I see double. Help me see just one Sarah.
February 25, 2006 6:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to help someone fix her computer. She rebooted when her system got bogged down, and then when restarting, somehow logged into an account called Sarah.SARAH instead of just Sarah.

Windows 2000 Pro. In the 'Documents and Settings' folder, there are a few folders: 'All Users', 'Sarah' and 'Sarah.SARAH'. The computer's name is SARAH. The account 'Sarah' is her original account from before upgrading to 2000 from 98. I've verified that all her files and setting are in that directory. So I should be able to log in to it.

What do I do at the log in window to specify which account I want to log in to? I've tried some permutations with \'s and @'s, but always I get logged into Sarah.SARAH. I'm not sure what she did originally to get into this account. Her password works to log her into this other account.

Also, to complicate the situation, the Sarah.SARAH account does not have administrator priveledges, like the Sarah account does.
posted by voidcontext to Computers & Internet (25 answers total)
Response by poster: Additionally: it was not a recent upgrade to 2000 from 98. She's been using the Sarah account for 5 years now with no trouble. Looking at files in the Sarah.SARAH account, it's been hanging around that long as well, but never logged in to.
posted by voidcontext at 6:58 AM on February 25, 2006

Response by poster: Also: not part of a domain.
posted by voidcontext at 7:02 AM on February 25, 2006

Usually I see this problem when a computer thinks it has been renamed (even if you change it back to the old one). I've never figured out how to login to the old profile again.
posted by sbutler at 7:20 AM on February 25, 2006

I've seen that happen if the permissions get munged. If Win2K can't read or write particular files in a profile, it will create a new one. (I assume the machine is called SARAH... that's why the new profile dir is Sarah.SARAH.)

Now, I'm of the opinion here that this is probably the same ACCOUNT but a different profile directory. If there's actually a whole secondary ACCOUNT that has been created, then do NOT do this fix... wait until we have a more precise diagnosis.

Regardless of the actual problem, the very first thing you should do is make a backup. Reboot the machine. Log in as the Administrator. Copy all the files you want to save... if you can take an image of the whole computer, that would be a good idea. At the very least, copy the entire Documents and Settings directory to another folder on the drive.

Making sure you can't make things _worse_ is the first and most important step.

OK.... now, if there's actually only one account, but two profile directories, you can try this fix. I'm going to give you specific directions on how to replace the permissions in XP. You will probably have to do it a little differently in 2000. It works fundamentally the same way, but where you go and what items you click on may be different.

(In XP:) Navigate to the Documents and Settings folder. Right click the original Sarah folder, and choose Properties. Go to the Security tab, and then the Advanced button.

In the new window, go to the third tab, Owner. You need to set Sarah as being the owner of all the files. In XP, you would click on Sarah in the list, and then click the checkbox to say 'Replace owner on subcontainers and objects'. I'm sure that was more complex in 2000. You _might_ have to take ownership as the Administrator first, and then transfer ownership to Sarah.

Once Sarah is the owner of the files, the next step is to fix the permissions, which are on the first tab. On that tab, you should see (at least) two permissions listed: System (Full Control) and SARAH\sarah (Full Control). If the original Sarah account doesn't have full control, add in a permission giving her that control.

Under XP, there's a checkbox for 'replace permission entries on all child objects'. I'm almost certain this is also different in 2000, but I don't remember what it's called anymore.

Once you've transferred ownership and fixed permissions, move the Sarah.SARAH folder somewhere else, and try logging on as the original Sarah account. If Win2k recreates the Sarah.SARAH folder, then permissions weren't the problem.

If that still doesn't work, then your login settings may be hosed. I think I have a Win2k image around here somewhere that I can fire up in VMWare, so if fixing permissions doesn't fix it (or if you really DO have two separate accounts, which I don't think is the case) let me know, and I'll do some more digging for other things to check.

On preview: Sbutler might have it too, did she change the name of the computer?
posted by Malor at 7:24 AM on February 25, 2006

Response by poster: sbutler, thanks. This is a really frustrating thing to google for, since almost every tech support document on the internet tells you to log in to something or other.
posted by voidcontext at 7:24 AM on February 25, 2006

Oh, I should add one thing.. I think Win2k was a little less flexible about setting permissions. You might have to take ownership of all the files (as Administrator), then set the permissions, and then set the owner back to Sarah again.
posted by Malor at 7:26 AM on February 25, 2006

Best answer: I like Malor's suggestions (especially the part about backing up). if you aren't administrator you will definately have to login as an administrator at some point.

