Working with multiple Windows user accounts

There are a number of solid reasons why you may want to work with multiple Windows user accounts on your computer. There are literally thousands of "household" computers where mummy and daddy, the kids and maybe even the dog (well, probably not the dog) all share the same user account, without even knowing that there are better alternatives.

In short, here are some of the advantages of working with multiple accounts:

But before we dive into the nuts and bolts of this, let's first examine a little bit what might be going on on your computer when you power it up. The thing is, depending on your Windows settings, your computer will behave differently during power-on.

Often times there's only one user account defined on a Windows machine, and often times there's no password set on that user account. The reason why this is commonly so is because it's easy. You just power on your computer and when it's ready starting up you will find yourself immediately on your Windows desktop, without the need for selecting a Windows user account or entering a password. While this may be very convenient, it really isn't the best way to do things. I will explain in a minute why.

If you power-on your computer and it takes you straight to your desktop without ever asking you which windows user account to select or without prompting you for a password, chances are that you can improve a lot of things in your computing experience.

Why?

Because working with windows user accounts without a password not only exposes you to a number of security threats, but it can also cause problems if you are using your computer in a small home network.

Since the introduction of Windows XP Service Pack 2, Windows workstations no longer allow network access to file shares from network accounts without a password. So when you are trying to access a remote file over a network share in your home or small office environment you may find yourself out of luck if you are working with an account with a blank password. Simply setting a password on your user account will allow you to access the network files without any error messages.

Separate e-mail inboxes / Improved Security

Many windows users also don't know that multiple users can have their own email addresses and have their emails organized in their own private inbox. If you want to find out how to set up separate inboxes for different users on your computer, please make sure to read on down to the section where I explain how to set up a new user account.

But before I get to that let's look at a few other benefits of working with multiple accounts:

The Windows administrator account. The administrator account is a special account with administrative powers over your computer. That means that it has the powers to install and remove software, change system settings and basically overwrite or delete any file.

On many Windows computers, the administrator account is the only and default user account on the machine.

That also means that any spyware or malicious software that you encounter will potentially also get administrative rights over your computer. When visiting infected websites, or when opening a malware-infected email message, the malware may trigger a Windows security dialog box, asking you if you want to allow or deny the execution of the program. If you are not sure about the origin of the message and you click "allow", or "open" or "run" you basically give the malware administrative powers over your machine so it can perform any destructive task it was designed to do. That's another reason why it may not always be the best idea to work with only the administrator account on your computer.

Yet another reason to work with multiple user accounts is that windows profiles can go corrupt over time. Some Windows problems that cause your computer to start behaving very strange are known to be caused by a corrupt profile. While it can be very complex to bring a corrupt profile back to "normal", a lot of profile problems can be cured easily by simply creating a new user account and copying the personal data (files, photos, music, …) over to the new profile.

If your computer directly takes you to your windows desktop without ever prompting you to select a user account or entering a password, it might be a good idea to create some additional (password protected) windows user accounts for every person that shares your computer.

Let's first take a look at your settings that define how users log on and off on your computer.

Click on the start button, go to "control panel" and select "user accounts".

That will take you to the Windows user accounts screen, where you will see an overview of all the user accounts that live on your pc.

Windows User Accounts

To set a password for your account, simply click the account to go to the account properties screen:

Windows User Accounts step 2

In the accounts properties screen, click "create a password" and enter a password of your choice. You will have to confirm the password by entering it a second time and you have the *optional* possibility of entering enter a password hint to help you remember your password. After you click the "create password" button, your computer will prompt you for your password the next time you power-on your computer:

Windows User Accounts password

In order to create additional accounts, click the start button, go to control panel and select "user accounts". Then click "Create a new account". Windows will then prompt you for a name for the account and after that you need to decide if you want to grant the account administrative rights or limited rights.

Windows user accounts with limited rights will not be able to install software packages of perform other administrative tasks on your computer, so they are somewhat, well, limited in terms of what kind of tasks they can perform. A user with administrative rights will always be able to grant administrative rights to other users on the computer.

Next click "create account" in the wizard and your new account will be ready for you. In order to set a password for this new account, click on the newly created account and click "create a password".

Private inboxes for Windows user accounts

If you are working with Outlook Express (the standard email program that comes with Windows XP), it's pretty straightforward to set up separate inboxes for each new user account. The first time you launch Outlook Express when you are logged on to your computer with a newly created user account, Outlook Express will start a wizard which will guide you through the settings to configure your email account.

You will need the information from your email provider for this and it's impossible for me to provide all the details here for every possible email provider out there, but I do have a separate article that describes how you can set up Outlook Express with a free gmail account.

Return from this Windows user accounts article to the homepage.

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