WINDOWS 10: Dennis O'Reilly
Few things in Windows are simple, and that
includes the various types of user accounts.
As with Win7, Windows 10 creates three types of
accounts by default. But it also includes other account options such as
Microsoft vs. local. Here's what you need to know.
Those three primary accounts include the
default, admin-level user account and two hidden accounts: guest and
administrator. (If you create new user accounts, Win10 automatically sets
them to "standard," unless you change their status.)
With some restrictions, you can alter and
delete the default accounts. But I'll wager that many Win10 users don't
bother, which could leave them more vulnerable to malware than necessary.
If you need a good overview on creating Win10
accounts, EuroSCUG offers a downloadable
PDF. As you probably know, Microsoft really wants you to set up Windows
10 with MS-account credentials. Yes, you can run Win10 with just a
"local" account (more on that below), but you lose the automatic
connection with services that rely on an online connection — e.g., OneDrive
Regardless of the accounts you modify and
create, you need at least two accounts on each Win10 PC: an administrator-level
account and a backup account with sufficient privileges to repair the
administrator account if it breaks. That backup account could be the hidden
administrator account or another account you create.
Let's start with enabling the hidden admin
account you already have.
Windows 10's master account
To enable Win10's hidden Administrator account,
open a command prompt: right-click Start and click Command Prompt
(Admin). To see currently active user accounts, enter net user at
the command prompt (see Figure 1). Next, enter net user administrator /active:yes and press
enter. As you'd expect, you can disable the account by changing the command
to "active:no." (If you need to enable
the guest account, type in net user guest /active:yes and press Enter.)
Figure 1. The net user command lets you
see local users and reveal/hide special accounts such as Administrator.
You can now access the Windows Administrator
account — no password needed. But it's obviously a good idea to
password-protect it; you can do so right from the command prompt by
entering net user administrator * and pressing Enter. You be prompted
to enter a new password and then prompted to enter it again for
confirmation. When you're done, close the command window.
To sign in to the now-active Administrator
account, click Start and then your user name at the top of the Start menu.
Click Administrator and enter your password. (Note: The first time you
enter the account, it might take Win10 a bit of
time to set it up.)
For more information on the uses of the
Administrator account and how to enable it in Win7 and Win8, see the May
14, 2015, Top
Story, "Activate Windows' hidden, master admin account."
between standard or admin-user accounts
On numerous occasions, Windows Secrets has
recommended setting up a standard-user account for most of your computing
activities. As I'm sure you know, should a cyber
criminal gain access to your system, it'll be more difficult for him
to install malware on a standard account than on an admin-level account.
Unfortunately, many Windows users never set up
and use a standard account. I've used one for years, and there are
relatively few times when I've had to sign in to my admin-level account.
Still, the choice is yours.
If you're new to Windows 10, you might, out of
habit, set up new accounts and change existing accounts by opening Control Panel/User
Accounts. But the Win10 way is to click Start/Settings/Accounts. Click
Family & other users to add another account.("Accounts"
is also where you manage your email and user-account settings, sign-in
options, and other account settings.)
True to Win10's spit settings interfaces, you
can change account types via either Start/Settings or Control Panel/User
Accounts. But the latter has more account-management controls, depending on
the type of account. There, you can, for example, manage your credentials,
change account name, and set advanced user-profile properties.
Roughly speaking, Start/Settings is where you
do general maintenance Control Panel is where you go for many advanced
Netplwiz: The hidden User Accounts applet
What you can't do via either UI is set Windows
to bypass the sign-in screen on boot. For these and other advanced actions,
use the netplwiz Control Panel applet:
open a command prompt as described above, enter netplwiz
at the prompt, and press Enter.
In the User Accounts dialog box, under the
Users tab, uncheck the box next to "Users must enter a user name and
password to use this computer." Note, before the change is applied,
Windows will request the default account and its password. On your next
reboot, that account will open straight to the desktop. However, if you
switch to another account, you'll be asked for its password.
There are other user settings you can change in
the applet. For example, select a user and click Properties. In the dialog
box that opens next, you can change an account's username, full name, and
description; you can also select the account type: Standard, Administrator,
and Other — which has a drop-down menu with numerous options such as
"Distributed COM Users," "Guests," and "Remote
Management Users (see Figure 2)."
Figure 2. Along with Standard and Administrator
accounts, Win10 offers various special accounts such as Guests.
choice: Microsoft or local account
Again, it's obvious that Microsoft wants you to
sign in to Windows 10 with a Microsoft account. If you have an Outlook,
Hotmail, Live, or MSN email address, you already have an MS account you can
use for Win10 credentials. Using an MS account lets you sync desktop
themes, browser settings, passwords, OneDrive files, and other Windows
settings between machines and devices. You can't sync Windows Store apps or
Start menu layouts.
So why would anyone choose a local account in
this Internet-centric world of ours? Mostly for an added layer of privacy.
As David Auerbach wrote in a Slate article,
Microsoft grabs "loads" of information off your system, not to
mention helping itself to some of your Internet bandwidth.
The company essentially treats the data on your
system in much the same way it treats your data in the cloud. In fact,
components of Windows 10 such as Cortana are mostly cloud-based. Since
Win10's inception, Windows Secrets has recommended that you don't use Express
settings when installing the OS, and that you review your Win10 privacy
options after Win10 installation and updates. For more on that, see the
Sept. 10, 2015, LangaList Plus column,
"Working through Win10's many privacy settings."
Switching to a local account breaks many of
Win10's live PC-cloud connections. You can either create a new local
account or switch an MS account to a local version. To change an account,
click Start/Accounts and select Your email and accounts. Next, click
the "Sign in with a local account instead" link. You'll be
prompted to enter the current account's password; you'll then enter a local
account name and password (twice). Choose Next and then "Sign out and
Note: You can change a local account to an MS
account or create a new MS account.
quick look at guest accounts and child accounts
If you've unhidden the Windows 10 guest
account, you can switch to it by clicking your username in Start or by
pressing Ctrl + Alt + Delete and choosing Switch User. Guests can't access
your personal files, install software or hardware, change system settings,
or add a password.
To limit guests to a single application, see
the WonderHowTo article,
"How to restrict guest users to on app in Windows 10;" it
describes Win10's Assigned Access feature, also known as Kiosk Mode.
Another approach to creating a
restricted-access account is to set up child accounts. These accounts let
the user customize the desktop, browse the Web, and use applications. But
the account's "parent" can receive activity reports on the child
account, set browsing permissions, limit use time, and restrict access to
games and other programs.
To create a child account, open
Settings/Accounts and choose "Family & other users." Click
"Add a family member" and then "Add a child" in the
next window; step through the wizard.
Unfortunately, you have to provide an email
address for the child account because it has to be a Microsoft account. As
you can imagine, this has not pleased many parents, as have some of the
other changes to family accounts introduced in Windows 10. Paul Thurrot outlines the changes in his article,
"Inside Microsoft Family and Windows 10 Parental controls," and
he notes the complaints from parents.
A plethora of account options. As you can see, Win10 makes managing user accounts only more
flexible — and complex. Along with different types of accounts, the new OS
also gives you many ways to sign in to those accounts. Check out your
options by clicking Start/Settings/Accounts/Sign-in options. Setting up a
PIN can make switching between accounts a bit faster.