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Profiles, System Policies, and the Registry
May 31, 1999

By Jerry Honeycutt

Understanding User Profiles

A user profile is the user-specific portion of the Registry, User.dat, as well as a number of folders such as Start Menu, Desktop, and Favorites. Storing configuration data separately for each user allows multiple users to log onto Windows 98 with their own individual settings. Enabling user profiles in Windows 98 doesn't change how it stores machine-specific settings. All that still goes in System.dat. Windows 98 provides a few twists on user profiles, too, such as roving profiles and mandatory profiles. Roving profiles make a user's configuration available no matter which machine he uses. Mandatory user profiles create a configuration for the user that he can't change. You'll learn about both twists in this chapter.

Windows 98 supports two different types of user profiles, local and network, which are characterized only by their location:

  • Local Windows 98 stores local profiles on the workstation. You find a folder for each user in \Windows\Profiles\Name, where Name is the username.

  • Network Network profiles are also known as roving profiles. Windows 98 stores a network profile in the user's home or mail folder, depending on the type of network: Microsoft or NetWare.

Folders in a Profile

As I mentioned, a user profile is more than just a copy of User.dat. It includes a number of folders, too. For local profiles, you find these in \Windows\Profiles\Username. For network profiles, you find these in the user's home or mail folder on the network:

Application Data:
Applications such as the Windows Address Book, QuickLaunch toolbar, and Outlook Express Mail and News store user-specific data in this folder. It doesn't contain documents as much as it contains configuration files.

This folder contains the contents of the user's desktop. It includes shortcuts, folders, or other files that the user puts on the desktop.

Internet Explorer 4.0 stores cookies in this folder. Web sites use cookies to store data they need between sessions.

Internet Explorer 4.0 stores information in this folder about each Web site the user visits so that the user can see a list of recent sites.

This folder contains shortcuts that the user adds to the Network Neighborhood folder.

Some applications store a shortcut for each document you open in this folder. You see these shortcuts on the Start menu's Documents submenu.

Start Menu:
This folder is where Windows 98 gets the contents of the Start menu. Anything in \Start Menu is at the top of the Start menu, while anything under \Start Menu\Programs is in the Programs submenu.

NOTE: When Windows 98 copies the user's profile to the network, it doesn't copy any folders or documents in the Desktop folder, but it does copy shortcuts. Documents and folders are therefore only part of the network profile.


  • See Chapter 1, "Inside the Windows 98 Registry," to learn more about User.dat and System.dat.

  • See Chapter 9, "Customizing the Windows 98 Desktop," to learn about the relationship between these folders and the Registry.

How Windows 98 Chooses Profiles
The best way to understand how user profiles work is to take a look at the process that Windows 98 uses to locate the profile each time a user logs onto the operating system. Windows 98 looks in the Registry at HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Profile List to determine if the user has a local profile. Then it looks for a user profile in the user's home or mail folder on the network. Which profile Windows 98 chooses depends on a number of criteria:

  • Newer Network Profile If the network profile is more current than the local profile, or the user doesn't have a local profile, Windows 98 copies the user profile from the network to the local profile and loads User.dat into the Registry.

  • Newer Local Profile If the local profile is more current than the network profile, Windows 98 uses the local profile and updates the network profile when the user logs off the operating system. This means that the user can still log onto an undocked portable computer and use the local profile, and Windows 98 will update the network profile the next time the user connects to the network.

  • Unavailable Network Server If the server isn't available to validate the user's credentials, Windows 98 uses the local profile, if it's available, and updates the network profile the next time the user logs onto the network.

  • No Profile Available If the user doesn't have a local or network profile, Windows 98 creates a new profile using the default configuration.

Windows 98 allows a user to log onto multiple workstations. With regard to user profiles, this creates some confusion. Windows 98 updates the network profile each time the user logs off. If the user logs onto two different workstations, the network profile reflects the machine on which he last logged off. In other words, Windows 98 doesn't merge changes to a user profile when the user is working on two different computers.

TIP: If you're using network profiles, make sure that Windows 98 can accurately determine whether the network or local profile is more current by keeping the clock current. The easiest way to do so is to add the command net time \\server /set /y (where \\server is the name of a server on the network) to the user's login script. This command causes Windows 98 to synchronize the clock with the server.

Enabling Local User Profiles
You can enable user profiles individually on each Windows 98 workstation, you can enable them using a custom setup script, or you can use the System Policy Editor, which you'll learn about later in this chapter. You enable user profiles locally using the Passwords Properties dialog box. Open it from the Control Panel. As well as enabling user profiles, the Passwords Properties dialog box lets you determine how much information to include in the profile. You can choose whether to include the contents of the Desktop and Network Neighborhood folders, for example. Here's how to enable user profiles in Windows 98:

1. Open the Password Properties dialog box from the Control Panel, and click the User Profiles tab. You'll see the dialog box shown in Figure 14.1.

Figure 14.1

The User Profiles tab of the Passwords Properties dialog box.

2. Select Users can customize their preferences and desktop settings.

3. Choose how much content you want to include in each user profile under User profile settings. You can choose to include the Desktop, Network Neighborhood, and Start Menu folders.

4. Close the Passwords Properties dialog box and restart the computer. Windows 98 will use the configuration data that existed before you enabled profiles to create the profile when a new user logs onto the operating system.

TIP: When Windows 98 enables user profiles, it creates a value entry called UserProfiles under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Network\Logon and sets its value to 1.

Windows 98 provides an alternative means to enable user profiles[md]the Enable Multi-user Settings Wizard, which acts as a portal to Windows 98 user administration. Open the Enable Multi-user Settings dialog box by double-clicking the Users icon from the Control Panel. This wizard walks you through the process step by step. You provide the user's credentials, which are the username and password, and then you set options that indicate what the user profile contains:

  • Desktop folder and Documents menu

  • Start menu

  • Favorites folder

  • Downloaded Web pages

  • My Documents folder

The primary differences between the Enable Multi-user Settings Wizard and the Passwords Properties dialog box are that you can use the wizard to create a new user profile during a work session, and you can customize the contents of each user profile individually. Note that you don't have to have any sort of administrative privileges to create profiles using this wizard. Any user can use it to create profiles as long as that capability isn't disabled via system policies.

TIP: A good way to tighten security in Windows 98 is to prevent new users from logging onto the operating system. Then you use the Enable Multi-user Settings Wizard to add users individually. You must require validation from a security provider, as described in Chapter 13, "Security and Remote Administration," so that users can't circumvent the Logon dialog box.

Enabling Profiles on a Network
Enabling user profiles on a network allows users to log onto different computers with their own settings. This is called roving profiles, and it allows the user to log onto different computers with familiar settings. To support network profiles, Windows 98 and the network must meet certain requirements:

  • 32-bit networking client You must use 32-bit networking clients on each Windows 98 workstation.

  • Support for long filenames The network must support long filenames. If it doesn't, Windows 98 copies only User.dat to the server, not the remaining folders in the profile.

  • Home folders on the network Each user must have a home folder on a Microsoft network or a MAIL\user_ID folder on a Novell NetWare network.

  • Primary network logon You must specify a primary network logon in the Network dialog box. Windows 98 stores the network version of the profile on that server.

  • Hard disk organization Each workstation must have a similar organization if you want the user to be able to log onto multiple workstations with the same configuration. In particular, make sure you install Windows in the same folder on every machine.

The following sections provide more specific information about enabling network profiles on each type of server.

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