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Using Windows Profiles

Windows NT/2000/XP and above employ the idea of “user profiles”. That is, each user has their own settings and data which are loaded when they log in. (In Windows 95/98/Millenium, although it was possible to have multiple profiles, generally the same settings were applied to each user.)

In addition, Windows defines a “common profile” which are settings common to all users. Each machine has a common profile, so it is effectively the machine's profile for settings which are unique to the machine.

What the user sees and interacts with is a combination of their personal profile and the common profile.

For example, all profiles have a section for storing the desktop. The desktop which appears is a combination of the common profile's desktop and the user's desktop.

Settings which inhabit the profile include:

  • Desktop

  • Start Menu

  • My Documents, My Pictures, My Videos

  • Application settings, such as your preferences for Microsoft Word

  • Internet Favourites

  • Internet Cookies

  • Temporary files

  • Recent documents

  • Email folders

  • Windows settings such as folder settings, display settings (colours, screen saver and wallpaper)

In Windows Vista and above, the profile is stored in:

  • C:\Users\Username

and the common profile is stored in:

  • C:\ProgramData

In Windows 2000/XP/2003, the profile is stored in:

  • C:\Documents and Settings\Username

and the common profile is stored in:

  • C:\Documents and Settings\All Users

In Windows NT 4.0 and below, the profile is stored in:

  • C:\Winnt\Profiles\Username

and the common profile is stored in:

  • C:\Winnt\Profiles\All Users

However, depending on the system the path to the profile may be more complicated than just the username. To determine the exact path, open a Command Prompt and type:

  • ECHO %USERPROFILE%

and

  • ECHO %ALLUSERSPROFILE%

When installing an application, the icons and associated settings belong to the machine and so best practice is to place these in the common profile. However, each user will have their own preferences for the application so these will be stored in the user's profile.

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