How to Manage Users in Windows 7

Changing Your Password

A strong password should include a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.
The simplest way to change your password when you are logged in is to press Ctrl-Alt-Del and click Change a Password. In this window, you simply type in your old password and your new one, and then confirm it. Administrators may also overwrite the user name and change the password for another user.

Changing Your Picture

Windows 7 allows you to choose a picture to associate with your account. This is the image you click to log on to the computer. To change it, open Control Panel and choose Users Accounts. Under Users, click Change your Account Picture. You can select from a number of built-in images, or you can browse to one of your own images.

Creating a Password-Reset Disk

A password-reset disk is useful if you forget your password, but the catch is that you have to create it while you are logged in--if you have already forgotten your password, it's too late. You probably don't have a floppy drive on your PC, but a USB drive will work just fine. To create a password-reset disk, open Control Panel and select User Accounts and Family Safety, User Accounts. Click on Create a password reset disk in the left pane. A wizard will guide you through the procedure, asking you on which drive to place the password key as well as what your current password is. Be careful where you store the disk or USB drive--anyone who can access it can use it to gain entry to your account.

Resetting Your Password Using the Password-Reset Disk

If you enter your password incorrectly when you attempt to log on to your computer, Windows will display a Reset password link under the password box. Click it to launch the Password Reset Wizard. When prompted, select the drive that contains the password key, and then type in a new password and password hint.

Using the 'Local Users and Groups' Tool

Though the Windows 7 wizard-based user-management tools are great and easy to use, some people will prefer the legacy tool, called 'Local Users and Groups'. This tool has changed little since its introduction in Windows 2000. To access it, right-click Computer on the Start menu, and select Manage. This will open Computer Management. From there, expand Local Users and Groups.

Creating a new user: Right-click on Users, select New User, and then enter the user name. Optionally you may supply a full name, description, and password. Click Create to make the account.

Modifying users: In 'Local Users and Groups', expand Users and double-click on the appropriate user name.

On the General tab, you may modify the following settings by checking the appropriate box:

  • User must change password at next logon
  • User cannot change password
  • Password never expires
  • Account is disabled
  • Account is locked out (to unlock an account that Windows has locked in response to a user's entering an incorrect password too many times, as specified by the local security policy, clear this check box)

A note about disabling user accounts: A common administrative practice is to disable an account rather than delete it when an employee leaves. That way, if another user replaces that staffer, you can simply rename and reenable the account, and the new employee will have all the same settings as the previous one.

The Guest account: Windows 7 includes an account named Guest, which has a bare minimum of permissions and is disabled by default. If you want to use this account, click Local Users and Groups, expand Users, double-click on the Guest account, and clear the Account is disabled check box.

Windows provides many groups for specific tasks.
Managing groups: Every Windows account is a member of at least one group. Group membership defines what set of permissions each account has. Most people use the groups built in to Windows (called Account Types when you're in the Create User wizard), but you are free to create and customize your own. Groups exist to make administration of a computer easier by allowing the administrator the flexibility to apply permissions and policies to more than one account simultaneously.

Besides Users (or Standard Users) and Administrators, you'll find a multitude of other groups in Windows 7. Some of these are intended for backward-compatibility, while others are designed for specialized purposes such as allowing access to back up and restore files, to read log files, or to connect through Remote Desktop.

Creating a new group: Right-click on Groups in the 'Local Users and Groups' tool, and select New Group. Specify a name and description, and click Add to add the members. Finally, click Create.

Managing User Accounts for Domain Members

Each computer is a member of either a workgroup or a domain. Computers that are part of a domain usually have a network administrator who manages user accounts. These accounts are not located on individual computers, but in a central database called Active Directory. A workgroup is more of an ad-hoc network where each computer is managed separately. Only computers running Windows 7 Professional or greater have the option of joining a domain.

When a PC joins a domain, the user-management options change a bit. Parental controls are unavailable, the User Account tool replaces the 'User Accounts and Family Safety' tool, and you may create local users only through the 'Local Users and Groups' management tool.

Adding a domain user to a local group: In the Control Panel, open User Accounts, and click on Give other users access to this computer. From there, type in the person's user name and the domain (or click Browse to select it from Active Directory), click Next to add them to a group, and then click Finish.

Michael Scalisi is a California-based IT Manager and the writer of PC World's Net Work blog.

For comprehensive, straightforward advice and tips that can help you get the most out of the new operating system, order PC World's Windows 7 Superguide, on CD-ROM or in a convenient, downloadable PDF file.

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