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With the last couple of versions of Windows, we have seen Microsoft more or less firmly steering us to a login system linked with your Windows Live / Outlook account, and not a “local account” (one unique only to your PC).
Microsoft touted the advantages as being able to sync your settings across computers, provided you sign in with the same account, and that the sync options are switched on at each machine. To further encourage us to move to an online account, they seemed to make the “local account” weblink just a little bit difficult to find.
With Windows 10, Microsoft has actually made the “local account” option link more visible, if you want to do things the old way. This is good for people who prefer to avoid the Microsoft account or who resent being told what to do with their own computers. Of course, Windows 10 still offers the online user account option for those who want to use it. Everybody wins.
Now let’s see how Windows user accounts work for different versions of Windows.
What Is a User Account?
First, it would be useful to discuss just what a user account is, and the advantages or disadvantages of having one.
A user account (in the context of Windows) is what you need to sign into the Windows operating system. This account holds all of your system settings, software applications, customizations, files, and more.
The account used to power the operating system is the administrator account. The administrator account controls everything, the keys to the Kingdom, and is the Windows equivalent of the Sudo command on Linux and UNIX systems.
If you own the administrator account, you must be careful the login details don’t fall into the hands of anyone who would access any sensitive parts of your computer. Make the password strong and don’t share it with anybody.
In fact, for proper security, don’t default to the administrator account. Use a strong password and set-up a non-administrator account for everyday use.
Why is that remotely helpful? Because one day – and this is guaranteed – you are going to forget to log out of your account. After all, you’re only human. Then some spawn of the devil is going to take a wee nosey through your stuff behind your back. But if it is a non-administrator account, then they won’t get very far with changing system settings. BAM! Holy administrator account, Batman!
While in Windows Vista, 7, 8, and 10 the powers of the administrator account are “disabled” by default, this is only helpful to keep malware at bay. For anyone with physical access to the machine with the respective account signed in, it’s easy to enable and abuse administrator privileges.
A user account is useful to have if you have guests staying with you, roommates, inquisitive parents, or the Cookie Monster looking for cookies (see what I did there?). Setting up one or more guest accounts partitions off each one from the rest of the PC. Then, as the administrator, you can delete those guest accounts at will, for example if anyone has been really bad, like downloading obscene material, such as Justin Bieber videos.
How to Start Making One
The administrator account is the backbone of any Windows system, and you use this account to make other accounts, and assign access privileges to them. For example, you can assign administrator privileges to another account, if you trust the owner of that account to be good.
To get to the area of the Windows operating system where user accounts are set up and managed, go to your Start Menu and type in….you guessed it….”User Accounts”
This then brings up the following window with the default administrator panel. When I signed in with my Windows account, it immediately imported my photo, and being the only user on my computer at that point (I was in the middle of reinstalling Windows 10 when I took these screenshots), I was immediately given administrator status.
This is the same screen on Windows 7.
And on Windows 8/8.1.
Let’s take a look at each of the options that you can see on the left of the Windows 10 screenshot. Many are also pretty much the same with Windows 7 and 8.
Make Changes to My Account in PC Settings
In Windows 7, you can make most of the following changes directly from the Control Panel window we launched previously. Note that Windows 7 does not feature Microsoft account login, making a local account your only option.
In Windows 8 and 10, when you select the Control Panel option Make changes to my account in PC settings (under Control Panel > User Accounts > User Accounts), this brings up the Accounts screen in the Settings app, where you can make various changes to your account. Alternatively, press Windows + I and go to Accounts.
First, you can change your photo, either by navigating to a photo on your PC, or you can use your webcam to flash your goofy smile.
Manage my Microsoft Account is pretty much self-explanatory. If you use a Microsoft email account to sign into Windows, you can click this link if you want to make any changes, such as a password change. Although in Windows 10, you can change your password in Settings.
Sign in with a local account instead is where you can switch from a Windows account login to a “local account”, which is an account unique only to your PC. Nothing is synced online, and the password is only stored on your Windows installation, not on some Microsoft server.
First sign in with your Microsoft account password.
Then fill in the information for your new user account. A username, password, and a password reminder. Make it subtle though, in case of those spawns of the devil who may try to access your user account.
Once the details have been entered, the next screen will ask you to confirm that you really do want to switch over. Once you’ve made the switch though, it is extremely easy to switch back to a Microsoft account again for logins. Everything is reversible.
Change Your Account Type
This is where you can promote a standard account to the level of administrator, or demote an administrator account back to a basic standard account. But if you only have one administrator account, then the option to change it to a standard account will be grayed out. You need at least one administrator account to run Windows.
Manage Another Account
If you click on Add a new user in PC settings, you will see that you can add a child user, an adult, or a guest.
This can be for family members wishing to use the same computer. Adding a child will enable an adult administrator to restrict that child’s access to objectionable websites, Windows Store apps, and more.
If anyone in the family has been naughty (listening to One Direction on your computer, for example), you can block them from using the computer through this part of the Settings menu. (although I would have thought deleting their account was a lot easier).
Other users will be for guests to log in with their own account settings. Set up assigned access is where you can restrict someone to using one Windows store app only. They would be unable to close that app or open another app. So by only allowing one app to run, this is why Assigned Access has been called the “Kiosk Setting”.
Change User Account Control Settings
Whenever you try to download and install something (or your system tries when you’re not looking), you get a box on the screen asking you if it is OK for it to proceed. This can be controlled using User Account Control settings.
You can slide the blue bar up and down depending on how much or how little oversight you want Windows to give you when programs are being installed, either overtly or covertly. I recommend keeping it at the default level, unless you have any particular special reason for changing it.
Sign In Options
In Windows 10, if you go to Settings > Sign-in Options, you can see various possibilities for signing into your account, if you are using a local account now. The options are a password, a PIN code, and a picture. A password and a PIN are both self-explanatory. It should be noted that a PIN code is a weaker form of protection than a password, but if you are certain that your computer is safe enough, then you can use a PIN for convenience sake.
People online generally agree that a 4 digit PIN code is about 10,000 different possible combinations, and would take 20 hours to crack by brute force. So make your PIN longer to make it slightly more difficult for anyone trying to break in. 6 numbers would be good and not too difficult to remember. Just don’t make it 123456 or 654321.
A picture on the other hand is really only suitable for users of Windows tablets. You are given a picture and you must then draw on the screen, a combination of circles, straight lines and taps.
There are two downsides to this form of “password”. First, you need to remember every single gesture if you want to get into your account. Get one wrong and you’re out of luck. Second, if someone wanted to break in, all they would have to do is hold your tablet screen up to the light, and see your smeared fingerprints. Therefore you need to wipe the screen clean everytime you “log in”. Would you be able to remember to do that every single time you logged in?
So How Do YOU Log-In?
After 1,600 words of sizzling prose about user accounts, it’s your turn to give us your opinions in the comments below. Do you use a Microsoft email account to log in or a Local Account? Are you a password man, a PIN girl, or a picture child? Let us know below.
Image Credits: Sandwich – XKCD