazon site gave it two and half out of five stars, 20 reviewers, not the best! (at least the price there is a bit more reasonable) I’ll be sticking with the installed version and make good use of your advice and tips!
    Right, well I’d better get off my soapbox and turn off thumbnail caching.


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