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PowerShell Mastery: Automating ‘News and Interests’ Configuration in Windows

Key takeaways

  • Automated control: The script automates the management of the ‘News and Interests’ feature in Windows 10 and ‘Widgets’ in Windows 11.
  • Multi-user management: It enables changes across all user profiles on a system, covering various account types.
  • Administrative privileges required: Running the script necessitates administrative rights to modify system settings.
  • Registry key modifications: Central to the script’s function is its ability to alter specific registry keys based on the operating system version.
  • Immediate effect option: The script can restart Windows Explorer to apply changes instantly, avoiding the need for a system restart.
  • Versatility in use: Ideal for corporate environments to ensure uniformity and minimize distractions across all company computers.
  • Superior to manual methods: Offers a more efficient approach compared to traditional manual edits or group policy adjustments.
  • Reversibility: Changes made by the script can be reversed, allowing for flexibility in managing system settings.
  • Safety measures recommended: Precautions like thorough testing, registry backups, and clear documentation are advised for safe and effective script use.
  • Enhanced IT management with tools: Incorporating this script into platforms like NinjaOne can further streamline IT management tasks.

PowerShell scripts have become an essential tool in the arsenal of IT professionals, offering a powerful means to automate and manage various aspects of Windows systems. One such task is the configuration of the ‘News and Interests’ feature in Windows 10 and the ‘Widgets’ tab in Windows 11. This feature, while useful for some, can be a distraction or an unwanted element for others, particularly in a professional environment. Understanding how to efficiently manage this feature is key to maintaining a streamlined and focused workspace.

Background

The script in question is designed to give administrators control over the display of the ‘News and Interests’ tab (or ‘Widgets’ tab in Windows 11) in the taskbar. This is particularly important for IT professionals and Managed Service Providers (MSPs) who oversee multiple user environments. The ability to enable, disable, or prevent changes to these features remotely and en masse ensures a uniform user environment, which is crucial for both security and ease of management.

The script:

#Requires -Version 5.1

<#
.SYNOPSIS
    Hides or shows the 'News and Interests' tab in the taskbar. On Windows 11, it hides or shows the widgets tab.
.DESCRIPTION
    Hides or shows the 'News and Interests' tab in the taskbar. On Windows 11, it hides or shows the widgets tab.
.EXAMPLE
    (No Parameters)
    
    WARNING: Hiding News and Interests from the taskbar for all users!
    Registry::HKEY_USERS\S-1-12-1-2117605486-1182246982-3318994623-3070967164\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced\TaskbarDa changed from 1 to 0
    Registry::HKEY_USERS\S-1-5-21-4122835015-3639794443-155648563-1001\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced\TaskbarDa changed from 1 to 0
    WARNING: This script will take effect the next time the user completes a full sign-in or restarts.

PARAMETER: -Enable
    Reveals the 'News and Interests' tab in the taskbar.
.EXAMPLE
    -Enable

    Revealing News and Interests for all users!
    Registry::HKEY_USERS\S-1-12-1-2117605486-1182246982-3318994623-3070967164\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced\TaskbarDa changed from 0 to 1
    Registry::HKEY_USERS\S-1-5-21-4122835015-3639794443-155648563-1001\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced\TaskbarDa changed from 0 to 1
    WARNING: This script will take effect the next time the user completes a full sign-in or restarts.

PARAMETER: -PreventChanges
    Should the end-user be able to modify this setting after it's been set with this script?
.EXAMPLE
    -PreventChanges
    
    WARNING: Hiding News and Interests from the taskbar for all users!
    Set Registry::HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Dsh\AllowNewsAndInterests to 0
    WARNING: This script will take effect the next time the user completes a full sign-in or restarts.

PARAMETER: -RestartExplorer
    In order for this script to take immediate effect, explorer.exe will need to be restarted.
.EXAMPLE
    -RestartExplorer

    WARNING: Hiding News and Interests from the taskbar for all users!
    Registry::HKEY_USERS\S-1-12-1-2117605486-1182246982-3318994623-3070967164\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced\TaskbarDa changed from 1 to 0
    Registry::HKEY_USERS\S-1-5-21-4122835015-3639794443-155648563-1001\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced\TaskbarDa changed from 1 to 0
    WARNING: Restarting Explorer.exe

