How to Manage Users in Windows 7

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A computer running Windows 7 might be used by a single person, by a group of people in an office, or by a family in a home. Fortunately, Windows 7 was designed from the ground up to be a multiuser operating system. The new OS is flexible and can support many different scenarios, with each user having appropriate permissions and a customized environment. Every person using Windows 7 must log in with an account, and each account has a personalized desktop, Start menu, documents folder, history, favorites, and other customizations.

The 'User Accounts and Family Safety' control panel provides a straightforward interface for managing users.
All of that stuff resides in the Users folder on the root of the system drive, where each account has a subfolder named after it. The two main tools I'll describe in this article are the 'User Accounts and Family Safety' wizard-based tool, which you can find in the Control Panel, and the traditional 'Local Users and Groups' tool, which is available in Computer Management.

Account Types

Before you start creating new users on your Windows 7 computer, you should understand the difference between the two main account types.

Administrators have full control over the system. They can install software programs and hardware drivers, and they can create and modify new users and groups. Additionally, they can reset passwords, set policies, and edit the Registry. The OS identifies tasks that require administrator permissions with a Windows security icon.

Standard users are permitted to log on to the computer, run programs, customize their accounts, and save files in their user folders. Users are restricted from making systemwide changes.

The First User

When Windows first installs, it asks you for a user name and password, which it then uses to create your first account. This account joins the Administrators group, which has the highest set of privileges. From this account you can create and manage all other user accounts. When one person is the sole user of a computer, this first account is sometimes the only one ever created. However, even if you are the only user, a recommended practice is to create a second, standard account for daily use, so that you have it separate from your account with administrative privileges for managing the system. If you want to install software or make other system changes while logged in as a standard user, never fear: When you attempt to make the change, Windows will prompt you to authenticate your administrator account so that you won't need to log on with it.

Creating a New Account

Create a new user with the Create New Account wizard.
To create a new account, open Control Panel and choose User Accounts and Family Safety, Add or remove user accounts. Click on Create a new account. Type in the new account name, select either the Administrators or Standard Users user type, and then click Create Account. By default, Windows assigns no password; you can make one by clicking on that user's icon and selecting Create a password. Alternatively, you can leave it blank to allow the user to set a password when they first log on.

Editing Accounts

Once you've created an account, you can customize it further by editing. To edit an account, open Control Panel once again and select User Accounts and Family Safety, Add or remove user accounts. This takes you to the Manage Accounts window, where you can select an account to edit by clicking on its icon. In this window, you can change the account name, create or remove a password, change the picture, set up parental controls, change the account type, or delete the account. Be cautious when removing a password, since it will cause that user to lose any encrypted files, personal certificates, and stored passwords.

If You Accidentally Delete Your Last Administrator Account

Windows 7 has a built-in Administrator account that has no password and is hidden by default. Like all other administrator accounts, it has full control of the system; for you to use it, however, it must be the only remaining administrator account, and you must start the computer in Safe Mode.

Parental Controls

Concerned parents are often wary about letting their children have free rein on the family computer. Windows 7's parental controls offer parents a way to keep their children's Web surfing or gaming in check. To arrange parental controls, go to Control Panel and select User Accounts and Family Safety, Set up parental controls for any user. Click on the user for which you want to set controls.

Since all administrators can disable these controls, if an administrator account doesn't have a password, Windows 7's parental controls will offer the option to force that person to set a password at the next log-on.

At 10 p.m., Windows will log Jeffrey off automatically if he is still on the computer.
Turn on parental controls by selecting On, enforce current settings, and then modify each setting as appropriate.

  • Time limits: If you want Windows to boot your child off the computer after, say, 10 p.m., this is where you can explicitly permit or deny computer usage by time and by the day of the week.
  • Games: Here you can define whether the account is permitted to play games, which game ratings are acceptable, and whether unrated games are allowed. You may also allow or block particular games.
  • Allow and block specific programs: If you want to limit your child's computer use to certain applications, this is where you choose them.

Windows 7's parental controls can work in conjunction with the downloadable Windows Live Family Safety, which allows you to set parental controls on Web content.

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