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How customizable is the Windows XP/7 logon screen via group policy? For example, can I do any of the following:

  1. Display a custom error message on logon failure?
  2. Popup a custom app that launches minimal functionality (i.e. a user guide app)?

I can obviously replace the Windows logon GINA to achieve complete control over the logon, but I don't want to go down such a complex route...

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You are right in that the best way to customize the logon process is to create your own version of GINA.

Another alternative for Windows XP is to hack the C:\Windows\System32\logonui.exe file. Make a backup of the logonui.exe file, then use Resource Hacker or other resource editors to edit the messages / bitmaps within the file. There is a simple explanation here.

Kiosk Mode

You may want to investigate Windows XP Kiosk Mode. You can enable it by editing the Registry, go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon and edit Shell, and replace the Value data with something like iexplore -k

Microsoft used to ship Windows Steady State, but unfortunately it is discontinued since July 2008. Here are some alternatives.

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