If you are working with roaming user profiles (server based user profiles) in your organisation, then be prepared for big changes. Windows Vista and Windows XP user profiles are not compatible! However, you can use folder redirection to make XP and Vista roaming user profiles interoperable. Even if you are only working with local user profiles, I recommend reading on.

Latest posts by Michael Pietroforte (see all)

We always have problems with roaming user profiles whenever we move to a new Windows version. The worst change was from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000. User using NT and Win2000 machines always had problems logging on to a Windows domain. This kept our help desk busy for months. In theory, Windows 2000 and Windows XP have the same profile structure. Unfortunately, this is only in theory. It seems that some applications just don't know about this theory.

When one of our sysops told me some weeks ago that XP and Vista user profiles are incompatible, I assumed that it is just due to this well known chaos, we always have with Windows upgrades. But, then, I have read that Vista can't even load roaming user profile created by XP. I was just stuck dumb. How can this work? What about our users who logon on three or four different machines? And our students who logon on every computer on the campus? Must we upgrade all our Windows PCs on one day?

My sys admin, then, handed me this white paper (Word file) which contains our salvation. It is called folder redirection. Folder direction also works with Windows 2000/XP. Basically, you redirect some crucial folders from the user profile to a share on a fileserver. We use this technique for our student machines because they use different computers daily. The advantage is that logon is faster when a student uses a computer for the first time since the data is accessible immediately. The disadvantage is that whenever the file server is unavailable, users can't access their data. You can work with offline files to solve this problem, but I, often, have trouble with this.

The trick is to use Group Policy to redirect folders for XP and Vista machines. If you logon for the first time to a Windows domain on a Vista machine, a new roaming user profile will be created on the server. It has the extension V2 to distinguish it from the XP user profile. The documents folder, application data, etc. from the XP profile will be available thru redirection. If you logon again on an XP machine, Windows will load the old user profile and access the same redirected folders on the fileserver.

Well, that's the theory. It is obvious that many things can go wrong here. The folder structure of user profiles in Vista and XP are quite different. Although Vista uses mechanisms to help legacy applications to get on with the new structure (junctions for example), I am sure that this will cause many problems. I highly recommend studying the afore mentioned white paper in detail even if you are not working with roaming user profiles. Many compatibility issues between XP and Vista will probably be caused by this change. The document lists all important modifications.

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My last advice is directed to prevent users from working on machines with different Windows versions. Make a list of those users using multiple computers and upgrade them to Vista, first. I hope you belong to those lucky sys admins with this option. Unfortunately, we're not that fortunate. I will share our experiences with this transition in the next months. Stay tuned!

8 Comments
  1. Frank Ritz 15 years ago

    Thank you for the info. Interesting and helpful. Especially that section about Supermandatory profiles. There are also some rumors on troubles with loading profiles on MS TechNet forums here and there. There's also a nice article on TechNet discussing migration process: Migrating to Windows Vista Through the User State Migration Tool. By the way, I've heard, there are utilities that can change the profiles right on the client without roaming them with some propriatory tricks. Rumors say Scriptlogic's Desktop Authority (www.scriptlogic.com) can do that and help to cope with profile corruption.

  2. Jack Doyle 15 years ago

    Frank,

    You are correct. Desktop Authority is the product that you are referring to and one of the pain points that the product is designed to address is the desire to eliminate the need for roaming profiles. Using a combination of features, including Folder Redirection, Desktop Authority is able to achieve this task.

    However, the wording "cope with profile corruption" is inaccurate. Having to cope with something would imply that you are still living with it, but are able to get by a little easier. Desktop Authority will allow you to eliminate the need to use the Roaming Profiles at all.

    You can take a look at Desktop Authority at http://www.scriptlogic.com/da

    Hope this helps. Thanks for the kind words.

    Jack Doyle, Systems Engineer
    ScriptLogic Corporation

  3. Derek 14 years ago

    For those that want Roaming Profiles to work on Vista only and DO NOT NEED interoperability between Vista and WinXP, please check out this link. I'm the IT/IS Manager at a school and all my staff are using Vista Business Edition. I found here that all you have to do is add ".v2" to the end of the Share Name (on the Win2003 Server) to make Vista's Roaming Profile work with that folder. Uver easy (now that I know, lol)!!!
    Here's the link (I commented there too): http://www.amsterdam-ict.eu/?p=14

  4. Rodrigo 13 years ago

    Ok, I have a different scenario... I work in a company with a win2k server still operational and several winxp computers... all of them working with roaming profiles...

    Recently we acquired a few laptops with vista... and the problems began due to the roaming profile incompatibilities...

    It seems to me the problem solution's posted on this article are based on a the use of a windows 2003 server.

    is there a win2k option?

  5. Killer B 13 years ago

    Rodrigo:

    I've worked with a mixed 2K/XP enviroment before--for the most part, the roaming profiles work fine.

    In a mixed XP/Vista environment (which I've had the pleasure of dealing with last Wednesday), a second profile is created with .V2 at the end just like Michael's article says.

    Are you not seeing .V2 profiles on your Win2K box?

  6. Larry R. 13 years ago

    What about when a user FIRST logs into a Vista/Server08 machine without any roaming profile (fresh login), then they later login to an XP/Server03 system. What's happening with me is that the redirected folders get wiped out when the users logs off of the XP/Server03 system since the "Profile" folder doesn't have the correct ntuser.dat or system files. Am I missing a policy or setting somewhere?

  7. Joseph Cook 13 years ago

    Interesting. Would you know of a way to redirect the bulk of Application Data and Local Settings to a location on the hard drive?

    In our school district running 2003 Server & WinXP SP3, we utilize a mandatory roaming profile. However, some apps choose to install ton of files into these 2 folders in the user profile. The resulting profile size is around 100MB.

    We need a way to redirect these common files to the local drive, but keep the roaming .man profile in a central location. Sounds easy except that the install for the apps have no options to change the target location of installation. The only way to "fool" is to edit hundreds of file locations to All Users, then copy those folders over to the All Users profile on the local drive.

    If the login session could hit a policy, or .arg file or similar, we could keep our roaming profile from bloating.

    Thanks for your comments.

    Joseph Cook, Technology
    Lee's Summit School R7 District

  8. Lorenz 11 years ago

    I do the same beetwen Windows XP desktop and a Windows 2008 terminal server redirecting "Desktop" and "Documents" folders on the terminal (used for data access from the company's outside), but I do not use roaming profiles, I use folders redirection on both Windows XP and terminal.

    I use also a script to "syncronize" favourites folder because in Windows 2008 it's possible to redirect favourites but it isn't in Windows XP. So, when a user makes a logoff from a desktop, a logoff script copy all favourites on a shared directory where is redirected the favourites folders when the same user makes a logon on the terminal server (to be more precise I use robocopy with /MIR option, so I syncronize also deletions).

    I do the same also with the Outlook signature, but in that case I have a logoff script and a logon script to "syncronize" the signature.

    Bye!

    Lorenz

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