When I compiled my complete Windows 7 feature overview a while back, one of the features that caught my attention was the background upload of roaming user profiles. This Windows 7 feature overview was mostly based on Microsoft's Windows 7 reviewer's guide of the beta version. This guide is no longer available at Microsoft Download, but you still can get it at rapidshare. Note that not everything in this paper applies to Windows 7 RTM.

Michael Pietroforte

Michael Pietroforte is the founder and editor in chief of 4sysops. He has more than 35 years of experience in IT management and system administration.

This is the original text in the Windows 7 reviewer's guide:

Windows 7 makes Roaming User Profiles more useful and reliable by enabling IT professionals to automatically synchronize users’ profiles with the server while users are still logged on. Prior to Windows 7, this synchronization occurred only when users logged off. With this improvement, users can roam from one PC to another while remaining logged in to both PCs—and still have the same consistent environment.

As I read this, the whole user profile is synchronized with the server while the user is logged on. This was one of the features that had been on my wish list since I worked with roaming user profiles in Windows NT 4. In some organizations people tend to log on and log off at the same time, i.e. in the morning when they start working and in the evening before they leave work. Users who have just come out of a rush hour traffic jam are usually not very patient when they have to wait for ages until their profiles are downloaded because the company network is jammed or because the file servers are too busy.

There are several ways to remedy this problem. For example, you can redirect the document folders to a file server or work with offline files. I always found these workarounds not very convenient and also error-prone. Hence I was curious to try this new Windows 7 feature. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed when I had a closer look at the background upload of roaming user profiles with Windows 7 RTM. It appears that not the whole profile but only the ntuser.dat file is synchronized with the server while the user is still logged on.

Backroundupload-of-roamer-user-profiles I only found one new Group Policy setting related to the background upload feature (Computer Configuration | Administrative Templates | System | User Profiles). It clearly states that only ntuser.dat is affected by this function. You probably know that ntuser.dat contains the HKEY_CURRENT_USER registry hive; that is, it stores all user settings, those of Windows and most applications.

I have only tried the feature with a Windows Server 2008 R2 domain controller (functional level R2), but the new Group Policy reference guide says that this features is independent of the Active Directory functional level. Thus it should also work in a Windows Server 2003 domain.

There are two scheduling methods. You can set an interval or a specific time of the day when ntuser.dat is synchronized with the server. The shortest interval is one hour, so new user settings won't be synchronized immediately.

The background upload of roaming user profiles is certainly a useful feature. If a user has logged onto two different machines, then all settings will be transferred between the two machines without needing to log off. However, it would be much better if the whole user profile including the My Documents folder were synchronized. Perhaps Microsoft originally planned this feature and will add it a later time. At least the reviewer's guide of the Windows 7 beta reads like this. It is also possible that I missed something here.

Update: The last paragraph might not be correct. Please check the comments below. I will update this article as soon as I know more.

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4 Comments
  1. Helge Klein 10 years ago

    Hi Michael,

    If I am not mistaken, the background upload is one way only (client to file server). So this is rather a method of backing up a user's registry data than a synchronization mechanism between multiple running session. Please see my article on the subject and especially the update at the bottom:

    http://blogs.sepago.de/helge/2009/04/02/microsoft-tackles-the-last-writer-wins-problem-of-roaming-profiles-in-windows-7-server-2008-r2/

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  2. Michael Pietroforte 10 years ago

    Helge, it makes a lot of sense what you say. I actually didn't try if the profile is also copied from the server to client. Did you try it?

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  3. Helge Klein 10 years ago

    No, I did not try it (yet), although I doubt MS is replacing an in-use NTUSER.DAT on the client with a newer version from the file server. But let's try it out!

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  4. Michael Pietroforte 10 years ago

    I think they originally planned to synchronize the user profile to multiple clients. At least the old reviewer's guide reads like this. But the term "background upload" in the Group Policy setting supports your view.

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