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Working with User Accounts (part 2)

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4. Deleting an Account

You can delete any account except one that is currently logged on. To delete an account, open User Accounts, click Manage Another Account, and click the name of the account you want to delete. Then click Delete The Account. User Accounts gives you a choice, shown in Figure 4, about what to do with the account's files:

  • Delete Files After you select Delete Files and confirm your intention in the next window, Windows deletes the account, its user profile, and all files associated with the account, including those in its Contacts, Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Favorites, Links, Music, Pictures, Saved Games, Searches, and Videos folders.

  • Keep Files Windows copies certain parts of the user's profile—specifically, files and folders stored on the desktop and in the Documents, Favorites, Music, Pictures, and Videos folders—to a folder on your desktop, where they become part of your profile and remain under your control. The rest of the user profile, such as e-mail messages and other data stored in the AppData folder; files stored in the Contacts, Downloads, Saved Games, and Searches folders; and settings stored in the registry will be deleted after you confirm your intention in the next window that appears.

Figure 4. Select Keep Files to avoid losing files in the account's Documents and other folders.


User Accounts won't let you delete the last local account on the computer, even if you're logged on using the account named Administrator. This limitation helps to enforce the sound security practice of using an account other than Administrator for your everyday computing.

After you delete an account, of course, that user can no longer log on. Deleting an account also has other effects you should be aware of. You cannot restore access to resources that currently list the user in their access control lists simply by re-creating the account. This includes files to which the user has permission and the user's encrypted files, personal certificates, and stored passwords for websites and network resources. That's because those permissions are linked to the user's original SID—not the user name. Even if you create a new account with the same name, password, and so on, it will have a new SID, which will not gain access to anything that was restricted to the original user account.

You might encounter another predicament if you delete an account. If you use a tool other than User Accounts to delete the account, the user's original profile remains in the Users folder. If you later create a new account with the same name, Windows creates a new profile folder, but because a folder already exists with that user's name (for example, C:\Users\ Jan), it appends the computer name to the user name to create a convoluted folder name (for example, C:\Users\Jan.Sequoia). The extra folder not only consumes disk space, but leads to confusion about which is the correct profile folder. (In general, the one with the longest name is the most recent. But you can be certain only by examining files in the profile folder.) To avoid this problem, use User Accounts to delete accounts because it properly deletes the old profile along with the account.

Inside Out: Delete an unused profile when you delete an account

If you delete an account with a tool other than User Accounts, the account's profile continues to occupy space in the Users folder and in the registry. You don't want to delete the files or registry entries directly because a simple mistake could affect other accounts. Instead, in Control Panel open System and click Advanced System Settings. Click the Advanced tab and then click Settings under User Profiles. Select the account named Account Unknown (the deleted account), and click Delete.

5. Effectively Implementing User Accounts on a Shared Computer

Whether you're setting up a computer for your family to use at home or to be used in a business, it's prudent to set it up securely. Doing so helps to protect each user's data from inadvertent deletions and changes as well as malicious damage and theft. When you set up your computer, consider these suggestions:

  • Control who can log on. Create accounts only for users who need to use your computer's resources, either by logging on locally or over a network. Delete or disable other accounts (except the built-in accounts created by Windows).

  • Change all user accounts except one to standard accounts. You'll need one administrative account for installing programs, creating and managing accounts, and so on. All other accounts—including your own everyday account—can run with standard privileges. If you are the de facto administrator for a computer, we recommend that you create two accounts for yourself: a standard account that you normally use for logging on, and an administrator account that you can use for elevation when needed.

    It's easy to set up accounts this way. If you're working with a freshly installed version of Windows 7 on which you haven't yet installed applications or made personalizations to the single account created during setup, use that account as your administrator account. (If you've already given it your name during setup, you might want to modify the name to indicate that it's your administrative account. See Section 16.2.2 on Section 16.2.2 for details.) Create a new standard account to use as your everyday account. (See Section 16.2.1 on Section 16.2.1.) Log off, and then log on with your standard account. Whenever Windows requires elevation, it displays the name of your administrator account; enter its password to gain administrator privileges.

    Inside Out: Log on with your standard account all the time. Really.

    Note that you'll rarely, if ever, need to log on using your administrator account. Instead, when Windows requires elevation while you're logged on with your standard account, you simply enter the password for your administrator account.

    Certain programs won't run (or are not fully functional) if you launch them while logged on with a standard account. To get around obstacles like this, don't log off and then log on with your administrator account. In most cases, a better solution is to use the "run as administrator" feature. To do that, right-click the program's shortcut (on the Start menu or in Windows Explorer) and choose Run As Administrator. Alternatively, select the shortcut and press Ctrl+Shift+Enter. Windows then prompts for your administrator password.

