I was recently asked “How can I start tracking user logins without modifying Active Directory or writing to a database?” Odd question right? Our reader, let’s call him Jose, had a few issues:
- He wasn’t allowed to modify Active Directory.
- He wasn’t allowed to set up any new servers/hardware/etc. This ruled out writing his computer logins to a database.
- He was allowed to edit Group Policy at his location. He did not have many restrictions there.
To me, it seems like his boss has their priorities a little mixed up – but oh well. Before finding out these restrictions, I referred him to these two articles:
I was hoping that the powers that could modify AD in his company would see the benefits of the solutions above. It turns out that they don’t trust this site… (or Microsoft documentation for that matter).
After a few emails back and forth, I found out what was going on and we came up with a manual hack to speeding up the whole “what computer are you on?” routine that every one of us face. We ended up using an old time tool with a modern deployment method.
With one registry change plus a deployment with Group Policy Preferences, we can stick the Computer Name under the start menu. Instead of a shortcut to Computer (or My Computer), the user sees “Computer: COMPUTERNAME”. This allows you to quickly check a computer name or to easily tell an employee how to find the computer name.
The Registry Key
Where do you suppose the registry hack to change the computer name shortcut would be located? The Classes Root Hive? The Local Machine Hive? No – It is illogically placed in the Current User Hive. Specifically, it can be found here:
The default value is normally blank or set to Computer (My Computer). Because the Current User Hive can make use of variables like %COMPUTERNAME%, we can modify this key. Specifically, we can change the Default value from (value not set) and set it to Computer: %COMPUTERNAME%
The Group Policy Preference
In your staff GPO or in a new GPO that applies to your users, create a new Registry Preferences and leave the action at Update. Use the screenshot below to configure your registry preference:
After linking and applying the policy, log a user out and back in. You should see their Computer shortcut change to reflect their computer name! It should look something like the picture below. Pretty cool right?
One Final Tip
If you have Outlook 2013, you have an automated call (email?) center built in to your email client! Quick Steps allow you to type pre-written automated replies to common questions/steps. For example, I have a prewritten reply that explains how to find the computer name and how to submit a technology request.
For those teachers needing a little more instruction, I will also attach a How-To PowerPoint guide. That guide is below; feel free to change it/use it/etc.
If you don’t have Office 2013, you can essentially make a quick step by typing up an email and saving it as a draft. Then just copy the draft for the new message. How do you get computer names for problems? What tips would you like to share? Leave a comment below and help a fellow tech out! 🙂