BOOT CAMP 527 (03/06/08)

User Accounts and Password Recovery part 2


This week we’ll be looking at how to be an Administrator on a shared Windows PC, highlighting some more of the differences between XP and Vista plus a few basic do’s and don’ts, to make sure that you, your PC and all of the people who use it are happy and safe. Your duties as a Windows Administrator are fairly straightforward and one of the first and most important jobs is to protect the Admin account with a strong, long, non-guessable password, so If you are still using your cash machine PIN or the cat’s name change it.


The reason the XP Admin account is so important is simple, if anything goes wrong with your User account, or one of the other User or Guest accounts it might be the only way to get back into your computer, to troubleshoot the problem. This is also a good argument for not using the Admin account for anything, other than administration. Even if you are the only person who uses your computer it’s still a good idea to set up a User account, with Admin privilidges, for your own day-to-day use.


This is even more important in Windows Vista, which has two basic account types: Administrator and Standard User. The owner normally creates the Administrator account during first-run setup and it provides almost unlimited access to the Windows system and allows them to make configuration changes, create and delete accounts and install software that affects all users. Vista also has what amounts to a ‘Super Administrator’ account that takes precedence over all others and has no limitations or restrictions but it is hidden and doesn’t show up when you boot up Windows so that all you see are the normal User account icons. If you would like to know how to make this account visible (advanced, solo PC users only) see this week’s Top Tip.


A Standard User in Vista is pretty much the same as an XP Limited User but with a few extra privileges. Users can surf the web, send and receive emails, open and create documents and so on, but they are barred from making changes that might compromise system integrity and security, or affect other users.


In both XP and Vista accounts are managed from a utility on Control Panel, called not surprisingly, User Accounts (in Vista you can also double-click the account icon on the Start menu). Standard or Limited Users can only do fairly mundane things to their own accounts, like change the name or the picture used to identify it (and you can use any image stored on the PC, just click the ‘Browse’ link) and remove or create a new password.


In order to access the full range of options in User Accounts you need to be logged on as the Administrator and one of the most common jobs is to set up (or delete) User accounts for family members. It’s all fairly obvious, in XP click ‘Create a new Account’, in Vista click Manage another Account then Create a new account. You will be asked to give the new account a name. On XP machines, when you click Next you’ll notice that the new User gets Administrator privileges by default. This is a major flaw and causes problems with novice or incompetent users accidentally (or deliberately) doing things they shouldn’t so change it to Limited before clicking the Create Account button. In Vista new user accounts are set to ‘Standard’, so there’s no need to worry, unless you specifically want to grant the new user Administrator rights (you probably don’t...). Once the account has been created the Administrator or new user can set up a password.


XP has a couple of additional options, accessed by clicking Change the way users log on and off. This enables or disables the Welcome Screen logon prompt, and Fast User Switching, which lets you switch between accounts by pressing Winkey + L.


Vista goes a lot further and the main item of interest on the User Accounts main menu is Parental Controls. This is a very powerful set of features that gives the Administrator god-like powers. These include a facility to generate a detailed activity log, listing websites that have been visited, logon times, applications used, games played email and instant messaging events and played media. There’s more, Parental Controls has a web filter, file downloads can be blocked, a schedule can be set up to control the times when the computer can be used, restrictions can be placed on the types of games that can be played, according to BBFC Ratings or by name, and access to specified programs can be denied. It’s real Big Brother stuff so use it responsibly!


One of Vista’s less popular account management features is the User Account Control (UAC) pop-up which appears with annoying regularity whenever you make configuration changes or install software. Novice users should leave it alone and just let it do its stuff but if you want to switch it off you can do so from User Accounts, just click the ‘Turn User Account Control on or off’ link, and follow the instructions.



Next Week – User Accounts and Password Recovery, part 3

Part 1 3 4 5





British Board of Film Censors – UK body responsible for classifying and issuing age ratings for films and video games



Allows multiple users to be simultaneously logged onto a PC and to switch sessions without exiting programs of closing Windows



Windows Key, normally between the Ctrl and Alt keys on a standard keyboard




To display the hidden Administrator account in Vista at boot up and in User Accounts in Control Panel go to Start > All Programs > Accessories, right click on Command Prompt and select Run as Administrator. On the DOS like window that opens type the following: ‘net user administrator /active:yes’ (without the quotes) and press Enter. Exit the window and log off and the Administrator icon appears. By default this is not usually password protected so if you plan to leave this change in place set one straight away. To reset it to it’s normally hidden state follow the same procedure but this time use the command ‘net user administrator /active:no’.


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© R. Maybury 2008, 1405


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