Depending on the version, there are several ways to gain access to Windows when you’ve lost your password.
Vista and Windows 7 offer a little-known password-reset option; Windows 8 relies primarily on your Microsoft account credentials.
Sadly, I’ve been asked for help more than once by someone who has lost a family member and needs access to the deceased’s computer. (Passwords are not something you should take with you.) Less tragically, I also know many more people who have important information stored on an old computer that’s locked by a forgotten password.
Those passwords can be reset, but the technique depends on the version of Windows you’re running, the type of user account you’ve chosen, and whether you’ve taken any steps in advance for password recovery. I’ll go through each of the available options.
Password reset disk: Be proactive, not reactive
A small amount of preplanning can save you — or your family — a lot of password-recovery effort. The simplest and most certain way to recover a lost password is to create a password-reset disc or USB drive. Built into Vista, Win7, and Win8, this option works only with local accounts. If you’re on a domain, you’ll have to talk to your system administrator. With Win8, Microsoft encourages users to create an MS account during initial setup — you won’t find options for creating a password-reset disk. Instead, you can set up an online password reset with Microsoft.
Obviously, you’ll want to keep the reset disk in a secure location — and, of course, let your family know about it.
Assuming you’re signed in to a local account, click Control Panel/User Accounts. In the left column, select the option “Create a password reset disk” as shown in Figure 1. (This option will not appear if you’re attached to a domain.) Next, a wizard will ask for your current password and the drive you want to use to store the password-reset file.