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Programs can revert to the default settings on Terminal Server

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After a new Terminal Server or Terminal Services server is set up and installed, users who log on to the new server may lose their personalized program settings (such as Microsoft Office or Microsoft Outlook settings). This behavior is caused by the registry compatibility mechanism that is included in Terminal Server and Terminal Services in Application Server mode, which reverts the settings to the default settings when it detects that the settings on the server are newer than those in a user's profile.

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When you install a program on a Terminal Server or a Terminal Services server, you typically install the program in Install mode. You use Install mode so that changes to the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software key are echoed to the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Terminal Server\Install\Software key. This area is known as the shadow area. All registry keys (not each value) are time stamped; the time for the last write operation in Install mode is also stored in the LatestRegistryKey REG_DWORD value in the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Terminal Server\Install\IniFile Times key. The value is the number of seconds since January 1, 1970.

Similarly, when an .ini file is updated in Install mode, the update time is stored in the same key. The write operations to this key set the hidden timestamp on the key itself.

When a user logs on in Execute mode, Userinit.exe compares the hidden timestamp on this key to the timestamp stored in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Terminal Server\LastUserIniSyncTime. If the hidden timestamp is more recent, new software must have been installed on the server (that is, either an .ini file has been updated or registry keys have been updated). Userinit then enumerates all the keys in the Terminal Server compatibility shadow and compares its hidden timestamp to the corresponding key in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software. If the shadow key is newer, the corresponding key in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software is deleted. This leverages the registry mapping in Execute mode that reads and applies a registry value from the shadow if it is missing in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Shadow.

This behavior can revert program settings to the default values (the values stored in the shadow registry) if, for example, a new server has been built. When a user logs on to the new server, it has a very recent timestamp in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Terminal Server\Install\IniFile Times. This starts the registry synchronization process, deleting user preferences for many programs.

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There are several methods to work around this behavior, including:
  1. Use Sysprep and "ghost" new servers. This ensures that new servers inherit the registry timestamps from the original build.
  2. Write to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software in Install mode with the system clock set in the past.
  3. Remove shadow keys that could potentially overwrite user preferences.

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More information

Settings that are applied by Group Policy or a system policy typically survive the synchronization process because they are time stamped with the current system time. However, if Group Policy is not changed, and NoGPOListChanges has not been set for the registry extension (the settings are applied only if the policy has changed), the issue could still occur.

Changes in Microsoft Windows Server 2003

In Microsoft Windows Server 2003, only new registry values are propagated to the users when they log on. As in earlier versions of Windows, the values are propagated if the shadow key time stamp is newer than the time that is specified by the LastIniSync registry entry. However, because of a bug in the way this update is handled, some user values are overwritten by values in the shadow area. This is most likely to occur when the shadow key has no subkey, or when the shadow key has a subkey that has a short name.

Be aware that in Windows Server 2003, existing data is not overwritten, and registry entries are no longer removed. This behavior differs from the behavior of Windows 2000. In Windows 2000, newer registry values in the shadow area could overwrite the users' copies of registry entries.

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Keywords: kbenv, kbprb, KB297379

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Article Info
Article ID : 297379
Revision : 7
Created on : 10/11/2007
Published on : 10/11/2007
Exists online : False
Views : 438