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Be careful when cleaning out Windows 7 profiles

If you run Windows 7 in a domain environment, the computer is eventually going to get cluttered up with user profiles under the C:\Users folder, depending of course on whether you have roaming profiles etc…

A week ago my colleague and I decided that we needed to clean out this directory on our Windows 7 staff boxes for a number of reasons, including the fact that a drive mapped via Group Policy Preferences was not showing up. We duly proceeded to do so, not unduly concerned. I have personally done this step a number of times in the past on Windows XP and have never had any issues. After clean up, people who logged back into Windows XP simply got a fresh and clean profile.

After the directories had been removed, we let some staff log in, only to find out that we had created a bigger problem than we had hoped to cure. After the log on procedure was done, Windows 7 moaned that the user was being logged on with a temporary profile. We were flabbergasted and worried about this, as this was a major step backwards.

Temp Profile

After a bit of research on the net, I discovered that Vista and 7 store information about the profiles in the Registry. More specifically, the location of the files comprising the profile. Deleting the profile folder is only a partial delete and is probably considered a “hack job” method of cleaning up.

The location of the information in the Registry is as follows: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\ProfileList. Below this key, you will see a list of numbers starting with S. The S and the rest of the string is the value of the unique Security Identifier (SID) for each account on your computer. You need to delete each S number for each profile folder you deleted under C:\Users. If you have a handful of computers it is easy enough to do by hand, but in a large environment I can only imagine what a nightmare it can become.

Once that is done, the next time the user logs in, they won’t get moaned at by Windows that they are using a temporary profile. I have seen that at first login, most of the users drive mappings, printers and so on will be missing. A simple log off and back on solves that particular problem.

An interesting situation that almost gave me a minor heart attack, and definitely not something I will be doing in the future again any time soon.

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