Weekly quickTIP

But Really, Do you Really Need ADMX Files?

A correction...

A few weeks ago, I proffered my personal opinion about ADMX files in Vista and Windows Server 2008 Group Policy and whether they were really all that exciting. In that column, I made some assumptions based on faulty research. Specifically, I stated that ADMX files could not be used to manage the configuration for pre-Vista systems. I also said that ADMX files could be used to manage REG_BINARY and REG_MULTI_SZ strings.

Both of those comments were factually incorrect, and I apologize for the error.

A big thanks for setting me straight to Group Policy MVPs Darren Mar-Elia, as well as my personal friend and Prime Minister of All Things Group Policy, Jeremy Moskowitz of GPanswers.com.

But the question still remains: Do you really need ADMX files? In that other column, I noted three more specific reasons why the answer may still be “no”, or at least “not yet”:

  1. ADMX files are significantly more difficult to create and customize compared to ADM files. The XML-based format is more challenging to use, and its structure introduces a greater chance for coding error when building these files by hand.
  2. ADMX files provide benefits to multi-language environments and help to lessen SYSVOL bloat due to their inclusion in the Group Policy Central Store. This is great for large environments that span countries. But many of us don’t work in such a scenario. And the idea of going through the effort to localize our custom Group Policy Settings into multiple languages seems like overkill in all but those largest of environments.
  3. Lastly, the settings contained within ADM files can still affect both Vista/Server 2008 as well as pre-Vista systems. So if you’ve still got ADM files in your environment, you can continue to use them to configure Vista and Server 2008 systems.

Now, I’m not necessarily arguing against change. Change is good. But the process to code these files by hand remains unnecessarily complex, and tools to assist are still a little rough. One tool provided by Microsoft and developed in partnership with FullArmor, called ADMX Migrator, has its own set of issues. According to Jeremy, creating ADMX files using this tool can be a headache. He reports that converting ADM-to-ADMX files using its convert tool sometimes fails to create a functioning ADMX.

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Will those tools improve over time? Absolutely. Jeremy says to expect an update soon in the convert tool that will correct the most serious bugs, but there’s no word on an improved ADMX editor at this point. So do you really need ADMX files? Until these tools get a lot better, my answer remains the same: Not yet.

So what’re your thoughts about the new file format? Have you created custom ADMX files for your test or production environments either by hand or using Microsoft’s ADMX Migrator tool? What are your opinions about the experience? Let us know by posting your comments here or by e-mail.

About the Author

Greg Shields is Author Evangelist with PluralSight, and is a globally-recognized expert on systems management, virtualization, and cloud technologies. A multiple-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP, VMware vExpert, and Citrix CTP awards, Greg is a contributing editor for Redmond Magazine and Virtualization Review Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at IT conferences worldwide. Reach him on Twitter at @concentratedgreg.

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