Changing the Windows XP default user profile

Date July 27, 2009

In my infrastructure, all of our non-developers have Windows XP machines. Because I'm not completely migrated over to network profiles even though I'm adding machines to the domain, I want to provide a consistent user experience for users logging into a machine for the first time.

As you've probably noticed, the "default" look is probably branded by your hardware vendor unless you've installed from scratch, in which case it's overly generic.

Before Service Pack 3, changing the default was straightforward. There was a "c:\Documents and Settings\Default User" folder that could be mangled appropriately. In the Post-SP3 world, it gets a little more complex...unless you google it, then it gets worlds more complex.

I couldn't find any straightforward method of changing the default login profile, so I asked Serverfault. My question only got two answers which were completely different.

The one with the highest votes pointed me to a Micrsoft Knowledgebase article that was completely unclear in regards to Windows XP SP3. It points to using sysprep to roll out new installs. But I don't want to roll out a new install. I have an install. I just want to change the damned default profile.

The second answer (and the one I marked as being the answer) was closer to the mark. He suggested that I configure an account to the specifications that I wanted the defaults to take, then log out, log in as another user with administrative access, then go into My Computer/properties, Advanced, Profiles, and copy the configured profile into "C:\Documents and Settings\Default".

So, so close.

All of his instructions were right except for the "Default" part. As it turns out, "Default User" is still there, but before you can overwrite it, you need to go in and run

attrib -S -H -R "Default User"

It then appears, and can be copied (and overwritten, via the method mentioned above). After it is overwritten as you'd like it, run

attrib +S +H +R "Default User"

to hide it again, then reboot the machine (which may or may not be necessary, but I don't feel the need to press my luck).

Log back in as an admin, create a new account, log out, log in as the new user, and enjoy your customized environment.

  • Ben C

    Ugh. That sounds really nasty. I'm glad you figured this out and shared it with the world. With any luck, I'll never need to refer back to this particular post.

  • augmentdfourth

    Sounds a bit like the way I used to do it in win2k (haven't needed to mangle default profiles since then). I wonder if the accounts management pane in the System control panel does the attrib stuff automatically if you copy a configured profile over the default user?

  • Greg

    We use Samba as our NT Domain Controller, but I figure this would work with a Windows one too: As an additional option, we have a path %LogonServer%\netlogon\Default User\
    where I have stored a copy of a non-admin profile after I've made it exactly how I want it. When someone logs into any machine for the first time and their user profile is generated, it first looks there in lieu of looking at Documents and Settings\Default User. Centralised management ftw.
    Also from time to time I grab the ntuser.dat from that spot, load it in regedit and add things I'd like everyone to get on their machines. e.g. some PuTTY config
    This all still seems to work with the fairly recently deployed (on our systems) SP3.

  • Andy

    The only fault I've found with customizing the default user profile is each new profile created on the machine will inherit folder names from whatever account it is based on.

    For example, create an account called joe and copy it to the default user profile. From then on, each new user's My Documents folder will be c:\documents and settings\profilename\joe's documents. Not a huge deal, maybe I'm overly picky. Unless this was fixed after SP3, haven't tried it in a while.

  • Chris Wilson

    I've been using those steps for a while as it was the only way I found to make MUIed default users. Without doing it, some of the language settings never fully applied.

    If the folders are taking the name of the user you used to create it, check in the desktop.ini held in the sub-folders. In there is an 'Owner' variable. Delete it out and when the user logs in it will either use a standard name (My Documents etc..) or take the users name.

  • Nick Anderson

    I had a similar desire at my last place of employment. While we did use roaming profiles I wanted to enforce things in the xp enviornment. My issue was that more than defaults I wanted to set the background and theme on each login. What I ended up doing was combining group policy (the old poledit style) with a login script. Both were pretty easy to setup with the samba dc. On every login a batch scrip would run around and make reg edits and whatever else I wanted. Sometimes I would push out software updates in a silent install that way.

  • Jim Powell

    I'm running into an error message when I try to copy the user profile to the Default User one. The error message is "Failed to set Security on the Destination Profile. Error -- Access is Denied"

    Anyone experienced this??

    Windows XP Pro SP3

  • rws70

    Creating a default user profile in XP Professional sp3 is easy as copy and paste. (I wish Windows 7 were that easy!)

    I start out as Administrator (local). I install all the software I want and make all customizations I want. Then I create a second local account testadmin and give administrator rights.


    Log in as testadmin. Go to Folder options / View tab / select Show hidden files and folders ; and uncheck Hide protected operating system files.

    Go to C:\documents and settings and delete the contents of the Default User folder. Open the Administrator folder and copy everything into the now empty Default User folder. Empty the Trash. REBOOT

    Log in as Administrator and go to System Properties / Advanced tab / User Profiles Settings and delete the profile for testadmin (you can delete the account too if you want).

    I have been doing this for ten years starting with Windows 2000, hundreds of users. No problems.


  • rws70

    One tip: To make the Default User profile smaller I usually delete everything in the Local Settings / Temp folder after coping the contents of the administrator profile to the default user profile as explained above.

  • ren

    Thanks very much for you explanation rws70!

  • Colton

    Hey all

    This Can easily be fixed by logging in as an administrator, opening "Run..." from the start menu, entering "control userpasswords2" w/o quotes
    The classic user password management (from windows 2k) will come up. choose the new user that shows this problem, click "Properties" than change the Full Name to the desired name.


    on July 28th, 2009 at 9:51 am Andy said:

    "The only fault I’ve found with customizing the default user profile is each new profile created on the machine will inherit folder names from whatever account it is based on.

    For example, create an account called joe and copy it to the default user profile. From then on, each new user’s My Documents folder will be c:\documents and settings\profilename\joe’s documents. Not a huge deal, maybe I’m overly picky. Unless this was fixed after SP3, haven’t tried it in a while."

  • chad

    Hi Guys,

    I wanted to be one of the sysadmin. Any idea on what should be the first step that I should know about? What Certificate should I take? I am a graduate in Computer Engr. Major in Networking.

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  • Andy

    Hehe, another Andy! :)