The only thing I would add is that you can copy a profile from one directory to another. We use this at work to modify the default profile (set one up how you want it, and then copy it over). The panel for doing this is: right click My Computer, Properties, Advanced, User Profiles, Settings.

Your old profile would probably be something like "Account Unknown". You can copy over a current profile as long as you aren't logged in as that user (I usually restart just to make sure no files are locked).

Good luck.
posted by sbutler at 7:32 AM on February 25, 2006

Response by poster: Malor and sbutler, I don't have administrator rights. I don't know the password for the administrator account, it was never used and she doesn't remember the password. She had her account (Sarah) set as an administrator. The Sarah.SARAH account, which is the only thing we're able to log in to, does not have administrator rights.

I was really really hoping that there was just a bit of syntax that I didn't know about that would let me use the log in window to specify which account to use.

I've already backed up everything to an external drive, but the backup was made yesterday after this occurred so it's no use for fixing the problem.

Without administrator rights, it looks like I'll be forced to reinstall her OS. Ironically, the backup drive and software had been ordered already and arrived about 2 hours after she got into this mess. So, definitely a perverse incident when it comes to timing. 5 years working without a backup fine, and then this.
posted by voidcontext at 7:44 AM on February 25, 2006

In trying to fire up my Win2K image, I found that I forgot the Admin password too. (doh!) So I'm downloading a Linux boot tool called Austrumi that's supposed to be good for fixing this. If it works for me, I'll post back with a link.
posted by Malor at 7:55 AM on February 25, 2006

Response by poster: You're probably right that it's the same account with a different profile, since her password was able to log in to it.

I'm also trying to find a way to get back the admin password. She doesn't know if she still has her Win 2000 install disk so I sort of need to fix this install if possible.
posted by voidcontext at 7:59 AM on February 25, 2006

Uhm, there are ways to reset the password of the administrator without a compleet reinstall.

When trying to solve a simular problem, I've discovered the joy that is the BartPE bootable live Windows CD.
posted by ijsbrand at 7:59 AM on February 25, 2006

If you're still logging into the same account, you should still have Admin privs, even if the profile is borked. Try logging on as the account you know, and resetting the password on the Admin account. If it refuses to let you, then the account isn't an administrator.
posted by Malor at 8:05 AM on February 25, 2006

Response by poster: I don't have administrator rights as Sarah.SARAH, I just double checked. But she did have administrator rights before. (I've had to fix her computer for her before and had them)
posted by voidcontext at 8:10 AM on February 25, 2006

Best answer: Ok, I was able to blank the password on my virtual machine's Admin account by using this CD image. (You'll need a CD burner available.) It's fairly cryptic, but if you read carefully, you should be okay. Once you've logged in, _immediately_ change the admin password to something you can remember... and disconnect the machine from the network until you do so!

If you can write floppies but not CDs, there's a floppy image you can use. If you have a more recent machine, you may need the SCSI drivers disk to go with it.

I got all of these links from here, which has several other options. I didn't have any luck with the fifth option, Austrumi. But the first CD image I linked does the exact same thing, so I'd use that anyway.
posted by Malor at 8:26 AM on February 25, 2006

Oh, to be clearer... you'd boot up on the CD and go through the steps to get access to your Windows partition, and then blank the admin password. After you've finished that, disconnect the network cable, reboot into Windows, log in, and change your password. Don't reconnect the network until after the password on the Administrator account has been set to something.
posted by Malor at 8:35 AM on February 25, 2006

Response by poster: Malor, I used the utility you suggested to enable the administrator account and reset the password.

I've tried repairing the permissions, but am still logging in to the the 'new' Sarah account. But at least I've got full access.

I've done as sbutler suggested and tried to look for the user profile. There's only the one user profile for Sarah. Earlier I said that the Sarah.SARAH account looked like it had been around for a while, but actually I was wrong and the file creation dates are all within the last couple days when I look in that user directory.

I suppose then that I am logged in to the one and only Sarah account, but all the old settings, permissions and files are divorced from it and a new user directory was created.

