Windows 7 and Shared Computers

Microsoft released a new version of Windows last fall, a recurring event that always results in new decisions and new questions for libraries, especially those that provide shared, public access computers.  Perhaps the most pressing question for small and budget-strapped libraries is, “Is Windows 7 compatible with Windows SteadyState?"

Windows SteadyState is the free utility from Microsoft that prevents changes to the hard drive on shared computers. As originally released, SteadyState was only compatible with Windows XP, though version 2.5 introduced support for Windows Vista.  Unfortunately, the reports I’ve seen indicate that the SteadyState utility doesn’t work with Windows 7, and the Microsoft Engineers who reply to questions in the TechNet forums say that Microsoft currently has no plans to add Windows 7 support. However, some of these engineers Photo taken by kbaird and shared under Creative Commons licensePhoto taken by kbaird and shared under Creative Commons licenseare collecting data and stories to make the case for such an upgrade.  Kudos to all the systems librarians and others who have added their SteadyState stories in the SteadyState TechNet  forum. If you use SteadyState in your library and plan to upgrade to Windows 7, please add your two cents to this thread and/or this one. The decision-makers at Microsoft need to hear how valuable this tool is for libraries and other community technology providers.

One poster to the TechNet forum reports a promising fix, although I haven’t tested it myself, so I can’t guarantee that it will work. Use it at your own risk:

I have found a way to install SteadyState under Windows 7.  After you download the program, just right click on the file, then properties, and under the compatibility tab, check the box to run it compatible with an earlier version of Windows.  I tried this and it installed without incident.  I'm not through yet checking out whether it all works normally, but so far it seems to work fine."

What perplexes me about the latest release is the fact that Microsoft built a number of shared-computer management features into early versions of Windows 7 that closely resemble the features of SteadyState. However, it appears they changed the name and details of this feature more than once as they released various beta versions of Windows 7. At one point, this feature set was known as PC Safeguard and then as Guest Mode. These names and many of the associated features didn’t make it into the final, released version of Windows 7, but some profile lockdown features can be found in Parental Controls, which Microsoft introduced as part of Windows Vista and refined during Windows 7 development. I much prefer a name such as Guest Mode or PC Safeguard, over Parental Controls, since libraries mostly want to avoid any suggestion that they’re treating their patrons like children. In Windows 7 Feature Focus: Guest Mode, Paul Thurrott provides a useful overview of this dead- end in the history of Windows 7 development. 

Also, while Geek Dad at Wired has some nice things to say about Parental Controls, it lacks some of the key features of SteadyState. For example, while it can block access to unapproved programs and enforce time limits, Parental Controls doesn’t erase changes and preserve the profile configuration the way SteadyState’s Disk Protection does. So while Parental Controls might be a useful stop-gap for libraries anxious to upgrade to Windows 7, it’s not a complete replacement for SteadyState.

Again, if you use SteadyState, drop Microsoft a line and ask them to make this powerful utility compatible with all present and future versions of Windows.