.OUTPUTS
    None
.NOTES
    Minimum Supported OS: Windows 10+
    Release Notes: Initial Release
By using this script, you indicate your acceptance of the following legal terms as well as our Terms of Use at https://www.ninjaone.com/terms-of-use.
    Ownership Rights: NinjaOne owns and will continue to own all right, title, and interest in and to the script (including the copyright). NinjaOne is giving you a limited license to use the script in accordance with these legal terms. 
    Use Limitation: You may only use the script for your legitimate personal or internal business purposes, and you may not share the script with another party. 
    Republication Prohibition: Under no circumstances are you permitted to re-publish the script in any script library or website belonging to or under the control of any other software provider. 
    Warranty Disclaimer: The script is provided “as is” and “as available”, without warranty of any kind. NinjaOne makes no promise or guarantee that the script will be free from defects or that it will meet your specific needs or expectations. 
    Assumption of Risk: Your use of the script is at your own risk. You acknowledge that there are certain inherent risks in using the script, and you understand and assume each of those risks. 
    Waiver and Release: You will not hold NinjaOne responsible for any adverse or unintended consequences resulting from your use of the script, and you waive any legal or equitable rights or remedies you may have against NinjaOne relating to your use of the script. 
    EULA: If you are a NinjaOne customer, your use of the script is subject to the End User License Agreement applicable to you (EULA).
#>

[CmdletBinding()]
param (
    [Parameter()]
    [Switch]$Enable,
    [Parameter()]
    [Switch]$PreventChanges = [System.Convert]::ToBoolean($env:preventChanges),
    [Parameter()]
    [Switch]$RestartExplorer = [System.Convert]::ToBoolean($env:restartExplorer)
)

begin {
    # Grabbing dynamic script variables
    if ($env:showOrHide -and $env:showOrHide -notlike "null") { if ($env:showOrHide -eq "Show") { $Enable = $True } }

    # Check if script is running with local admin privileges.
    function Test-IsElevated {
        $id = [System.Security.Principal.WindowsIdentity]::GetCurrent()
        $p = New-Object System.Security.Principal.WindowsPrincipal($id)
        $p.IsInRole([System.Security.Principal.WindowsBuiltInRole]::Administrator)
    }

    # Get a list of all the user profiles for when the script is run as System.
    function Get-UserHives {
        param (
            [Parameter()]
            [ValidateSet('AzureAD', 'DomainAndLocal', 'All')]
            [String]$Type = "All",
            [Parameter()]
            [String[]]$ExcludedUsers,
            [Parameter()]
            [switch]$IncludeDefault
        )
    
        # User account SID's follow a particular pattern depending on if they're Azure AD or a Domain account or a local "workgroup" account.
        $Patterns = switch ($Type) {
            "AzureAD" { "S-1-12-1-(\d+-?){4}$" }
            "DomainAndLocal" { "S-1-5-21-(\d+-?){4}$" }
            "All" { "S-1-12-1-(\d+-?){4}$" ; "S-1-5-21-(\d+-?){4}$" } 
        }
    
        # We'll need the NTuser.dat file to load each user's registry hive. So we grab it if their account sid matches the above pattern. 
        $UserProfiles = Foreach ($Pattern in $Patterns) { 
            Get-ItemProperty "HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\ProfileList\*" |
                Where-Object { $_.PSChildName -match $Pattern } | 
                Select-Object @{Name = "SID"; Expression = { $_.PSChildName } },
                @{Name = "UserName"; Expression = { "$($_.ProfileImagePath | Split-Path -Leaf)" } }, 
                @{Name = "UserHive"; Expression = { "$($_.ProfileImagePath)\NTuser.dat" } }, 
                @{Name = "Path"; Expression = { $_.ProfileImagePath } }
        }
    
        # There are some situations where grabbing the .Default user's info is needed.
        switch ($IncludeDefault) {
            $True {
                $DefaultProfile = "" | Select-Object UserName, SID, UserHive, Path
                $DefaultProfile.UserName = "Default"
                $DefaultProfile.SID = "DefaultProfile"
                $DefaultProfile.Userhive = "$env:SystemDrive\Users\Default\NTUSER.DAT"
                $DefaultProfile.Path = "C:\Users\Default"
    
                $DefaultProfile | Where-Object { $ExcludedUsers -notcontains $_.UserName }
            }
        }
    
        $UserProfiles | Where-Object { $ExcludedUsers -notcontains $_.UserName }
    }

    # Helper function for setting registry keys
    function Set-RegKey {
        param (
            $Path,
            $Name,
            $Value,
            [ValidateSet("DWord", "QWord", "String", "ExpandedString", "Binary", "MultiString", "Unknown")]
            $PropertyType = "DWord"
        )
        if (-not $(Test-Path -Path $Path)) {
            # Check if path does not exist and create the path
            New-Item -Path $Path -Force | Out-Null
        }
        if ((Get-ItemProperty -Path $Path -Name $Name -ErrorAction Ignore)) {
            # Update property and print out what it was changed from and changed to
            $CurrentValue = (Get-ItemProperty -Path $Path -Name $Name -ErrorAction Ignore).$Name
            try {
                Set-ItemProperty -Path $Path -Name $Name -Value $Value -Force -Confirm:$false -ErrorAction Stop | Out-Null
            }
            catch {
                Write-Error "[Error] Unable to Set registry key for $Name please see below error!"
                Write-Error $_
                exit 1
            }
            Write-Host "$Path\$Name changed from $CurrentValue to $($(Get-ItemProperty -Path $Path -Name $Name -ErrorAction Ignore).$Name)"
        }
        else {
            # Create property with value
            try {
                New-ItemProperty -Path $Path -Name $Name -Value $Value -PropertyType $PropertyType -Force -Confirm:$false -ErrorAction Stop | Out-Null
            }
            catch {
                Write-Error "[Error] Unable to Set registry key for $Name please see below error!"
                Write-Error $_
                exit 1
            }
            Write-Host "Set $Path\$Name to $($(Get-ItemProperty -Path $Path -Name $Name -ErrorAction Ignore).$Name)"
        }
    }