    A handful of programs won't work, even with this trick. (Device Manager is an example. If you start it from a shortcut in Control Panel while logged on as a standard user, it displays settings but doesn't let you change any settings. And its right-click menu doesn't include a Run As Administrator command.) You can usually run such recalcitrant programs by launching them from an elevated Command Prompt window. That is, run Command Prompt as an administrator (in the Start menu search box, type cmd, press Ctrl+Shift+Enter, and then enter your administrator password) and then enter the program's executable name at the command prompt. (For example, to run Device Manager as an administrator, in an elevated Command Prompt window type devmgmt.msc. Device Manager then runs with full functionality, exactly as if you had logged off and then logged on with your administrator account.)

    If you've been using Windows for awhile and have already customized the administrator account created during setup as your own, you're better off keeping it as your everyday account. But you can still easily implement this suggested practice. While logged on with your administrator account, create a new administrator account, which will be the account you use when Windows requires elevation. Then change your current account to a standard account. (You must create the new administrator account before you demote your account, because Windows requires the existence of at least one administrator account.) Note that you don't lose your administrator privileges until you log off; the next time you log on with your (now standard) account, all your programs and personalizations remain exactly as before, but you now run with standard privileges.

  • Be sure that all accounts are password protected. This is especially important for administrator accounts and for other accounts whose profiles contain important or sensitive documents. You might not want to set a password on your toddler's account, but all other accounts should be protected from the possibility that the tyke (or your cat) will accidentally click the wrong name on the Welcome screen.

  • Restrict logon times. You might want to limit the computing hours for some users. The easiest way for home users to do this is with Parental Controls.

  • Restrict access to certain files. You'll want to be sure that some files are available to all users, whereas other files are available only to the person who created them. The Public folder and a user's personal folders provide a general framework for this protection. You can further refine your file protection scheme by selectively applying permissions to varying combinations of files, folders, and users.

  • Turn on the Guest account only when necessary. You might occasionally have a visitor who needs to use your computer. Rather than logging on with your own account and exposing all your own files and settings to the visitor, turn on the Guest account in such situations.

6. Using Other Account Management Tools

Windows 7 includes no fewer than four different interfaces for managing users and groups:

  • User Accounts Located in Control Panel, User Accounts provides the simplest method to perform common tasks.

  • Advanced User Accounts If your computer is joined to a domain, clicking the Manage User Accounts link in User Accounts opens Advanced User Accounts. (The title bar of the dialog box doesn't include the word Advanced, however.) If your computer is not joined to a domain, you can open this version by typing netplwiz at a command prompt.

    The capabilities of Advanced User Accounts are few (you can remove local user accounts, set passwords, and place a user account in a single security group), but it has a handful of unique features that you might find compelling. With Advanced User Accounts, you can

    • Change an account's user name.

    • Configure automatic logon.

    • Eliminate the Ctrl+Alt+Delete requirement on domain-joined computers.

  • Local Users And Groups This Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in—which is available only in Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions—provides access to more account management features than User Accounts and is friendlier than command-line utilities. You can start Local Users And Groups, shown in Figure 5, in any of the following ways:

    • In Computer Management, open System Tools, Local Users And Groups.

    • At a command prompt, type lusrmgr.msc.

    • In Advanced User Accounts, click the Advanced tab, and then click the Advanced button.

    Figure 5. Through its austere interface, Local Users And Groups offers more capabilities than User Accounts.

  • Command-line utilities The Net User and Net Localgroup commands, although not particularly intuitive (starting with the name—we're talking about local accounts and groups, not network-based accounts!), provide the most complete and direct access to various account tasks.

    For full details about the commands and parameters used with Net.exe for managing user accounts and security groups, in a Command Prompt window, type net help user | more or net help localgroup | more. For a succinct display of command syntax only, type net user /? or net localgroup /?. You'll need to use an elevated Command Prompt window to change any local user account or group information with Net User or Net Localgroup.

With varying degrees of ease, all of these options allow an administrator to create, modify, and delete local user accounts and security groups. The availability and appearance of each of these options depends on which edition of Windows you have (the Local Users And Groups console is not available in Starter and Home Premium editions) and whether your computer is a member of a domain. Which interface you choose depends in part on whether you prefer a graphical interface or a command prompt.

Other -----------------
- Working with User Accounts (part 1) - Creating a New User Account & Using the Guest Account for Visitors
- Managing User Accounts, Passwords, and Logons : Introducing Access Control in Windows
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- Advanced File Management : Encrypting Information (part 2) - Encrypting with BitLocker and BitLocker To Go
- Advanced File Management : Encrypting Information (part 1) - Using the Encrypting File System
- Advanced File Management : Relocating Personal Data Folders
- Synchronizing Files Between Multiple Computers (part 6) - Staying in Sync with Windows Live Sync
- Synchronizing Files Between Multiple Computers (part 5) - Staying in Sync with Live Mesh
- Synchronizing Files Between Multiple Computers (part 4) - Managing Disk Space & Removing Offline Access to Files and Folders
- Synchronizing Files Between Multiple Computers (part 3) - Setting Up a Synchronization Schedule & Setting Caching Options on the Server
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