I have set up a Windows Server 2008 R2 terminal server for the sole purpose of running a web-based application that has utterly ridiculous system requirements (IE7, Java 6 update 3, Acrobat 9.5). It's terrible software, but we're stuck with it.

Because of the security implications of running such out-of-date software, the terminal server is isolated from the rest of the network and has a fully locked-down group policy applied to it so that it can only run Internet Explorer, and can only browse to that one URL. This server does not receive any Windows updates whatsoever. The server also reboots itself nightly and purges all user profiles.

For the convenience of our users, I set it up to run IE as a RemoteApp so it just appears to the user as a normal application that they double-click on their desktop. This used to work fine, until one day it just stopped for no reason I can think of.

Here are the symptoms:

  • If the user double-clicks the RemoteApp icon from their desktop, IE opens up to a blank page with the correct URL in the address bar. Refreshing the page doesn't do anything, nor does copy/pasting the URL into the address bar.
  • If the user signs into the terminal server using a fully interactive desktop session (not via the RemoteApp), then the page works fine.
  • After having navigated to the page successfully in full desktop mode, the user can then log off and use the RemoteApp version just fine for the rest of the day.

This obviously has something to do with the user profile. I can break it again on-demand by purging the profile manually. The problem is that I do not want to remove the nightly profile purge because we start running into caching problems later on (this is why the profile purge was implemented in the first place).

The application does not use any custom ActiveX controls. The vendor says that running it in a terminal server environment is an unsupported configuration (because of course they would say that), so they're no help.

Any ideas?

  • Instead of deleting the profile every night, can you empty the cache via ccleaner? – AWippler Jan 14 '15 at 21:04
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    When you say that you run into caching problems if you don't purge the user profiles, what do you mean exactly? – joeqwerty Jan 14 '15 at 21:36
  • Issues such as bringing up old revisions of a document that's been updated recently, or calling out to Java or Acrobat functionality using a bad session cookie. The kind of stuff that gets fixed when you reset the browser from the Advanced tab under Internet Options (but doesn't get fixed if you merely clear history and cookies). A full background of that problem is too long for this comment field, but we fixed that problem a year ago with the nightly profile purge. Like I said... worst application ever. – Wes Sayeed Jan 14 '15 at 22:40

I found the answer. We have a generic IE group policy object that we use on terminal servers, and this particular terminal server has its own lockdown IE GPO (to prevent it from browsing the internet). In AD, the server is in its own container with inheritance blocked.

Someone marked the generic IE policy as enforced, which not only broke through the inheritance blockade, but also made it first in the precedence order. Simply removing the GPO enforcement fixed the issue.

Not really useful for the internet at large. Just posting this as a reminder to check your GPO inheritance when you run into wonky server configs that work one day and then suddenly don't the next.

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  • Thanks for both the question and answer; I suspect I'll find myself doing something similar in the not-too-distant future for customers running browser-based EMRs with infrequent updates. – fencepost Feb 3 '15 at 22:35
  • Unfortunately most admins have no idea what the 'Enforce' option does and use it because it sounds like it should be super good at applying policies :( I have this argument on nearly every project – Dan Feb 3 '15 at 22:36
  • It's funny you mention EMR software @fencepost. That's exactly what this software is. Maybe we're running the same application? Haha! – Wes Sayeed Feb 3 '15 at 22:40
  • The one we had problems with wasn't so much a completely-obsolete version of IE (I think it worked in 10), it was that some functionality broke with Flash versions higher than 10. Oh, and a calculator for chemo drug dosing built in Java that wouldn't run in anything higher than 6.x, with "updates coming soon!" (last update: 2005, next version expected: 2006) – fencepost Feb 3 '15 at 23:18

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