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Windows' Roaming Profiles to the Rescue

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Depending on how you apply them, roaming profiles can do anything from making your life easier to saving your bacon. If a user needs access from all over the building, roaming profiles are a convenience. If you have 50 users and only 10 computers, roaming profiles are an easy solution. If an entire department's computers die in the middle of a critical project, roaming profiles are a lifesaver.
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Who Uses Roaming Profiles?

In the dear, dead days of dumb terminals and not-so-bright mainframes, data was stored centrally, so it was a snap to let anyone use any terminal. With computers replacing dumb terminals, at least some of the user's data is stored locally on "his" or "her" computer. The information, applications, and such aren't available from another computer without jumping through hoops. In fact, the most common hoop used to be making the computer where the user was logged in act as a dumb terminal for the user's "real" computer.

If your users aren't strapped to their chairs, this is a problem. If you have more users than computers, this is a problem. If somebody's computer dies and he or she needs to keep working right now, this is a problem.

Microsoft's solution to all these problems is the roaming profile. A profile is the collection of settings, permissions, and such that gives the computer its "personality" for each individual user. Normally these are stored on the user's computer. A roaming profile is simply a copy of the user's profile—including startup applications, shortcut links, desktop settings, and some of the registry settings—that is copied to a network server, making that profile available from any computer on the network. With a roaming profile, a user can have the resources of his or her computer available anywhere.

Roaming profiles are especially useful in four situations:

  • Schools are prime candidates for roaming profiles because students may log into different computers in labs, libraries, and classrooms.
  • Enterprises with more employees than computers can use roaming profiles to share equipment.
  • Administrators and help desk workers find roaming profiles helpful when they have to log in from other users' computers.
  • When a user's computer fails, roaming profiles can save the day. Rather than having to repair the computer or move its hard drive to another computer, the user can simply log into another computer and have everything available. The user can be back to work in a matter of minutes, no matter how long it takes to fix the problem.
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