Uh-oh: that fancy new reporting application you're planning to deploy requires opening a port in Windows XP Firewall. Now what? You could write a script or purchase a desktop-management suite to assist you, but if your organization has Microsoft's Active Directory, you've got everything you need to open that firewall port. AD's Group Policy feature lets you control the myriad settings for your users, desktops and servers.
With Group Policy, you can manage your network from on high, governing the specifics of how your users and computers operate within your AD environment. Once you start using it, you'll be amazed at how quickly and easily you can deploy changes to the masses, set up consistent desktop and server configurations, control the end-user experience, lock down workstations and even control the Windows XP firewall. But, as with any powerful tool, you must exercise caution and responsibility to keep end users happy. Test, document and troubleshoot the changes you make to your environment using Group Policy before you employ it.
Group Policy 101
At the foundation of Group Policy are the policy settings--specific attributes that dictate control over the configurable aspects of Windows (such as which ports are open in the XP Firewall). Policy settings are targeted at the logged-in user or the computer. They can be security settings for auditing, logging and logon restrictions; running scripts at start-up, shutdown, logon or logoff; installing software; redirecting user folders; and manipulating the registry over administrative templates.