If you set up roaming profiles, you are expected to set up each machine identically, for the most part


A customer discovered the following behavior when they set up roaming user profiles on their domain. Consider two machines, 1 and 2. An application A is installed on machine 1, but not machine 2. A user with a roaming profile logs onto machine 1 and pins application A to the taskbar. That user then logs off of machine 1 and logs onto machine 2.

Now things get interesting: The taskbar on machine 2 initially shows a white icon on the taskbar, representing the nonexistent application A. A short time later, that icon vanishes. When the user logs off of machine 2 and back onto machine 1, the pinned icon is missing on machine 1, too.

The white icon is deleted automatically by the system because it sees that you pinned an application which is not installed, so it unpins it too. This general rule is to handle the case where you install an application and pin it, then somebody else unninstalls it. The taskbar removes the now-broken icon to reflect the fact that the application is no longer installed. There's no point having a shortcut to a nonexisting program, and it relieves application vendors the impossible task of cleaning up pinned icons upon uninstall. (It's impossible because some users who pinned the application may not have their profile locally present because it roamed to another machine. Or worse, the uninstaller tries to edit a profile that is not active and ends up corrupting the master copy when the two versions reconcile.)

The user profiles team explained that one of the assumptions behind classic roaming user profiles is that the machines participating in roaming be semantically identical: They must be running the same operating system on the same processor architecture. They must have the same set of applications installed into the same locations. And they must have the same drive letter layout.

But that's just classical roaming profiles. There are other roaming profile solutions, such as User Experience Virtualization, which may meet the customer's needs better. (I'm told that there are also third-party roaming solutions, though I don't know of any offhand, this not being my area of expertise.)

Comments (17)
  1. Joker_vD says:

    "that the machines participating in roaming be semantically identical: They must be running the same operating system on the same processor architecture. They must have the same set of applications installed into the same locations. And they must have the same drive letter layout."

    Ha-ha-ha-ha, thank you, it made my Tuesday evening, especially the drive letters part. On a serious note, why does the system even bother to remove broken shortcuts? The user put them there, not the system, so keep your hands away from them.

  2. Xv8 says:

    @Joker_vD

    It's not that difficult in a heavily managed environment like a school (especially since they have summer to update ALL THE MACHINES in one fell swoop).

    On the other hand, it takes them 6 weeks of downime to update anything.

  3. alegr1 says:

    Oh, wonders of automatic shortcut cleanup! If you ever made a shortcut to a network share, it will disappear after some time. Surprise! The shortcut cleanup task runs NOT under your account, and when it's trying to access a network location, it fails. So it decides that the shortcut goes nowhere, and deletes it. Thanks, Ballmer.

    Who ever thought that this cleanup will be a good idea at all?

  4. Scott Brickey says:

    this is why folder mappings should be used, and carefully at that.

    My Documents : map that to the same folder

    Desktop : probably map to the same folder as well (I have a tendency to hate desktop icons for apps – that's what the start menu is for).

    Start Menu : Map that to a machine-name subfolder.

    This can be applied using GPOs as well, for even greater consistency. Then make sure that the redirected folders are configured to allow offline synchronization. With this done, the remaining "roaming profile" is pretty minimal.

  5. Yukkuri says:

    If it didn't cleanup shortcuts you would all be complaining instead about how Windows is too lazy/dumb to do this obvious cleanup, so there is no way to win here.

  6. morlamweb says:

    @Joker_vD: what about shortcuts as created by a program installer?  They're not made by the user, but rather, by an application acting on behalf of the user.  The user didn't request the shortcut, it just appeared when they installed a new app.  Experience tells me that the uninstaller program won't clean up the shortcuts that the installer threw up all over the shell.  In this case, I'd rather have the automatic cleanup process remove those dead links.

  7. alegr1 says:

    @morlamweb:

    The program shortcuts are created in All Users desktop folder, and are deleted on uninstall.

  8. Derlin says:

    When the guy who updated our company workgroup to a Windows domain enabled roaming profiles it would have been helpful to know that or have him explain that to us.  We had all sorts of odd behaviors after that.  Fortunately most users only ever used one workstation with one Windows version, so most of those issues never popped up.  For a while I had an icon for IE x64 in my 32-bit Win XP Quick Launch toolbar.

  9. cheong00 says:

    @Yukkuri : Just don't crawl into other user's folder / registry when doing cleanup.

  10. cheong00 says:

    @Kirby FC : There no way for those program to know their shortcuts are being copied because all software is installed using template user profile, and then the user profile is copied to "Default" user, so any newly created logins keep their copies.

  11. b says:

    Why remove the broken shortcuts? Why not just hide them?

  12. alegr1 says:

    @b:

    Why even bother? Why to do it behind the user's back?

  13. Kirby FC says:

    @morlamweb:

    "what about shortcuts as created by a program installer?  They're not made by the user, but rather, by an application acting on behalf of the user.  The user didn't request the shortcut, it just appeared when they installed a new app."

    Maybe I'm just lucky but my experience has been that uninstalling a program almost always results in the shortcut being deleted, *IF* it is still in the original location where the installer put it.

  14. henke37 says:

    A quick reminder: the user hive of the registery is part of the roaming profile.

  15. Cesar says:

    @alegr1: Instead of removing the broken shortcuts, it could pop up a balloon tip: "There are unused icons in your taskbar. The taskbar cleanup wizard can help you clean up your taskbar. Click this balloon to start the wizard."

  16. This feature is one of Microsoft engineering goofs. Links on the taskbar are limited; the user can be trusted to do the health checking manually: He clicks, finds out the link is not working and deletes it. In addition, the arbitrary health check can be done by Programs and Features after each uninstallation instead of once at each logon.

    Now, such checks would have made perfect sense if they were made on file association entries in Windows Registry. e.g. if File Explorer deleted each incorrect file association upon loading them, it would have been great.

  17. Marc K says:

    If I attempt to open a desktop shortcut that points to something that doesn't exist, Explorer may ask if the shortcut should be deleted.  I think that same behavior for pinned items would have been preferable to automatic deletion.  

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