Control the User Account Control

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Alex Diluzio wants a say in when those annoying User Account Control messages pop up.

User Account Control (UAC) is almost certainly Vista's least popular added feature. Designed more to protect you from your own mistakes than from malware, UAC first scares you out of your skin by blanking the screen, then pops up a "Do you want to allow..." message. And it does this so frequently that users soon learn to click Yes and go on about their business without thinking. The result: It's both annoying and counterproductive--the digital equivalent of the boy who cried wolf.

Microsoft kept UAC in Windows 7, although they improved it somewhat. I'll give you separate instructions for taming it in Vista and Windows 7, plus additional instructions for either one.

The original UAC comes short on options, but you can, at least, turn it off. Whether that's advisable is a tough call. UAC provides some real protection and some real convenience (for instance, it allows an administrator to change Windows settings while logged on as a regular user), but if you simply click Yes each time it comes up, it's doing no good, anyway.

To turn it off, click Start, type user, and select the User Accounts program (oddly, if you type "user accounts," it might not come up). Click Turn User Account Control on or off and follow the prompts.

If you want to leave it on for regular users, but not for administrators, download TweakUAC. This free, portable program offers three UAC states. The first and last are effectively the same as turning it on and off as described above. But the middle one, Switch UAC to the quiet mode, will turn it off only for administrators.

Windows 7
Microsoft learned a few things from Vista's reception, and how to handle UAC is one of them. Click Start, type uac, and select Change User Account Control Settings. You'll get a choice of four UAC levels.

The first level, "Always notify," is basically the same as Vista's UAC. Avoid it.

The second, unnamed setting, notifies you if a program tries to make a change, but not if you do. This is the default.

The third level, also unnamed, improves on the second in one dramatic way: It doesn't plunge your screen into darkness before bringing up the notice. There's some security lost here since it's not running the UAC notice on Windows' secure desktop, but not much.

The lowest level, "Never notify," is equivalent to turning UAC off.

Both versions
If you have the Professional or Ultimate edition of either Vista or Windows 7, you can fine tune UAC. This won't work with the Home editions.

Select Start, type secpol.msc, and press ENTER. Navigate the left pane as if it was Windows Explorer to the Security Settings\Local Policies\Security Options "folder." Scroll to the bottom of the right pane for various User Account Control options.

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