A Windows user profile can cause problems even if it's not corrupt

Corrupt Windows user credentials can cause problems at login, but that's not the only thing that can interfere with a Windows user profile.

I'm experiencing a problem with the temporary user profile at logon, but it doesn't appear to be the result of a corrupt Windows user profile -- it comes and goes. What else could be causing this?

The most common reason for a temporary user profile problem -- where a user enters a Windows login and finds himself with a temporary user profile rather than his native profile -- has historically been a corrupt user profile. But as disk hardware has grown more reliable, and the default file system on Windows has gone from FAT to FAT32 to NTFS, the reasons for the problem have also shifted. Here are few other major reasons why a user might find himself stuck with a temporary Windows user profile on login.

The profile has been temporarily locked by third-party software. Some programs that install background services might well be accessing the profile at login time, which means the user himself can't access the profile. Windows typically waits for a short time to see if the profile will be freed up. If it isn't, it then switches to the temporary profile just to give the user a chance to log in. Some firewall or security programs -- such as earlier versions of the ZoneAlarm product -- have been known to do this.

One way to guard against this is to use the User Profile Hive Cleanup Service, which makes sure that any programs with handles still open to the user profile are cleanly shut down when you log out.

You're logging on with a roaming profile via an Active Directory server across a slow network. This is a more intricate problem, and revolves around an aspect of user profiles that isn't well understood, even by some experts.

Windows tends to be fussy about how quickly it expects Windows user credentials to be returned by a remote Active Directory server when you're logging in via a roaming profile. The default wait is 30 seconds.

This wait time can be bumped up through the Group Policy editor, in "Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\System\User Profiles." If you have a slow network, or if you have a wireless network that takes a while to find a connection, you can bump this number up a bit to avoid problems.

Dig Deeper on User passwords and network permissions