    # Restarts explorer.exe
    function Reset-Explorer {
        Write-Warning "Restarting Explorer.exe"
        
        Start-Sleep -Seconds 1
        Get-Process explorer | Stop-Process -Force
        Start-Sleep -Seconds 1

        if (-not (Get-Process explorer)) {
            Start-Process explorer.exe
        }
    }
    
    # Gets the OS Name E.g. Windows 10 Enterprise or Windows 11 Enterprise
    function Get-OSName {
        systeminfo | findstr /B /C:"OS Name"
    }

    $OSName = Get-OSName
}
process {
    if (-not (Test-IsElevated)) {
        Write-Error -Message "Access Denied." -RecommendedAction "Please run with Administrator privileges." -Exception (New-Object -TypeName System.UnauthorizedAccessException) -Category PermissionDenied
        exit 1
    }

    # The registry key is different depending on if its Windows 10 or Windows 11
    if ($OSName -Like "*11*") {
        $AllUserPath = (Get-ItemProperty -Path "Registry::HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Dsh" -ErrorAction Ignore).AllowNewsAndInterests
    }
    else {
        $AllUserPath = (Get-ItemProperty -Path "Registry::HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Windows Feeds" -ErrorAction Ignore).EnableFeeds
    }

    # Issues a warning prior to removing the registry key that prevents changes from end-users
    if ($AllUserPath -ge 0) {
        $EnableOrDisable = switch ($AllUserPath) {
            1 { "revealed" }
            default { "hidden" }
        }

        if (-not ($PreventChanges)) {
            Write-Warning "News and Interests is currently $EnableOrDisable for all users. Removing 'Prevent Changes' setting to replace it with individual user setting as requested."
            
            if ($OSName -Like "*11*") {
                Remove-ItemProperty -Path "Registry::HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Dsh" -Name "AllowNewsAndInterests"
            }
            else {
                Remove-ItemProperty -Path "Registry::HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Windows Feeds" -Name "EnableFeeds"
            }
        }
    }

    if ($OSName -Like "*11*") {
        $KeyPath = "Registry::HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Dsh"
        $KeyName = "AllowNewsAndInterests"
        $Value = if ($Enable) { 1 }else { 0 }
    }
    else {
        $KeyPath = "Registry::HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Windows Feeds"
        $KeyName = "EnableFeeds"
        $Value = if ($Enable) { 1 }else { 0 }
    }

    # Sets a per user registry key if the end-user lock isn't set
    if (-not ($PreventChanges)) {
        $UserProfiles = Get-UserHives -Type "All"

        $KeyPath = New-Object System.Collections.Generic.List[string]
        $LoadedProfiles = New-Object System.Collections.Generic.List[Object]

        Foreach ($UserProfile in $UserProfiles) {
            # Load User ntuser.dat if it's not already loaded
            If ((Test-Path "Registry::HKEY_USERS\$($UserProfile.SID)" -ErrorAction Ignore) -eq $false) {
                $LoadedProfiles.Add($UserProfile)
                Start-Process -FilePath "cmd.exe" -ArgumentList "/C reg.exe LOAD HKU\$($UserProfile.SID) `"$($UserProfile.UserHive)`"" -Wait -WindowStyle Hidden
            }
            if ($OSName -Like "*11*") {
                $KeyPath.Add("Registry::HKEY_USERS\$($UserProfile.SID)\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced")
            }
            else {
                $KeyPath.Add("Registry::HKEY_USERS\$($UserProfile.SID)\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Feeds")
            }
        }

        if ($OSName -Like "*11*") {
            $KeyName = "TaskbarDa"
            $Value = if ($Enable) { 1 }else { 0 }
        }
        else {
            $KeyName = "ShellFeedsTaskbarViewMode"
            $Value = if ($Enable) { 0 }else { 2 }
        }
    }

    # Change the message depending on if we're hiding or showing the menu
    if ($Enable) {
        Write-Host "Revealing News and Interests for all users!"
    }
    else {
        Write-Warning "Hiding News and Interests from the taskbar for all users!"
    }
    
