Chapter 34 - Managing User Work Environments

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User work environments include the desktop items and settings, such as screen colors, mouse settings, window size and position, and network and printer connections.

You can use the following tools to manage user work environments on a Windows NT network:

  • User profiles

    The user profile contains all user-definable settings for the work environment of a computer running Windows NT, including display settings and network connections. All user-specific settings are automatically saved into the Profiles folder within the system root folder (typically C:\winnt\profiles).

  • System Policy Editor

    System policy enables you to control the user-definable settings in Windows NT and Windows 95 user profiles, as well as system configuration settings. You can use the System Policy Editor to change desktop settings and restrict what users can do from their desktops.

  • Logon scripts

    A logon script is a batch file (.bat) or executable (.exe) file that runs whenever a user logs on at any type of workstation on the network. The script can contain operating system commands, such as commands to make network connections or start applications.

  • Environment variables

    Environment variables specify the computer's search path, directory for temporary files, and other similar information. 

User Profiles

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On computers running Windows NT Workstation or Windows NT Server, user profiles automatically create and maintain the desktop settings for each user's work environment on the local computer. A user profile is created for each user when the user logs on to a computer for the first time.

User profiles provide several advantages to users:

  • When users log on to their workstations, they receive the desktop settings as they existed when they logged off.

  • Several users can use the same computer, and each receives a customized desktop when they log on.

If you have a computer running Windows NT Server on your network, user profiles can be stored on a server so that user profiles can follow users to any computer running the Windows NT version 4.0 platform on the network. These are called roaming user profiles. You can also assign mandatory user profiles to prevent users from changing any desktop settings.

For more information about roaming user profiles and mandatory user profiles, see Chapter 3, "Managing User Work Environments" in Windows NT Server version 4.0 Concepts and Planning.

Settings Saved in a User Profile

A user profile contains configuration preferences and options for each user: a snapshot of a user's desktop environment.

The following table describes the settings in a user profile.


Parameters saved

Windows NT Explorer

All user-definable settings for Windows NT Explorer.


All personal program groups and their properties, all program items and their properties, and all Taskbar settings.

Printers Settings

Network printer connections.

Control Panel

All user-defined settings made in Control Panel.


All user-specific application settings affecting the user's Windows NT environment, including Calculator, Clock, Notepad, Paint, and HyperTerminal, among others.

Windows NT–based applications

Any application written specifically for Windows can be designed so that it tracks application settings on a per-user basis. If this information exists, it is saved in the user profile.

Online Help bookmarks

Any bookmarks placed in the Windows NT Help system.

Structure of a User Profile

User profiles are comprised of the profile directory, a cached copy of the Windows NT Registry HKEY_CURRENT_USER subtree, and the common program groups, contained in the All Users folder.

User Profile Folders

Every user profile begins as a copy of Default User, a default user profile stored on each computer running Windows NT Workstation or Windows NT Server. The Default User profile folder, user profile folders for each user, and All User profile folders are located in the Profiles folder in the system root (usually C:\Winnt). The Default User folder and individual user profile folders contain an NTuser.dat file plus a directory of links to desktop items.


The user profiles folders contain links to various desktop items.

User profile folder


Application Data

Application-specific data. For example, a customer dictionary. Application vendors decide what data to store in the User Profile folder.


Desktop items, including files and shortcuts.


Shortcuts to program items and favorite locations.


Shortcuts to Network Neighborhood items.


Shortcuts to program items.


Shortcuts to printer folder items


Shortcuts to the most recently used items.


Shortcuts to document items.

Start Menu

Shortcuts to program items.


Shortcuts to template items.

Note The NetHood, PrintHood, Recent, and Templates folders are hidden and, by default, do not appear in Windows NT Explorer. To view these folders and their contents in Windows Explorer, click Options on the View menu, and then click Show all files.

NTuser.dat File

The NTuser.dat file is the registry portion of the user profile. NTuser.dat is a cached copy of the Windows NT Registry HKEY_CURRENT_USER subtree on the local computer. The registry is a database repository for information about the computer's configuration, including the hardware, installed software, environment settings, and other information. In the registry, the settings that determine the work environment for the user who is currently logged on to the computer are stored in HKEY_CURRENT_USER.


All Users Folder

Although they are not copied to user profile folders, the settings in the All Users folder are used with user profile folders to create the user profile.

The Windows NT platform supports two program group types:

  • Common program groups are always available on a computer, no matter who is logged on. Only administrators can add, delete, and modify them.

  • Personal program groups are private to the user who creates them.

Common program groups are stored in the All Users folder under the Profiles folder. The All Users folder also contains settings for the Desktop and Start menu.

On computers running Windows NT Workstation or Windows NT Server, only members of the Administrators group can create common program groups.

For information on adding new program groups, see "To add a new submenu to the Programs menu" in Windows NT Help.

