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Networking XP

Setting up an XP computer that many different users will share can be tricky. But it does not have to be painful.

Setting up an XP computer that many different users will share can be tricky. In schools, shared resource labs, company libraries, and so on, where everyone has a different network log-in and many people use the same machine, XP does weird things.

Installed applications aren’t available for some users (and Office 2003 is one of them). Double sets of icons appear on the desktop. Items in the Startup menu run twice. I know administrators who have struggled with these issues for 18 months or more, and still don’t quite have a protocol in place.

But lucky for me, Rachel Cooper isn’t one of those people. Through trial and error, Cooper, a school technology coordinator, hit upon a way to tackle all the possible wrinkles of setting up multi-user Windows XP Pro machines in a domain networked environment. It’s not elegant, but neither is the way Windows XP handles multiple profiles. Her technique, however, is thorough, and has worked like gangbusters so far.

Set up the installer

The first step in setting up a new corporate machine is to create a new user. Installer is a good name for him, as an administrator for the local machine and for the domain-based network it will hook up to. When logged in as Installer, you install all the programs you want each user to have. You set up the icons, desktop pattern, screensaver, Internet Favorites, and Startup menu options that you want every user on the computer to see. And set up all the network printers you want the machine to be able to print to. And as a final step, run all the new programs once to see if they kick up registration or other configuration windows the first time you use them. If you see such a pop-up window, make sure it won’t appear next time (because if you don’t, every new user on that PC will suffer). When that’s out of the way, you’ve completed the time-consuming but obvious steps. But your job’s not over.

Fine-tuning the process

While you’re still logged in as Installer, open My Computer and disconnect all the network drives (select them, and open Tools, Disconnect Network Drives). Your network log-in scripts will map the drives again, but if you don’t remove them, network users without access to these drives will be able to see them but not connect to them. It’s tidier and more secure to make sure this doesn’t happen.

After disconnecting the network drives, log off and log on to the machine (but not to your local network) using a local administrator account. Go into My Computer, and navigate to C:Documents and Settings. You should see a few folders there, including Installer, Administrator, All Users, and maybe Default User (this last one’s a hidden folder, but you’ll see a faint outline of it with the right settings.) These folders contain the files that set up user profiles on this system. If you see any other profiles, delete them.

After this, you need to copy the Installer settings to All Users and Default Users. To do this, right-click on My Computer, select Properties, click on the Advanced tab, and then the Settings button. Click to select the Installer profile, then click on Copy To. In the Copy To dialog box, click on Browse and navigate to C:Documents and Settings, then click on All Users. When you click on OK, you’ll be warned about overwriting the existing profile. That’s exactly what you want to do, so click OK. Then repeat the Copy To process and navigate to c:Documents and SettingsDefault User (if you don’t see it, type in c:Documents and SettingsDefault User and click on OK). If you do it right, you’ll see another warning about overwriting a profile. Click OK.

Another abstruse step (the final one!) is to copy various Temp Settings profiles to All Users. To do this, open My Computer, navigate to Documents and Settings, and open Temp Settings. Copy Desktop and Start Menu to All Users folder.

Theoretically, your work should pay off now. But just to be absolutely sure, log on to the computer and the network as a regular user (don’t use your regular log-in if you’re a network administrator, just to be thorough.) Windows XP should create a new profile for you that’s exactly the same as the one you made under Installer, except that your network rights and the drives you can see will be different.

The next just-to-be-sure step is to fire up a program. Anything from Office 2003 is good, since it’s a particularly finicky program for multiple-user systems. If you’re not asked to register or set up the program as a new user, you’re golden. If you are, you need to log back on as Installer and rerun the Office 2003 installation. Then you must delete the user profile you had the trouble with and try again.

Confused yet? Don’t blame the messenger. It’s just another day in the life of a system administrator dealing with Windows XP Professional. And we all have days like that, don’t we?

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