It’s a sure bet that most Windows Secrets readers have been drafted by friends and family into the role of unpaid PC troubleshooter.
You can reduce — but probably never eliminate — those time-consuming house calls by hardening your friends’ PCs against most forms of user error.
The administrator and the standard user
How many times have you set up friends’ or relatives’ computers, only to be called a week later because they’ve lost an important file, forgotten a password, or suddenly had a bright-red, “You’re infected!” message pop up on the screen? It’s enough to make you consider changing your phone number and moving to another state.
If, however, you can sit down at your friends’ computers, help them get set them up, and make a few precautionary changes, you can reduce the nagging calls and major disasters considerably. (I’d call this “idiot-proofing,” but that might be unkind to your friends.)
A first step is to restrict their rights to their own PCs. In a typical Windows installation, users are often set up with one account that has administrator rights. As we’ve recommended numerous times in Windows Secrets, it’s safer to do most of your Windows computing in a standard-user account, where there’s far less chance of damage caused by infection, a bad installation, or an inept user. The administrator account, with its own unique password, should be reserved for installing programs and altering Windows.
It goes without saying that you’ll need to know the admin password. But should your friends or family members know it as well? You need to discuss the pros and cons. But ultimately, if they own the computer, it’s their decision. On the other hand, if we’re talking about younger children, there’s no discussion; you keep the password to yourself.
Figure 1 shows the path and account-setting dialog box in Windows 7. If you need a refresher on setting up or changing user accounts, consult the following online help pages.
- “What is a standard user account?”
- “Why use a standard user account instead of an administrator account?“
- “User accounts: frequently asked questions”