How Local User Profiles Are Created

The local user profile is the user profile stored on the computer under the user name in the Profiles folder. When no preconfigured server-based (roaming) user profile exists for a user, the first time a user logs on to a computer, a user profile folder is created for the user name. The contents of Default User are then copied to the new user profile folder. The user profile, along with the common program group settings in the All Users folder, create the user's desktop. When the user logs off, any changes made to the default settings during the session are saved to the new user profile folder. The user profile in Default User remains unchanged.

If the user has a user account on the local workstation in addition to a domain user account or more than one domain user account, the local user profile is different for each account because different user profiles are generated for each user that logs on. When the user logs off, changed settings are saved to only one user profile, depending on which account the user logged on to.

When a user has a local user profile on a computer, the user profile folder contains the NTuser.dat file and a transaction log file named NTuser.dat.log. The log file is used to provide fault tolerance, allowing Windows NT to recover if a problem occurs while the NTuser.dat file is being updated.


System Default Profile

When Windows NT is running on a computer that no user is logged on to, a dialog box appears, prompting you to press CTRL+ALT+DEL to log on. This dialog box and other aspects of the Windows NT environment at this point, such as the screen's background color and its use of wallpaper and screen savers, are controlled by the system default profile. The settings for this profile are stored in System32\config\default. The system default profile can be changed by using either Windows NT Registry Editor (Regedt32 or Regedit) to edit the Default key in HKEY_USERS.

For information about using Windows NT Registry Editor, see Part 5, "Windows NT Registry."

System Policy

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On computers running Windows NT Workstation or Windows NT Server, the contents of the user profile are taken from the user portion of the Windows NT Registry. Another portion of the registry, the local computer portion, contains configuration settings that can be managed, along with user profiles, using System Policy Editor. With this tool, you create a system policy to control user work environments and actions, and to enforce system configuration for all computers running Windows NT Workstation and Windows NT Server.

With system policy, you can control some aspects of user work environments without enforcing the restrictions of a mandatory user profile. You can restrict what users can do from the desktop; such as restrict certain options in Control Panel, customize parts of the desktop, or configure network settings.

To enforce system policy on your network, you need at least one computer on your network running Windows NT Server, configured as a primary domain controller (PDC). For information on enforcing system policy on your network, see Chapter 3, "Managing User Work Environments" in Windows NT Server version 4.0 Concepts and Planning.

Using System Policy Editor to Edit the Registry

You can use the Open Registry command on the System Policy Editor File menu to make changes to the Windows NT Registry settings on the local computer. Using Open Registry, the changes you set in System Policy Editor are made immediately in the registry when you use Save on the File menu.

You can use the Connect command on the System Policy Editor File menu to make changes to the Windows NT Registry settings on a remote computer. This feature allows remote adjustment to computer registries. For example, a help desk technician can connect to a computer and correct settings that a user mistakenly changed.

Note System Policy Editor is designed to manage registry settings for the entire domain; direct changes to registry settings are not recommended unless a specific instance of user or computer incompatibility occurs.

Using Logon Scripts to Configure User Work Environments

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A logon script runs automatically whenever a user logs on to a computer running either Windows NT Server or Windows NT Workstation. Although a logon script is typically a batch file (.bat or .cmd extension), any executable program (.exe extension) can also be used.

Logon scripts are optional. They can be used to configure user working environments by creating network connections and starting applications. Logon scripts are useful when you want to affect the user work environment without managing all aspects of it.

Note User profiles can restore network connections at logon that were established prior to logging off, but they cannot be used to create new network connections at logon.

To use Logon scripts, you need at least one computer on your network running Windows NT Server, configured as a primary domain controller (PDC). For information on enforcing system policy on your network, see Chapter 3, "Managing User Work Environments" in Windows NT Server version 4.0 Concepts and Planning.

Changing the System Environment Variables

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Windows NT requires certain information to find programs, to allocate memory space for some programs to run, and to control various programs. This information — called the system and user environment variables — can be viewed using the System option in Control Panel in the Environment Variables tab. These environment variables are similar to those that can be set in the MS-DOS operating system, such as PATH and TEMP.

The system environment variables are defined by Windows NT Workstation and Windows NT Server and are the same no matter who is logged on at the computer. If you are logged on as a member of the Administrators group, you can add new variables or change the values.

The user environment variables can be different for each user of a particular computer. They include any environment variables you want to define or variables defined by your applications, such as the path where application files are located.

After you change any environment variables in the Environment Variables tab in the System Properties dialog box and click OK, Windows NT saves the new values in the registry so they are available automatically the next time you start your computer.

If any conflict exists between environment variables, Windows NT Workstation and Windows NT Server resolve the conflict in this way:

  • System environment variables are set first.

  • User environment variables defined in the System dialog box are set next and override system variables.

  • Variables defined in Autoexec.bat are set last, but do not override system or environmental variables.

Note Path settings, unlike other environmental variables, are cumulative. The full path (what you see when you type path at the command prompt) is created by appending the path contained in Autoexec.bat to the paths defined in the System option in Control Panel.