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User Profiles

In Windows 3.11, settings unique to a user were located in many disparate locations, including AUTOEXEC.BAT, CONFIG.SYS, WIN.INI, SYSTEM.INI, and numerous application-specific .INI files. Because this data was often intertwined with the Windows internal configuration data, providing good user management using Windows 3.11 was very difficult.

For example, the simple task of allowing multiple users to work on a single PC was not possible with "out-of-the-box" Windows 3.11. Managing multiple user configurations on a network was even more difficult.

Various tools and products attempted to retroactively address the lack of user management capabilities in Windows 3.11. Out of necessity, many companies wrote their own user management tools or used third-party products to help manage multiple users on their networks.

Very often, this user namespace did not leverage the existing namespace of the corporate network resident on the network servers. In some cases, the user management software was implemented as a replacement Windows shell, with varying degrees of compatibility with existing Windows-based applications and the underlying network client software.

User management in Windows 9X is integral to the system and is implemented in a feature known as User Profiles. User Profiles are part of the Registry, and they contain system, application, and network data that are unique to individual users of a Windows 9X PC.

The User Profile characteristics can be set by the user, by the network manager, or by the help-desk staff. In contrast to Windows 3.11, the User Profiles in Windows 9X are contained within a single file named USER.DAT.

By keeping all user-specific data in one file, Windows 9X can provide a means to manage the user of the PC separately from the configuration of the Windows 9X operating system and the PC hardware.

This separation also allows the user information to be located in a physically different location than that of the system configuration. It also allows the User Profiles to be updated separately from the rest of the Registry.

All settings contained within a User Profile are administerable locally or remotely from another Windows 9X PC. Windows 9X enables centralized user management, and the network manager can user the Registry Editor provided with Windows 9X or a variety of third-party tools to automate management of User Profiles.

The settings contained in User Profiles include the following:

  • Windows 9X settings, including desktop layout, background, font selection, colors, shortcuts, display resolution, and so on
  • Network settings, including network connections, workgroup, preferred server, shared resources, and so on
  • Application settings, including menu and toolbar configurations, fonts, window configuration preferences, and so on

User Profiles can effectively be disabled for Windows 9X PCs with only one user, by disabling the option that gives each user a separate desktop in the property sheet for security, shown in Figure 63.

Figure 63. The property sheet for security, showing User Profiles enabled and specifying unique desktops, Taskbar options, and program groups for each user

User profile settings include everything in the Hkey_Current_User section of the Windows 9X Registry, such as the following:

  • Control Panel settings and preferences for the Windows 9X user interface, including settings for desktop layout, background, font selection, colors, shortcuts on the desktop, the Start menu, and so on.
  • Settings for persistent network connections, plus information for recently used resources, including documents, Find Computer results, installation locations for setup, and printer ports.
  • Application settings (for applications that can write directly to the Windows 9X Registry), including settings for the accessories and applications installed with Windows 9X, menu and toolbar configurations, fonts, and so on.

Each user profile includes several parts: a USER.DAT file, a backup USER.DA0 file, a Desktop folder, a Recent folder, and a Start Menu folder, plus the Programs folder under Start Menu. These folders are in the directories for each user, which are in the Windows Profiles directory, as shown in the following illustration.

When user profiles are enabled, users get their own configuration when they log on to a computer. Users can define their own preferences by customizing their desktops. Alternatively, you can define a standard user profile for use across the network or for a set of specific users.

Each user's preferences are saved to a user profile that Windows 9X uses to configure the desktop each time that user logs on. When a second user logs on to the same computer with a different user name, Windows 9X creates a separate user profile for that user.

A roving user's profile is stored on a network server and downloaded to any computer on the network to which the user logs on. This occurs automatically on a NetWare and a Windows NT network.

However, although Windows 9X offers the ability for roving users to move from one computer running Windows 9X to another, it does not offer the ability to move between a computer running Windows NT and one running Windows 9X.