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Windows Profiles Factsheet

For Stand Alone and Network Computers  “making the computer suit YOU, not  making you suit the computer”


Windows has a set of standard settings which will not suit everyone.  Some users will want to make changes such as:

  • Choosing a different colour scheme 
  • Adjusting the mouse to suit left handed use

Disabled people may find it impossible to use the computer if they cannot make changes:

  • A partially sighted person may need to have a large high contrast colour scheme
  • A person with tremors may need to adjust the keyboard response so that they can use the keyboard

For home users, it is relatively straightforward to change the settings.  Any changes are stored automatically in a local profile and available the next time they start the computer up.

One Computer Many Users

In situations where one computer is  shared there are a number of potential difficulties:

  • It can be frustrating for users to have to make changes each time they use the machine
  • Some users will change settings so that the next user finds it difficult to use the machine
  • If the computer is “locked down” so that settings cannot be changed then individuals who need changes will not be able to access the computer independently. 

These difficulties can be avoided by making sensible use of “Profiles”.  This information sheet discusses some of the different strategies for implementing profiles and highlights their strengths and weaknesses. 

What is a Windows Profile

 “Profiles” store the settings that are attached to individual users and user groups.  Typically profiles include information on screen colours, desktop shortcuts, preferred fonts and keyboard and mouse behaviour.  Profiles can also include internet favourites, bookmarks and AutoText entries. 

Local User Profiles

Local user profiles are stored on the hard disk of the computer in front of the user.  Local profiles cannot be loaded onto another computer just by logging on.

When the computer is new there is no logon procedure and every user works with the standard (default) profile. Any changes made such as having a blue screen and white writing will be seen by everyone else using the computer. 

To create new profiles, new users need to be created.  This is done by:

  • Typing “create new user”  in to the Windows help


  • Open Control Panel and select “User Accounts”, “New User”

You can them make the changes you want to the screen colour, mouse pointer or mouse setup and these wil be automatically saved to the user currently logged on.

When you create a user you will be asked to give them an account type:  If their account type is “administrator” then that user will be able to see everything on the computer, install and uninstall programs and make any changes they like.  Accounts which are “limited” have less power but can still have sufficient authority to:

  • Change or remove their password
  • Change picture, theme, desktop settings such as display colours, mouse settings etc
  • View files they create
  • View files in Shared documents

You may decide to give everyone who uses the computer their own logon and let them adjust their settings.  These settings will be loaded when they log on.  An alternative approach is to create a series of set logons with names like high visibility  or slow keyboard; see AbilityNet factsheet – Windows Accessibility Options for details on these settings.  This type of profile can be useful for drop in users in a community setting.

For more information on local user profiles

Microsoft Help System
User Data and Settings Management  - Microsoft technical paper

Network Profiles

In organisations such as colleges or libraries it is more usual to work with network profiles.  These are stored on a server and are managed by the network administrator.  When a user logs on the profile associated with the user is loaded onto the computer. 

There are two types of network profiles mandatory profiles and roaming profiles.

Mandatory Profiles

Mandatory profiles are sometimes called generic or group profiles.  They are often used in schools and libraries. 

Mandatory profiles deliver a set of standard settings (defined by the network administrator).  Any changes the user makes to the desktop such as changing the screen colour will not be saved when they log off. If they want to make screen settings changes or slow the keyboard down they will either need to make the changes each time they log on or talk to the Network administrator to get them to make the changes permanently. In some instances the user is unable to make changes because the control panel has been “locked down”.

Some organisations, e.g. Warwickshire libraries have created a small range of generic profiles to suit certain types of need. This means that if a user logs on using the “high visibility” logon that their computer is automatically set up with high visibility options.

See the later section on “Saving Display Themes” for information about how to save display settings particular settings without using profiles.

Roaming Profiles

Roaming profiles save any changes the user makes and loads them the next time the user logs on. Roaming profiles can include items like:

  • Windows Explorer settings
  • Taskbar settings
  • Printer settings. All network printer connections
  • Control Panel. All user-defined settings made in the Control Panel
  • Accessories. All user-specific application settings affecting the Windows environment, including: Calculator, Clock, Notepad, Paint, and HyperTerminal, among others
  • Application Settings

Roaming profiles are particularly helpful for disabled users.  They mean that individuals can log on and access the computer with their preferred settings and access software without needing to ask for support.  Logon time with roaming profiles can be a bit slower but this is a relatively low price to pay for improved access.

Roaming profiles require more disk space than mandatory profiles and they require careful planning to set up and manage.  (Having said that, disk space is becoming cheaper and there are plenty of internet based articles on how to set up and manage roaming profiles.)

For more information on Network Profiles

Saving Display Themes

It is possible to save a user’s preferred display settings in the form of a “theme”.  The file containing the theme can be stored on the local PC or on a pen drive.   Once this file is saved the user can load their preferred settings by clicking on the theme icon. 

Themes can be saved from the “Theme”  tab of the display properties item in Control Panel (see picture ).

Profiles, the DDA and “Reasonable Adjustment”

The Disability Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against disabled people by offering them a lower standard of service or treating them less favourably.  Organisations (employers, service providers and training providers) have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to help disabled users.

Disabled users will be disadvantaged if a computer network is locked down and there is no mechanism by which settings can be changed or altered.  This is likely to be unlawful.  Network administrators need to be aware of the implications of the DDA and take this into account when planning user accounts and profile management.  

This factsheet is also available as a word document .