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Windows Vista How-To: Moving User Profiles To Vista Systems

Microsoft has made some drastic changes in Windows Vista’s support for personalization. How will this affect your move to Vista? Learn how you can mitigate the impact with built-in and add-on tools.

A computer is actually a highly personal device. As users, we take the time to personalize our desktop backgrounds, screen savers, shortcut placements, etc. to suit our tastes and sometimes even our daily moods. (And many workers will agree that nothing is more frustrating than working with a computer you can’t personalize because everything is locked.)

All of this comes to a head when you move to a new operating system. Protecting a computer profile or personality -- data, favorites, desktop settings, application customizations, and more -- is probably the most important aspect of any OS deployment project. Anyone who has spent time installing and configuring a new computer will know just how long it takes to get everything just right. This is why personality protection is so important to end users during the migration. So how do you minimize the amount of work required to move to a new OS and, at the same time, maintain all of the hard work users put in to customizing their systems?

There are actually three steps involved. First, you need to decide what to protect or what you will capture before the migration -- and what you will restore after the migration. Next, you should look at the differences between Windows XP and Windows Vista in terms of how they manage the content that makes up a computer personality. Finally, you need to determine just how you’ll protect your users' data and profiles.

1. Decide What to Protect
Windows stores personality settings inside the user profile. Each time a user logs on to a system for the first time -- whether in a corporate network through a domain, relying on an Active Directory authentication, or relying on the local security accounts manager database that can be found on every Windows system -- Windows generates a profile which is derived from the default profile found on each Windows system. The default profile contains standard settings for user document locations, a standard desktop background, a standard screen saver, and so on.

You can, of course, update and otherwise customize the default user profile so that each user gets a customized environment at first logon. Many organizations take the time to do this so that each user has a standard corporate environment when they use the organization’s computers. You can store this custom default profile in one of two places: within the system image you deploy on each PC or centrally on a domain controller -- the server that provides authentication services -- so that each time a user logs onto a system for the first time, they will be faced with a common and standard user experience.

But when you move to a new OS, you won’t want to maintain each profile in the network. That’s because some profiles are volatile while others are permanent. For example, when you need to repair a PC and you log on with your credentials, Windows will automatically generate a new profile for you. This profile doesn’t contain any information you need to preserve because, once the computer is fixed, you won’t need to log back onto it.

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