There are some other weird symptoms I'm noticing now, Office won't run, it says it needs to be installed, and IE or Firefox won't open SSL encrypted pages. In general programs seem to be missing all their settings.

Is it possible that the registry choked on something? I'm poking around with regedit but not changing anything looking for clues. I'm also going to create another account and see if Office works normally for it, and the SSL thing. If it is just this one account that's messed up, then it won't be too hard to start a new account, delete this one, and go from there.
posted by voidcontext at 9:04 AM on February 25, 2006

Something very weird is going on then. Right-click on My Computer and choose Manage. Then go to Users and Groups, and then Users. What do you see listed there?

Then right click on My Computer and choose Properties. Go to the User Profiles tab... what do you see there?
posted by Malor at 9:21 AM on February 25, 2006

Response by poster: The users listed are:

Guest (disabled)
newuser (this is the one I just now created)

The profiles are

And I didn't mess with any of the profile settings, just looked at them earlier when sbutler suggested it.

I can access encrypted sites on the new account over https, but Office is still telling me it has to be installed. So it looks like a bunch of stuff got messed up, not just her user account. Most programs on the computer refuse to run, from any of the admin account, the Sarah account, or the newuser account I created.
posted by voidcontext at 9:25 AM on February 25, 2006

Response by poster: At this point, I'm sort of thinking that I should create a new user account for her, then uninstall and reinstall the programs she needs. I've run chkdsk and memtest, made sure that it doesn't look like a failing disk or memory screwed up. I'm hoping it was a one time thing.

Norton antivirus says no infections, and no spyware that I can find that might have messed anything up. Aside from running as administrator and not having backups, she was really good about not letting anything harmful on to her machine.

If something funky like this happens again, at least it will be easier to recover from now that she's going to be backing up nightly.
posted by voidcontext at 9:34 AM on February 25, 2006

Best answer: That's actually fairly normal for Office to do that on a new profile, at least on an Active Directory system. I don't use Office much, but it definitely had to install something under every profile that used it. It was able to automatically get its files from the AD server. I'm not sure what it would do on a single-user machine.

I'm confused, in that you don't see Sarah.SARAH listed... I was expecting to see that. I wanted to see what account it was related to.

The next thing I'd probably try would be to create yet another user account, Sarah2. You could use the newuser account if you have never logged into it.

Reboot before you do anything; that will clear any in-memory locks on any profile directories. Log on as Admin. Create the new account, and copy the old profile over to the new directory. (it won't yet exist, I'm pretty sure Win2k doesn't create a profile dir until the first time you log into it.) Before logging in as that user, double-check that Sarah2 is the owner of and has full permissions to all the files. Then try logging on as Sarah2 and see what happens.

If it works, you can probably delete the old profile and account, rename Sarah2 to Sarah, and live happily ever after. If it still fails.... hmm. Well, let's see what happens before thinking about that. :)
posted by Malor at 9:40 AM on February 25, 2006

Note: I'd suggest not actually deleting the old profile unless you're short on space. And if you rename the profile's username, DO NOT rename the profile directory... Windows should correctly remember where it is.
posted by Malor at 9:49 AM on February 25, 2006

Response by poster: Malor, I will try copying the profiles on Tuesday when I can come back to her house. Right now I'm just going to set up a new user account with a few programs she'll need in the meantime.

I've got an appointment to go to in an hour, so I can't mess around with it too much more right now. I'll leave another post here Tuesday and let you know if I got any further.

Thank you so very very much for the help you've given. I can't tell you how frustrated I was.
posted by voidcontext at 9:56 AM on February 25, 2006

Best answer: Now that you have admin access, have you tried copying the old sarah profile folder into the new sarah.SARAH folder? It looks like the account stayed the same. It just created a new profile folder. So permissions and everything should be fine. If you copy all the old profile info into place, office and what not should run normally again.
posted by team lowkey at 10:02 AM on February 25, 2006

void, I'll probably forget to check in on Tuesday. If I don't seem to be around, try dropping me an email. (it's in my profile.)
posted by Malor at 11:00 AM on February 25, 2006

Response by poster: OK, copying over the profile info worked, and now the new account has all of her old original account's settings.

Thanks everyone for your help, I'd never seen anything like this before. I would have ended up reinstalling the OS and losing a lot of stuff had it not been for AskMeFi.
posted by voidcontext at 7:40 AM on February 28, 2006

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