    # Setting the registry key
    $KeyPath | ForEach-Object { Set-RegKey -Path $_ -Name $KeyName -Value $Value }

    # Unload any profiles we loaded up earlier (if any)
    Foreach ($LoadedProfile in $LoadedProfiles) {
        [gc]::Collect()
        Start-Sleep 1
        Start-Process -FilePath "cmd.exe" -ArgumentList "/C reg.exe UNLOAD HKU\$($LoadedProfile.SID)" -Wait -WindowStyle Hidden | Out-Null
    }

    # Restart explorer.exe
    if ($RestartExplorer) {
        Reset-Explorer
    }
    else {
        Write-Warning "This script will take effect the next time the user completes a full sign-in or restarts."
    }
}
end {
    
    
    
}

 

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Detailed breakdown

  1. Initialization and parameter setup: The script begins by setting up parameters for enabling the feature, preventing changes by end-users, and deciding whether to restart Windows Explorer for immediate changes. It also dynamically adjusts based on environmental variables.
  2. Admin privilege check: A critical step is the verification of administrative privileges. The script checks if it’s running with the necessary permissions, ensuring no unauthorized changes are made.
  3. User profile handling: It identifies all user profiles on the system, essential for applying settings across multiple users. This includes handling different account types like Azure AD, domain, or local accounts.
  4. Registry key manipulation: The script then accesses and modifies the Windows Registry. This is where the actual enabling or disabling of the ‘News and Interests’ or ‘Widgets’ feature occurs. Depending on the OS version (Windows 10 or 11), it targets different registry keys.
  5. Restart explorer process: Optionally, the script can restart the Windows Explorer process to apply changes immediately, without requiring a user sign-in or system restart.

Potential use cases

Imagine a corporate environment where the IT department needs to ensure a standardized and distraction-free workspace on all company computers. Using this script, they can disable the ‘News and Interests’ feature across all machines efficiently, ensuring a consistent user experience and minimizing distractions.

Comparisons

Traditionally, such changes required manual registry edits or group policy adjustments. This script streamlines the process, allowing changes to be made quickly and in bulk, as opposed to the more time-consuming manual methods.

FAQs

Q1: Will this script work on any version of Windows?
A1: The script is designed for Windows 10 and later versions.

Q2: Is admin access mandatory to run this script?
A2: Yes, administrative privileges are required to make registry changes.

Q3: Can this script revert changes if needed?
A3: Yes, the script can enable or disable the feature, allowing for reversibility.

Implications

While this script provides significant utility, it’s important to consider its implications. Unauthorized use can lead to unwanted system configurations, and inadvertent errors in script execution might lead to system instability.

Recommendations

  • Test Thoroughly: Run the script in a controlled environment before deployment.
  • Backup Registries: Always backup registry settings before making changes.
  • Clear Documentation: Maintain clear documentation of changes made using this script for future reference.

Final thoughts

In the realm of IT management, tools like NinjaOne play a pivotal role. They offer a unified platform for monitoring and automating IT tasks, including script deployment. This PowerShell script, combined with a robust management tool like NinjaOne, can significantly enhance an IT professional’s ability to manage and maintain their digital environment, leading to increased efficiency and control.

Next Steps

Building an efficient and effective IT team requires a centralized solution that acts as your core service deliver tool. NinjaOne enables IT teams to monitor, manage, secure, and support all their devices, wherever they are, without the need for complex on-premises infrastructure.

Learn more about NinjaOne Remote Script Deployment, check out a live tour, or start your free trial of the NinjaOne platform.

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NinjaOne Terms & Conditions

By clicking the “I Accept” button below, you indicate your acceptance of the following legal terms as well as our Terms of Use:

  • Ownership Rights: NinjaOne owns and will continue to own all right, title, and interest in and to the script (including the copyright). NinjaOne is giving you a limited license to use the script in accordance with these legal terms.
  • Use Limitation: You may only use the script for your legitimate personal or internal business purposes, and you may not share the script with another party.
  • Republication Prohibition: Under no circumstances are you permitted to re-publish the script in any script library belonging to or under the control of any other software provider.
  • Warranty Disclaimer: The script is provided “as is” and “as available”, without warranty of any kind. NinjaOne makes no promise or guarantee that the script will be free from defects or that it will meet your specific needs or expectations.
  • Assumption of Risk: Your use of the script is at your own risk. You acknowledge that there are certain inherent risks in using the script, and you understand and assume each of those risks.
  • Waiver and Release: You will not hold NinjaOne responsible for any adverse or unintended consequences resulting from your use of the script, and you waive any legal or equitable rights or remedies you may have against NinjaOne relating to your use of the script.
  • EULA: If you are a NinjaOne customer, your use of the script is subject to the End User License Agreement applicable to you (EULA).