Modifying the All Users profile in Vista or Windows Server 2008

Ok, so I just spend a few whistful hours trying to work out how to modify the "All Users" profile on a Windows Server 2008 system.   I wanted to add a program to run at login (e.g. in the Start  Menu|Programs|Startup directory) for all users that login, but things are now a bit different with Vista and Windows Server 2008.

I have found quite a few people asking similar questions on the Internet but no one seems to have offered a solution that works so I thought I'd post my findings.

Firstly, for those who haven't hit this before, the "C:\Documents and Settings" directory where user profiles are stored in Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 systems has changed to "C:\Users" in Vista and Windows Server 2008.  (I regularly encounter XP users who have upgraded to Vista getting confused by this one)

So now in Vista and Windows Server 2008 the "All Users" directory in the C:\Users directory is a hidden directory so you will need to "Show hidden files and folders" in Windows Explorer by going Tools|Folder Options|View to show it.

Once you have visability to the C:\Users\All Users directory you will notice that it is just a shortcut then if you try and access it you will get an "Access Denied" dialog box.  Real Handy.

Looking at the properties of the "All Users" directory shows that it points to the C:\ProgramData directory (this is a new system directory that did not exist in older versions e.g. XP etc).  The C:\ProgramData directory is also a hidden directory but if you have already done "Show hidden files & folders" as above then you will see it.

 The C:\ProgramData directory has a sub-directory called "Start Menu" but you will get Access Denied on this one too.

 This is now getting a bit long so lets go straight to the answer ... the Startup directory I needed is now at "C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup"

So essentially, under Vista and Windows Server 2008 the "All Users" profile is now manifested as the C:\ProgramData directory and there are shortcuts from the C:\Users\All Users directory to the new location for compatibility reasons but in most cases you will get an Access Denied dialog box when you attempt to access the shortcuts but you will find most of what you are looking for under C:\ProgramData\Microsoft.  You can also access this via C:\Users\All Users\Microsoft

I can't offer you any explanation as to why the All Users profile underwent such a change in Vista (and Windows Server 2008) but for now I have solved my challenge and have got my startup program working for all users.

I hope this helps those similarly confused ...

Comments (17)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the comment Shan. I have never used that method before but it is definately easier and it works … thanks heaps.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The simplest way to do this is compatible way back to early Windows NT days and does not give the user any confusing experience.  Simply right-click on your Startup programs group in the start menu and select Explore All Users from the context menu.  This opens explorer to the appropriate directory.  This is also very easy to explain to users and is less likely to break as a practice in future versions of Windows.

  3. SDGrey says:

    That is a great trick for getting to the all users when you are the system directly.

    But if you are trying to get to the all users group from the admin share – you are out of luck using that method

    Thanks for the explanation to where this has been moved to in 2008

  4. MikeB says:

    Great tip, that just saved me some time.  Thanks.

    Shan, that method looks like it takes you to the current user's startup directory and could vary based on user profile.  When I did that, it took me to the user's roaming profile path.  

  5. SAMI says:

    MikeB, what Shan posted works, but it seems like it may be different depending on how your computer/server is configured. (eg. A group policy may change what actually opens when you use that shortcut)

  6. Vern says:

    guys im trying to add a program in the startup to a single profile ….i have managed to get it done for all users, but this is not what i need…..

    can anybody help out here 🙂

  7. ChadW says:

    Awesome tip, just save me a lot of time and frustration!!

  8. Frog45102 says:

    I usualy put in the Group Policy in the Users / Logon Scripts. Either  a stand alone or at the AD if you need this spread across multiple servers. You can install the app, then point to a comon Directory for the configuration script ( Local share or netlogon folder for a multi-site Domain ).

    I also added a Descrition Field to help some of the Application managers that logon to different servers across the country

  9. jj says:

    the everyone group has deny set under securtiy settings.

    simply uncheck this or delete the everyone group and re add it with full control

  10. THANK YOU!!!! says:

    How stupid that they movedit way down there!! Thank you for clearing that up.

  11. Kevin W says:


    Simply right-click on your Startup programs group in the start menu and select "Explore All Users" from the context menu.  Then paste a shortcut of the .exe program you want to start up for all users.

  12. johnredd says:

    Thank you for the helpful article!

  13. wanda says:

    what if you want something to be done at startup for a specific user only? I have an autologin script set up for one specific AD account. When the server is restarted, it does an automatic logon for a user that sets up a scheduler…I don’t want anyone
    that logs on the bring up a scheduler….

  14. vgffdc AWFJBG says:


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  16. vgffdc AWFJBG says:


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