Friday, March 10, 2006

Windows XP User Accounts

When you buy a new PC with Windows XP installed, you can be pretty certain that when you turn it on there will be one single account configured and that will be a Computer Administrator account. There are two types of user accounts that you can create on an XP system - a Computer Administrator account and a Limited account. So what's the difference. Well the clue is in the names!

A Computer Administrator account, also known as a super-user account, or God account, allows you full access to the system in terms of access, permissions and configuration. You can create or delete other accounts, by-pass passwords set by other Computer Administrator accounts (and, naturally, Limited accounts), install and remove software, and configure a lot of the innards of Windows that only the brave or the foolish should even contemplate. So, given all this, it's somewhat surprising that most parents create Computer Administrator accounts for their 8-16-year old children when they ask to have their own account on the computer. Well, actually it's not that surprising as it hasn't been explained to most parent's by the nice (insert your favourite PC store here) salesperson that this is really not a very good idea. Nor is it to be found in any of the (sparse) documentation that accompanies most PCs nowadays.

Here's how it should work. There should be a single Computer Administrator account that should be used only for, you guessed it, computer administration. This mainly entails setting up Limited accounts for all users, and installing and removing software as required. Needless to say, this account should be password protected and the password known only to the designated admin person (Mum or Dad). Everyone else should have a Limited account.

One of the primary reasons for using the Limited account is to protect the system from yourself. It's possible that a family member with Administrator access can accidentally change or delete critical information on the computer. It is also possible that someone with an Administrator account may have their account hacked or become infected with a virus or worm of some sort. Typically, the attacker or malware will be able to wreak havoc on the system using the access privileges of the account that has been compromised. So, it makes sense to save your Administrator account for when it is needed, but use Limited accounts for everyday use by most users.

To manage your user accounts go to Start>Control Panel>User Accounts. When it comes to managing user accounts on a home PC it's certainly a case of less is more.

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