How to manage Windows 8 User Profiles when a user moves between Windows 7 and Windows 8 computers

This article might help clear up any confusion with challenges the new Windows 8 User Profile format presents with regards to backwards-compatibility issues when supporting users who still have a Windows 7-based system and now have a new Windows 8-based device simultaneously. Obviously due to the new Windows 8 profile format, this will produce headaches for System Administrators who may either be delivering a roaming user profile now for existing Windows 7 systems or where users have a fixed mandatory profile.

I initially started searching for the documentation on TechNet, in hope of finding information relating to a “.v3” profile option that could allow the differentiation between the formats. This does not seem to exist. Windows 7 user profiles and Windows 8 profiles are still considered as a “.v2” profile in terms of moving between Windows XP environments to Windows Vista/7/8 environments. I have previously written in detail about ways in which System Administrators can manage profiles in these O.S environments.

Below is a suggested solution/workaround to achieve co-existence between Windows 7 and Windows 8 profiles for a user.

Why the incompatibility issue exists

Profile incompatibility occurs because Windows 8 introduces version information into each successfully loaded user profile. Windows 8 by design will upgrade user profiles that were originally created in Windows 7 when they are loaded on a Windows 8 installation for the first time. Windows 8 also provides a notification to other components and services that enables them to update their Windows 7 settings to Windows 8. This notification enables components and services to own the setting-migration experience. Therefore, Windows 8 is unaware of the incompatibilities that may exist when Windows 8 user profiles roam to a Windows 7 computer.

How to address Roaming profiles

When a user who has a Windows 7 roaming profile signs in to a Windows 8-based computer for the first time, the user’s roaming profile is updated to the new Windows 8 format. The Windows 8 user profile format is incompatible with Windows 7-based computers.

If a user must switch between Windows 7-based and Windows 8-based computers, then you must configure the Set roaming profile path for all users logging onto this computer Group Policy setting for the computers. Now, the user has separate Windows 7 and Windows 8 user profiles that can be applied, depending on the computer that the user signs in to. Additionally, you can use Folder Redirection to give access to the user’s data when either user profile is applied.

How to address Mandatory profiles

Mandatory profiles require special consideration. You must create both a Windows 7 roaming profile and a Windows 8 roaming profile. Windows 7 users must be configured to use the Windows 7 roaming profile path, and Windows 8 users must be configured to use the Windows 8 roaming profile path. When you decide to use mandatory profiles, simply save a copy of each profile type into a network share and remember to rename the ntuser.dat file to ntuser.man. Then use the group policy setting to specify the correct path per O.S version.

Set roaming profile path for all users logging onto this computer

When you choose to configure the Group Policy setting to define a profile path per-computer its worth remembering how Windows reads profile configurations. Windows will use the following order for the profile path and select the first configured setting.

  1. Terminal Services roaming profile path specified in the Terminal Services policy setting.
  2. Terminal Services roaming profile path specific in the user object.
  3. Per-computer roaming profile path specified in the above described policy setting.
  4. Per-user roaming profile path specified in the user object.

Finally I would like conclude this article adding that this information is also relevant if your planning Windows Server 2012 RDS deployments or VDI scenarios.

Please feel free to leave comments on your experiences and any questions related to the topic.

References used for this article

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