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Multi User Profiling & Fast User Switching in Windows XP

written by: •edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 5/18/2011

Can't Switch Users in Windows XP? Often you face issues with Multiple User Profiles & Fast User Switching in Windows XP. The article lists possible causes of problems associated with fast user switching and checks out the different methods of troubleshooting Windows for User Switching.

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    Introduction to Fast User Switching among multiple User Profiles

    Windows XP bought in several new features when it was released, and it kept adding more through its updates and service packs. Apart from the different desktop themes, windows and cursor animation, Movie Maker, and many more features, the operating system has Fast User Switching. This feature allows several users to work on the computer without the first one having to log off in order to let the other one continue.

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    Multiple User Profiles in Windows XP

    Windows allows you to create multiple profiles on a single computer. The different user profiles contain settings pertaining to the profile holder. These settings include the desktop themes, cursors, screen savers, and most importantly, the My Documents folder.

    For each profile, there is a separate My Documents folder which can be made private so that other users of the computer cannot see the contents of the folder. This makes it safe to save your private files in your My Documents folder. This folder can be accessed only when you log in to your own profile. The different profiles are displayed at the Startup screen (also called Welcome Screen), when you start Windows. However, in the versions prior to Windows 2000, there was no provision for making the folder private, which meant that anyone with administrator privileges could peek into the My Documents of other user profiles.

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    Difference between Multiple User Profiles in Windows XP and other Windows Versions

    Though all the Windows operating systems that came after Windows 95 offer Multiple User Profiles, they have some drawbacks that can be annoying at times. For instance, you are logged into your User Profile and somebody else has a quick but urgent need to work on the same system. To achieve this, he has to login into his particular User Profile. In such a case, there is the option for the first user to save his or her work and log off. Another option is to restart the system. This can cause the first user to lose what they are working on. Both options get you to the Welcome Screen, from which you can access your User Profile. However, the log off option is better as it saves time.

    In Windows XP, the operating system introduced Fast User Switching. This means that you need not log off. You can just click on the log off link, and select Switch User to get to change the User Profile. This option saves the work of the first user and keeps his applications running, while the second user can login into his User Profile to get his work done. Once he is finished, he will just log off so that the first user can again switch to his profile and continue with his work. This option saves time as the first user doesn't need to restart all the applications again.

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    Problems Associated with Fast User Switching

    Though the Fast User Switching is considered a good way to quickly switch among different profiles, it has its own share of limitations. Let us check out some of the major problems, their causes, and possible solutions.

    1. The most common is the one where you are not able to run an application after switching the User Profile. This happens in cases where another user has the application open in the other active profile. Some applications cannot run multiple instances of the same application, such as a disk defragmenter. It applies to several other applications as well.

    2. Changing settings in one User Profile changes the settings in the other User Profiles too. This happens because some programs such as Google Talk do not support multiple profiles. Such programs assume any changes as global changes and create the problem. There is no direct solution for this problem. It is better to use a third party program. In the above case, you can use Pidgin. You can setup all your IMs including the Gtalk into the IM (Pidgin) and setup custom settings in the Pidgin. The settings of the Pidgin override the settings of Gtalk or any other IM so that each User Profile has its own settings. However, it is just a workaround. You will have to use the Gtalk via Pidgin.

    Finally, the complex problem is that many times, you cannot use the Fast User Switching. When you try to use the feature, you are kicked back to the Welcome Screen. The problem has a range of causes and different solutions pertaining to each cause. We will discuss this drawback in the next section.

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    Fast User Switching does not Work in Windows XP: Causes of the Problem and Rectification

    There are many root causes to this problem. Most of them are related to the settings in the Windows, set either by you or by the administrator of the network on which you have your computer.

    A) If you cannot see the Logoff link in the Start Menu, it means that the Logoff option has been disabled by the administrator.

    If you are running Windows XP Pro on a standalone PC, you can go to the Run link in the Start menu and type in GPEDIT.MSC. This will open up the group policies window. Select the option Administrative Templates under the User Configuration and then click on the View Menu. Select Filtering and in the resultant dialog box, select “Show only Configured Policy Settings". If the option of disabling appears in the right pane, you can set it to off and then click OK. Close the GPEDIT Window. This will solve the problem for standalone PCs where somebody changed the settings.

    For PCs on network, you will need to contact your network administrator.

    B) If the Logoff link is present in the Start Menu, yet you cannot use the Fast User Switching chances are that your event log is full. To resolve this problem, right click on My Computer and click Manage. You will get Computer Management Window. Select the Event Viewer. In the right hand pane, right click on the Office Sessions and click on Properties. See if the option “Overwrite Events as Needed" is selected. If not, select the option and click OK. This will solve the problem. If the option is already selected, this is not the reason you are not able to use Fast User Switching.

    C) Another cause is the setting of Windows Terminal Service. To check the status of the service, right click My Computer and select Manage. Expand Services and Applications. Click on Services link. Locate the service Terminal Service and see if it is set to automatic. If not, it is the problem. Set it to automatic and boot your computer. This will solve the problem.

    D) If the step (C) is not the cause or it does not solve the problem, it means that there are some conflicting network devices on the computer. Remove all of them and reboot before reinstalling them. If the re-installation is smooth and does not show up any error message, try using the Fast User Switching. It should work. If it is not, then go to step E.

    E) The Fast User Switching depends on several services that are configured by the Windows XP Installer. Check if you are using a genuine copy of Windows XP. To do this, go to the Windows Support site and verify if your copy of Windows XP is genuine. If it is, then re-installing the operating system will solve the problem. If the Windows Validation Tool reports that the copy of your Windows is not genuine, get into touch with the reseller and ask him for the genuine Windows Installation. A Genuine Windows XP installation will solve the problem of Fast User Switching by restoring all the necessary services on which the Fast User Switching is dependent.

    Remember to back up all of your personal information and files to another drive before you reinstall your copy of Windows XP, or they will all be gone. An external drive is the safest place to put your backup..