Your Windows computer is designed to be used by more than one person. It allows you to share a computer with multiple people. But that raises an issue, how to keep each individual’s files separated. And that’s where Windows User Accounts come in.
At their most basic, that’s all that user accounts are for, keeping our files separated on a shared computer. But the waters get a little muddied when we introduce different types of accounts, Local User accounts and Microsoft accounts, which can both be subdivided into Administrator and Standard user accounts.
In this guide, we’ll look at what User accounts can do for you, and the different types of accounts.
Using Windows User Accounts.
As an example of how user accounts work, let’s say Dave and Jane share a computer. They’ve each created their own account.
When they log in to their own accounts, their Desktops look completely different even though it’s the same computer.
On your own account, you can change the Desktop background, have different shortcuts, and different files and folders. All without affecting the other users of the computer.
In short, by having their own Windows user accounts, Dave & Jane can set the computer up just how they each want it.
Any files (documents, pictures, music, videos etc) that Jane saves on her account, won’t appear on Dave’s account and vice versa. Which in turn means that neither will “accidentally” move or delete something the other wanted to keep.
As an example, the pictures Dave has in his Pictures folder are different to the ones that Jane’s got in her Pictures folder.
And the same is true when using the Internet. Any bookmarks or favourites that they create will only show up when they’re logged into their respective user accounts.
Even though they may be using the same web browser (such as Chrome or Edge), they will each only see their own bookmarks/favourites and saved logins etc.
Programs And Apps.
Programs and apps though are usually different. As a general rule, a program installed on one account is available across all accounts on the computer.
It’s common sense really, it saves having to buy and/or install the same program several times for different peoples accounts
Sometimes during the install process, you’ll see this window pop up.
“Install for all users” or “Install for anyone that uses this computer” simply means install the program on all accounts.
Local Accounts & Microsoft Accounts.
When creating a Windows User Account, you’ll have 2 choices. A local account or a Microsoft account.
Microsoft (who make Windows 10) actually prefers you to use a Microsoft account. But for now, at least, you can still use a Local account.
When you’re using a local account, you’re only logging into your computer.
But if you’ve set up a Microsoft account, you’ll log into both your computer and your Microsoft account simultaneously.
Using an MS account doesn’t require any extra work on your part. At the login screen, you’ll simply click your username and enter your password, just as you would with a local account.
The difference is that, in the background, your computer will also log you in to your Microsoft account over the Internet.
The main advantage of using a Microsoft user account is that when you log in to your computer, you’ll automatically be logged in to any Microsoft services and/or apps that you use.
The main disadvantage of using an MS account is that if you should forget your password, you could be in big trouble.
With a Microsoft account, you really do have to be on the ball when it comes to your passwords and updating your recovery details.
Using a local account, you’re only logging into your computer. If you forget your password, it’s much easier to get back in. Which is why I generally advise clients to use a local account.
Windows Administrator & Standard User Accounts.
Each type of account, Local and Microsoft, can also be divided into Administrator and Standard user accounts.
The difference between the two is what you can actually do with the computer. It’s known as permissions and privileges
An Administer account is the highest type of user account. Administers can do pretty much anything they want. Admins have all the permissions and privileges available on the PC.
In general use, the main things an Administrator can do are, install new software, view any file on the computer, make system-wide changes and change the username and password of other users.
A Standard user account, on the other hand, can’t make system-wide changes to the computer, can’t view files they haven’t been given permission to use, can’t install new software or change other users names and passwords.
Standard users will have full access to the ‘net, including creating bookmarks and logins, full use of any programs installed on his/her account.
As an example, let’s say Jane is logged in as an Administrator.
When she tries to install a program, the UAC (User Account Control) pop up will usually appear.
All Jane needs to do is to click OK because she is an Administrator.
But if Dave is trying to do something similar on his Standard user account, the UAC pop up will look like this.
Dave would now need to type in an Administrator’s username and password in order to proceed.
Admin and Standard user accounts are most often used in businesses, where the IT department would have the Administrator accounts, and then everyone else would have some form of limited user account.
Should You Use Administrator Or Standard Account At Home?
Most advice that you’ll find on the Internet regarding whether you should use an Administrator or Standard Windows user account, will point you towards using the Standard account.
