User Profile Basics

How to set up Windows 2000 user profiles in a way that will make your users lives easier, as well as helping you to increase security.

 By Brien M. Posey
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It often seems that most of the computer-related books and magazines I read are geared toward making the administrator's life easier. Of course, this is no surprise, because these publications are usually written for systems administrators. But often such publications (including mine) forget all about the end user. Sometimes it's nice to do something to make the end user's life a little easier, too. In this series of articles, I'll explain how to set up user profiles in a way that will make your user's lives easier, as well as helping you to increase security.

What's a User Profile?

Let's face it, in the business world not all companies are created equal. Some companies are blessed with the financial freedom to buy new machines for everybody. Other companies have several people sharing the same old PC, either because they can't afford more or because the boss is too cheap to spring for new computers. In any case, sharing computers can be difficult.

One of the main reasons that sharing a system between multiple users is complicated is that any change one user makes to the PC affects all the other users. For example, I once worked in an office in which two users who shared a PC constantly fought over the Windows color scheme. One user would change it and the other user would change it back. In a much worse case, a user who didn't know any better accidentally erased the contents of the My Documents folder, which contained documents for everyone in the entire department.

You can get around these problems by implementing user profiles. User profiles provide each user with a unique computing experience. All the user has to do is enter a password, and they'll be taken into a session that's custom-tailored specifically to their preferences.

As I'll explain later, the most noticeable of these custom attributes is the Windows desktop. Now, if Joe erases an icon, he'll only erase it for himselfthe other users won't be affected. Likewise, if Bob wants a blue desktop and Bill wants a red desktop, they can both have what they want.

As you'll see throughout this series of articles, however, custom desktops are only the beginning. As I'll explain in the next section, plenty of other custom attributes are included with a user's profile. You can do things such as make a user's custom profile follow them from machine to machine. Or, if you prefer, you can dictate a mandatory profile, containing settings that the users can't change. Regardless of your preferences, user profiles are highly customizable from both a user and an administrative perspective.

What's Included in a Windows 2000 Professional Profile?

Before you can truly appreciate user profiles, you need to have an idea of the features they include. As I mentioned earlier, profiles are established on a user-by-user basis. This means that whenever a user logs on to a machine that has access to their profile, the first thing they'll see is their own individual desktop, complete with their icons, color scheme, wallpaper, and so on. Profiles include files that relate to the following items:

  • All user-definable settings for Windows Explorer

  • Shortcuts

  • Favorites

  • Mapped network drives

  • Links within My Network Places

  • The desktop

  • Application data

  • User-definable application settings

  • Network printer connections

  • User-definable characteristics within the Windows accessories, such as Calculator, Notepad, and so on

  • Bookmarks within the Help system

Windows also maintains a list of recently opened documents. This list is maintained within the user's profile so that the user's privacy isn't compromised.

Certain configuration options within applications are also stored in user profiles. An example is Internet Explorer, which maintains a separate set of cookies for each user. Another example is the desktop clock; if a user changes the way the clock is displayed, the application is smart enough to know that it should be displayed that way only for one user.

This article was originally published on Dec 4, 2000
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