Family Computers: Some Tips For Smoother Operation
Posted on: May 24th, 2011
Over the years we have run into many cases when a computer is used by multiple people, usually the members of a family. That’s perfectly normal and the operating system of the computers is designed to help and facilitate such use. I’d like to give some advices that help keeping the computers in these situations running smoother.The main tool that is built into either Windows or Mac OS is the user accounts. User accounts allow the separation of the various users, giving them their own space to save things and they can customize their settings – basically creating a virtual environment that each user can call as their own.
User accounts can be created, modified or deleted from the Control Panel’s “User Accounts” icon (Start -> Control Panel -> User Accounts).
One of the main complaint we hear with family computers is that “the kids messed it up”. User Accounts also give a solution to this problem:
There are two main account types: Standard (or Limited) and Administrator.
The Standard user is one that has access to all installed software and his own user files but can’t install new software or updates and can’t modify system wide settings. In other words, can’t mess up the computer. It also protects the computer against 99% of viruses. If the user downloads something it can’t wreak havoc on the whole computer, only can mess up that particular user.
The Administrator type of user is one that has full access to everything on the computer. It can install or remove software. It can change system wide settings and if a virus gets loose under this account it can mess the whole computer up!
As you can see there are certainly big advantages to using the Standard type. However, the vast majority of accounts is of the Administrator type. Why? The reason lies in the occasional inconveniences that brought about by the limited access to system settings and files. Older versions of Windows handled this very badly (basically slap the door on the user’s face) but newer versions will give the option to switch temporary to the more privileged account to perform the needed action. Mac OS had that down for a long time.
So, here’s an ideal setup that gives the biggest possible protection in a multi-user environment:
1. Set up one (or maybe two) Administrator account and set up a good, hard-to-guess passwords to it. Use this account only for making changes on the computer, such as installations and reconfigurations. Especially avoid using this account to visit websites or do any kind of internet download activities.
2. Set up accounts for each user and make each user a Standard (limited) account. Passwords are only necessary if you want to provide privacy between the users.
You can see a sample setup on the right side (click on the image to see it in full size).
The password on the administrator account prevents users (and viruses) from bypassing the user restrictions. Because it’s the only way to make changes on the machine make sure that this password is either easily remember-able or is written down somewhere safe. You can also use password hints, if you don’t want to keep the password written down.
This setup if done right can actually eliminate the need for a constantly running antivirus and can therefore significantly increase the speed of the computer. The main thing needed to achieve that is having an Administrator account that is not being used on a regular basis.
Maintenance: with this setup you need to from time to time log into the administrator account and run the updates, install or uninstall programs. In Windows 7 you can run these from the standard account you’ll just be asked to provide the log in information to the administrator account.
This setup might not work for you if you are using older software that does not run correctly under a standard account. But the vast majority of new computers with Windows 7 should run very well with this setup.
If the setup is not workable for you because the software you need to use requires an administrator level access then you can simply switch the accounts’ type to Administrator. Then make sure you got a good antivirus!
Switching Between Accounts
Switching from one account to another is simple, it’s under the heading of “Logoff” (or listed separately). There’s two different ways to make the switch and it’s important to understand the difference in order to prevent the computer from bogging down.
Logoff: This is the process of closing all tasks currently running under the user’s account, close files and network connections. It might take a little bit but it frees up the memory and other resources of the computer.
Switch User: This allows a quick switch between accounts without closing the running programs of the user you are switching from. Because everything is kept running you can go back easily and continue work (or play) from where you left off. The down side is that all the memory and other resources still get tied up and if the computer is not very powerful then it can lead to some serious slow-down of the computer.
I generally recommend using the Logoff method and only use the Switch User method in case of an interruption when one needs to switch over to another account and then return back to it.
If a user finished work he or she should save his work and log off. That frees up the resources and also minimizes the chances of losing information, if the computer loses power or freezes up and has to be forced to restart.
Cleanup and User Accounts
Cleanup tools, such as CCleaner, usually cleans out only the current user’s temporary files and the system temporary files (if it can). So if you want to do a thorough cleanup then you’d need to log into each user account and run the cleaner software.
Virus scanners, on the other hand, are rarely limit their activities to just the current user but check them all. So if one of the accounts get infected then running the virus scan from the administrator account should clean it out. If it doesn’t pick up the infection then you can still use the System Restore to roll back the system state before the infection happened.
Defragmentation handles the whole hard drive so it is not user specific.
Making Files and Folders Private
When you add a password to a user account you might get asked whether you want to make the user’s files and folders private. I’d recommend answering “No” to that question. The reason is that this process changes the access permissions on the user’s folders and makes it harder to back them up, or inaccessible for some backup software. Also it can be bypassed with administrator access, so it’s more of a nuisance than a useful feature.
Backup programs need to run under the administrator account in order to access and save files. So the backup jobs need to be set up under the administrator account and if scheduled then they need to use the administrator account.
User accounts are a very valuable and powerful tool that can help to manage your computer much better. Here I gave some basic information and a description of a configuration that will most likely give the best protection against viruses and unwanted changes on the computer.
I hope that will help making your computer run better!
If you need help setting up your computer with this user account configuration then contact us and we will be able to help you with it.
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