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Windows XP Favourites Redirection - in ADMX format

One of the major disadvantages of still running XP in production is its lack of Internet Explorer Favourites directory redirection. If your users frequently roam between computers, the usual workaround is to enable Roaming Profiles to have the favourites roam with them. This usually works, until Windows Vista or 7 is introduced into the environment.

The newer Microsoft operating systems from Vista onwards do not support the old, legacy format of the XP profile. Instead, users logging on to a modern OS for the first time will be given a new roaming profile with ".V2" appended to their username in the roaming profile share. This is the version 2 profile, used by Vista up and totally isolated from the XP profile, including total isolation of the data it contains. In a phased roll-out of the newer Microsoft operating systems, you must follow best practices by using folder redirection to redirect user data on all systems to a common network location. This removes the data from the profiles, maintains consistency and ensures the user experience is the same on all network stations, without concerns over which OS is installed and therefore which profile and data the user will have access to. Plus, roaming profiles are just too slow for storing lots of user data anyway.

Unfortunately, Windows XP does not support redirection of the Favourites directory; this support was added in Windows Vista. One workaround I have seen is the built-in Vista redirection configured to redirect user favourites folders on newer systems to the legacy XP roaming profile share. This works, but it's not particularly clean; redirecting data to a profile share rather than a user (home folder) share just isn't right. It also causes data loss issues if a user's profile must be reset; I work by the principle that only disposable data - stuff the users could live without - should be put into a user's profile for precisely this reason.

Implementing Favourites redirection in Windows XP is a logical alternative; it isn't particularly difficult either. I developed the following ADMX files to supplement the older ADM solutions which are available through a search on a popular web search engine. With 2008 or 2008 R2 Domain Controllers, the ADMX format is available for your use and I would highly suggest you make use of it. ADMX is XML-based and much, much easier to use than the legacy ADM language.

<policyDefinitions revision="1.0" schemaVersion="1.0">
                          <target prefix="customFavorites" namespace="Microsoft.Policies.Favorites" />
                          <using prefix="inetres" namespace="Microsoft.Policies.InternetExplorer" />
                        <resources minRequiredRevision="1.0" />
                            <definition name="SUPPORTED_IE5" displayName="$(string.SUPPORTED_IE5)" />
                          <policy name="IE_Favorites" class="User" displayName="$(string.IE_Favorites)" explainText="$(string.IE_Favorites_Location_Explain)" presentation="$(presentation.IE_Favorites)" key="Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders">
                            <parentCategory ref="inetres:InternetExplorer" />
                            <supportedOn ref="SUPPORTED_IE5" />
                              <text id="IE_Favorites_Location" key="Software\Microsoft\Windows CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders" valueName="Favorites" required="true" expandable="true" />

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XPFavouritesRedirect.adml (name this file the same as the ADMX file - but with an extension of .ADML - storing it in the appropriate language folder of your PolicyDefinitions directory)
<policyDefinitionResources revision="1.0" schemaVersion="1.0">
                            <string id="IE_Favorites">Location of Internet Explorer Favorites</string>
                            <string id="IE_Favorites_Location">The path to the favorites folder</string>
                            <string id="IE_Favorites_Location_Explain">Specify the path to the location of your Favorites folder. This is stored in an expandable registry string value, so you can use environment variables, such as %HomeDrive%%HomePath%.</string>
                            <string id="IE_Favorites_Location_Tip1">Specify the UNC path to the favorites location</string>
                            <string id="InternetExplorer">Internet Explorer</string>
                            <string id="SUPPORTED_IE5">at least Internet Explorer v5.01</string>
                            <presentation id="IE_Favorites">
                              <textBox refId="IE_Favorites_Location">

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The above is standard ADMX/ADML format which can be dumped in the correct locations of your Central Store (if you don't have one, why not? Set it up, otherwise you will need to store them in the local store on each 2008/2008 R2 DC). In the GP Editor, it will appear as a policy in the standard Internet Explorer area under the User Configuration / Windows Components node.

The Favourites registry value in HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders is of type REG_EXPAND_SZ. The ADMX implements this with the expandable="true" syntax, meaning from your perspective, you can specify environment variables in the GPO and these will be properly expanded by the system to their full paths. I personally use %HomeDrive%%HomePath%\Favourites to direct them to a subfolder of the user's defined home folder location in their Active Directory user account properties.

This does not move any existing Favourites out of the profile and into the redirected location. However; this is fairly easy to script in a logon script or one-time operation. For new users, the Favourites directory will be created automatically, assuming the home drive exists, the user has permissions, quota is not fully used and so on.

Windows Vista, 7 and higher sport massive improvements to the Folder Redirection offerings, including support for Favourites redirection as standard! As a best practice, you should consider deploying two separate Group Policy objects (GPOs): an XP GPO which implements this add-on method, and a Windows Vista+ policy, which redirects the folder using the native features. Unless you maintain separate OUs of systems on each OS, this route will probably require you to use Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) filters to filter your GPOs to apply only to the correct version of Operating System. WMI is a framework of classes built-in to Windows which is increasingly used by Group Policy architects to filter GPOs based on very specific information exposed through WMI: everything from the specifications of the computer's physical hardware, the installed software and the Operating System will likely have some presence in a WMI class.

The Group Policy Management Console contains a WMI filters node to add the filters. Sample filters are included below to distinguish between older than Vista and Vista or newer systems. When creating these filters, note that the namespace should be root\cimv2. When designing your Group Policy structure, bear in mind Windows 2000 ignores WMI filters when applying Group Policy.

Older than Windows Vista (implying XP/2003)
SELECT Version FROM Win32_OperatingSystem WHERE Version < '6'

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Windows Vista and newer
SELECT Version FROM Win32_OperatingSystem WHERE Version >= '6'

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Once created, the above filters are associated with the respective GPOs by selecting the GPO in the tree, then using the drop-down menu at the bottom of the configuration pane.

In the Vista+ policy, Favourites redirection is configured in the User Configuration > Policies > Windows Settings > Folder Redirection > Favourites node. For this technique to have the desired effect, you will obviously want that policy to redirect to the same location configured in the Windows XP policy.

You should now have all that is necessary to ensure Favourites are able to roam with a user in an environment with mixed Operating Systems. Maintaining a structured user experience - even down to a roaming folder containing Internet Favourites - is a key aspect to the success of IT throughout your enterprise.

Comments (2)

AwinishSenior Solution Architect

Very Informative..
Most Valuable Expert 2011


Thanks, Awinish. I appreciate your feedback.


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