Note: This post builds upon my post ‘What is a User Account?‘ It is important that you understand that post fully before moving on to this one.
Over the years, I have observed that most people take their new computer out of the box, plug it in and start using it immediately. Of course, the first thing you have to do is create a user account and the first user account is an administrator account. They normally fail to create a second limited account for their day-to-day operations. This is typically the first mistake they make with their new computer. It is generally a bad idea to handle your day-to-day operations as an administrator. Here’s why; When you click on that attachment in an email or visit a website (even legitimate websites) that has malware (the class of software that does bad stuff to your computer, which includes viruses) it can go ahead and install itself on your computer because, by running as an administrator, you have permission to install software. If you were operating as a non-administrative user, you would not be able to install software and in most cases, the malware would not be able to install itself. Now, at this time, I must say that with Windows, some software will require you to be an administrator to run correctly. If this is the case, I highly recommend you seek out new software that will give you the features you need, but not need you to be an administrator. In addition to making it a lot harder for the bad guys to install software on your machine for you, you also make it much more difficult to do serious damage to your computer if you aren’t running with administrator privileges.
So, what do I need to do? If you are setting up a new computer, put a good password on the first account and make it your administrator account, then create a second account to use as your day-to-day use account. Make this second account a limited user. Put a good password on that account as well. If you are already using an administrator account, then you will want to use your existing account to create a new account with administrator privileges, then log into the newly created account and remove administrator privileges from your older day-to-day account. I’ll show you how to do this in Windows XP.
Press Start, then click on the icon labeled Control Panel, then on the User Accounts icon (Start -> Control Panel -> User Accounts).
1. As you can see from the screen shot above, I’ve got an administrative account (Admin) setup and a regular user (mike) account setup. This is the model that you should be using. If you only have one account, then you’ll want to select ‘Create a new account’ and setup a new account and make sure you make it a ‘Computer Administrator’. Now, log off, then log into your newly created administrator account.
2. After clicking on ‘Change an account’, then choosing the account you want to change, click on ‘Change the Account Type’.
If you have multiple accounts that are listed as Computer Administrator, go back through these steps (starting with step 2) and change each account to the limited type. You only need one administrator account on the computer. Make sure all of your accounts use good passwords as well.
If you want to install something as a limited user, you’ll simply need to right-click on the program that you want to install, then select ‘Run As’. From there, you will be able to select your administrator account and enter the administrator password. If you have a lot of changes to make, sometimes it’s just easier to login as your administrator and make your changes there. Also, you may need to log in as your administrator to set up things like scheduled updates, scheduled scans for your virus scanner, install hardware, add or remove user accounts, or to do other types of maintenance tasks which we will cover in later posts.
I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on exactly what an administrator account is and why you should NOT be using this type of account in your day-to-day usage. This step alone can prevent you from a lot of unneeded aggravation.