The idea is that you can do less damage to your computer with this type of account. And it’s often said that you should give children these types of accounts
And while that is certainly true, in reality, we often give away the Administrator credentials, which negates any protection you might gain from using Standard accounts.
Imagine this scenario, the kids need to install something on the computer, something from school, part of a project they’re doing.
UAC pops up asking for the Admin credentials, they’re stuck. They can’t go any further without your approval.
It’s all working correctly, that’s exactly what is supposed to happen.
At that precise moment, you’re busy with something else, something you can’t just leave. You know you should go and inspect what they’re doing, but at the same time, you can’t leave whatever has your attention right now.
What do you do? Most of us will simply call out the Admin credentials, “The password is abc123”. And once they know, they know, believe me, they won’t forget.
And so, while in theory, having everyone using a Standard user account does make sense, in practice, in the modern home, it rarely works out that way.
How To Setup Windows User Accounts.
When you first get your computer, or maybe during a fresh install of Windows, You’ll be required to set up an account.
This first user account is always an Administrator account.
Whether you choose to use a Microsoft account or a Local account, it will be an Administrator.
You have to have at least 1 Admin account.
After this first account has been set up, you can then choose whether subsequent user accounts are going to be Administrators or Standard users.
Left-click the START button, then type –
Left-click ADD, EDIT OR REMOVE OTHER USERS (System Settings)
On the Family & Other Users page, click ADD SOMEONE ELSE TO THIS PC.
As I said earlier, Microsoft does encourage you to sign in to your computer using a Microsoft account.
If your new user wants to use their MS account, then fill in their email address or phone number.
If you’re setting up with a local account (recommended), click “I don’t have this person’s sign-in information”
If you are setting up with a Microsoft account, when you click the NEXT button, you’ll need to fill in their MS password and probably verify their identity. But that’s all pretty much straightforward.
Microsoft will try one more time to get you to use an MS account.
Here you can create a Microsoft account if you don’t have one.
Assuming your setting up a Local account, click “Add a user without a Microsoft account”
And finally, you can actually create a new user account.
Type in the name you want the account to be called (usually just your name).
Then enter a password for the account.
Click the NEXT button when you’re done.
A quick word about passwords for Local accounts.
If you’ve got multiple user accounts on your computer, you’re going to need to add passwords to them because things get awkward if you don’t. But here’s the thing, on a Local account, the password can be as difficult or as easy to type as you want it to be.
Many people don’t actually want a password on their home computers. If you’re one of these, just use something that is very easy to type.
So here I’m adding a new account to my PC.
I don’t particularly want a password for the account, so what I’ve done is to use the hash symbol (#) as my password. Just the hash symbol, nothing else.
Then fill in the “In case you forget your password” section.
When you’re done, click the NEXT button.
Why have I used the hash symbol? Well, on my keyboard, it’s right next to the Enter key. So to log in, I click my name, press the hash key and then the Enter key and I’m in. Very easy, very quick. Not as good as not having a password, but it’s close.
As for the “In case you forget your password” questions, you can be as honest as you please. Remember it’s a computer, it really doesn’t know if you’re telling the truth or not.
But, whatever you type, make sure you remember it. If you really do forget your password, the computer will ask these questions to get you back into your account.
Changing Windows 10 User Account Types.
The account you’ve just created will be a Standard account. Windows always adds new users as Standard (or limited) users. But you can change it to an Administrator account easily enough.
Here’s the new Windows user account I’ve just added to this computer, Dave 1.
You can see it’s a Local account.
To change the account from a Standard account to an Administrator account, left-click once on the account name.
Then click the CHANGE ACCOUNT TYPE button.
The Change Account Type window will open.
The account holder is now an Administrator on the computer with all the permissions and privileges that go with that account.
Summarising Windows 10 User Accounts.
There’s no reason that you have to have different accounts on your family computer, many of you will be perfectly fine sharing just 1 account. Particularly if you haven’t got that many files (documents, pictures, music etc) on your PC.
Where having multiple accounts really comes into its own is when the computer is being used for different things within the house.
School/college work files, work files, family files and then the different bookmarks and logins associated with that.
Making each user responsible for their own account, for their own files, is where Windows User Accounts really steps up to the mark.
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