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How to use Group Policy to enable and disable Windows Media Center in Windows Vista Home Premium and Ultimate editions

How to use Group Policy to enable and disable Windows Media Center in Windows Vista Home Premium and Ultimate editions

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Description of the issue

Recently, I was contacted by a customer who is running Windows Vista Home Premium, but who was unable to launch Windows Media Center.  There was not a shortcut available on the Windows Vista start menu, and when they tried navigating directly to c:\Windows\eHome\ and running ehShell.exe directly, they received an error dialog with the following information:

  • Title: Windows Media Center
  • Text: Windows cannot open this program because it has been prevented by a software restriction policy. For more information contact your system administrator.

The dialog looks like this:

In Windows Vista, a Group Policy setting was introduced to allow administrators to configure systems to not allow Windows Media Center to run.  This setting was designed to be used in locked down environments such as corporate networks where Windows Media Center is not needed on a day-to-day basis.  However, it is possible that this setting could end up getting configured on home systems as well.

How to work around the issue

If you see the above dialog when attempting to launch Windows Vista Media Center, you can use the following steps to disable the Windows Media Center Group Policy settings using the Group Policy Object Editor in Windows Vista:

  1. Click on the Start menu and type gpedit.msc to locate the Group Policy Object Editor
  2. Run gpedit.msc and click Continue to allow it to run elevated
  3. Expand Computer Configuration (for per-machine settings), then Administrative Templates, then Windows Components
  4. Click on the Windows Media Center item under Windows Components
  5. Right-click on the setting named Do not allow Windows Media Center to run and choose Properties
  6. In the Properties dialog, change the setting from Enabled to either Disabled or Not Configured and click OK
  7. Expand User Configuration (for per-user settings), then Administrative Templates, then Windows Components
  8. Click on the Windows Media Center item under Windows Components
  9. Right-click on the setting named Do not allow Windows Media Center to run and choose Properties
  10. In the Properties dialog, change the setting from Enabled to either Disabled or Not Configured and click OK
  11. Close the Group Policy Object Editor
  12. Try to launch Windows Vista Media Center again

If you see this dialog on your system, it is important to check both the Computer Configuration (per-machine) and User Configuration (per-user) locations for this setting because if either one of them is enabled, Windows Media Center will not launch and will display the above dialog.

What is happening behind the scenes

Behind the scenes, the Group Policy Object Editor sets the following registry values:

  • For per-user settings available in the User Configuration tab:
  • [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\WindowsMediaCenter]
    MediaCenter

  • For per-machine settings available in the Computer Configuration tab:
  • [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\WindowsMediaCenter]
    MediaCenter

The logic for this setting is backwards from what you might typically expect because the setting indicates whether or not Windows Media Center should be disabled (as opposed to enabled).  If the setting is enabled, it means that Windows Media Center will not be allowed to run.  The MediaCenter registry value will be set to 1 in that case.  If the setting is disabled or not configured, it means that Windows Media Center will be allowed to run.  If the setting is disabled, the MediaCenter registry value will be set to 0.  If the setting is not configured at all, the MediaCenter registry value will not exist on the system.

Where to find additional information

This Windows Media Center Group Policy setting and others that are supported in Windows Vista are described in more detail in the Windows Vista Group Policy Settings Reference.  This spreadsheet is available for download at http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=41dc179b-3328-4350-ade1-c0d9289f09ef.

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