Windows SteadyState, for those who are not informed, is a free utility from Microsoft that gives administrators enhanced options for configuring shared computers, such as hard drive protection and advanced user management. Windows SteadyState caches all changes made to the system to a file, which is then discarded when the computer is restarted thereby undoing all changes made and returning the system to its previous state. Hence ‘Steady State’.
SteadyState can go a step further by locking down access to hard drives and putting tight restrictions on a user's access to programs and settings. Administrator can restrict access to many parts of Windows: the Registry Editor, Task Manager, adding or removing printers, burning CDs or DVDs, and much more. Users can be allotted a maximum number of opportunities they're allowed to access the machine, and an administrator can force a reboot after a specific amount of time.
Windows SteadyState is an excellent solution for those who have kids messing with their computer.
If Windows SteadyState is so good and free, why look for an alternative? Three reasons:
- Windows SteadyState is not compatible with Windows 7
- Windows SteadyState never worked on any 64-bit Windows
- Microsoft is pulling the plug on the software on December 31, 2010 [via Infoworld]
If you are using Windows XP or Windows Vista, you can continue using SteadyState. But if have upgraded to Windows 7 or thinking about an upgrade, then here are some of the options you have.
1. Returnil Virtual System is similar to Windows SteadyState. It caches all changes made to the system on a virtual storage disk instead of the actual partition, and then reverts back to the original states when the computer is rebooted. When the protection is turned on, the user operates the system in a virtual environment, so anything that is done on the system happens in the virtual environment, not in the real PC. If the computer gets infected with Malware, all that needs to be done is simply reboot the PC to erase all changes.
Once restarted, the system is restored to the original state, as if nothing ever happened. When the Virtual System Protection is OFF, the system accepts all changes so you can install or remove programs, save documents alter configurations and so on.
Returnil Virtual System is available as a freeware as well as a commercial version. Full review.
2. Wondershare Time Freeze Free is a software that essentially freezes your computer in time by allowing you to install software, run application and surf the Internet, and then roll back any changes you made to the system after you are done. Like Windows SteadyState and Returnil Virtual System, Time Freeze creates a virtual environment for the system partition and caches to it any changes you make to the system. These changes disappear when you reboot your computer.
After the system protection is enabled, your computer runs the virtual system and all operations in the system partition will disappear after system reboot. If you want to save your operations, just drag the button to "Off", and the data produced in the virtual system will be transferred to the actual system. Wondershare Time Freeze also has a Folder Protection feature that lets you either prohibit others to access protected folders or prohibit changing files in them. You can password protect any number of folders.
Time Freeze 1.0 is available free of charge. The more recent Time Freeze 2.0 protects additional areas like MBR and USB stick, and supports 64-bit Windows. Time Freeze 2.0 is priced at $39. (Original review)
3. Faronics Deep Freeze is available not only for Windows but also Mac OS X, and SUSE Linux operating systems which allows system administrators to protect the core operating system and configuration files by restoring a computer back to its original configuration each time the computer restarts.
To make any change permanent, the system administrator must 'thaw' the protected partition by disabling Deep Freeze, and then 'freeze' it again by re-enabling Deep Freeze.
Deep Freeze can encompass multiple drives, including removable drives under its protection, and supports remote deployment on a network. The software has an extensive set of features, the full list of which can be read here.
Deep Freeze is priced at $38 for the Standard edition and $66 for the Enterprise edition. Time limited evaluation versions are available at their website.
4. Shadow Defender is another application that employs the virtual environment approach. It redirects each system change to a virtual environment keeping the actual system intact, and then discarding the changes on a reboot. Shadow Defender allows the user to specify an exclude area on the disk which isn’t cached. Users can take advantage of the excluded locations to save files and personal documents that needs to be kept.
Shadow Defender is priced at $35. A 30-day trial version is available.
5. HDGUARD works exactly the same way all the software mentioned above works. HDGUARD memorizes all changes a user or Windows performs on the system and then forgets it when the computer is restarted. The software grants unrestricted access to your computer's resources while effectively protecting your hard disks and enhancing public access security. Simply reboot the computer and HDGUARD will restore the computer's stable original state of your hard disk is recovered again.
HDGUARD is priced at $22 for non-commercial use and $34 for commercial usage.