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WinXP: log on as admin if you want to play games, MP3s?

New security systems baffle users

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Home users seem to be coming badly unstuck when tangling with the new security features of Windows XP. Now it's possible for them to set up one account on their machine with administrator rights, and lesser accounts for the kids, less significant other, cat and so forth - but setting things so that the right people get access to the right programs? Hmm, tricky...

The Windows XP Public Newsgroups are currently peppered with pleas for help on the subject (and indeed with messages from people who just don't get WPA, but that's another story). If they're used to any kind of security at all, in many cases it's the Win9x system that does precious little beyond getting you used to the idea of pointless multiple logins and passwords.

XP is a different matter altogether, and Joe Public plus kids, less significant other and cat are being baffled by several issues intersecting. First, you get the ability to use different user accounts with different privileges. Second, you get to confuse yourself with Fast User Switching, which allows multiple accounts to be poised ready and waiting for, well, fast user switching. So can you remember who you are at the moment? Third, quite a lot of programs (Microsoft's Age of Empires II apparently being one of them) don't grasp the wonderful new world of multi-layered security that is XP, so you end up with them demanding administrator rights from you before they'll let you run them.

Many aspects of this will cause gales of mirth in the Linux camp, where the security systems are a model of Stalinistic structured control-freakery (well, that's what we think, anyway). Doing your day to day work from an admin account isn't good practice, but XP can easily be installed with just that assumption. And having programs that won't let you run them unless you're admin will quite likely mean Joe Public will wind up letting everybody run as admin. If he can figure out how, that is.

According to the relevant Microsoft support article, the problem occurs "because many programs were written for use with Microsoft Windows 95, Microsoft Windows 98, Microsoft Windows 98 Second Edition, or Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition (Me). These operating systems did not have an administrator or limited user account."

The way installations should work with XP, if we understand the situation correctly, is that when installing under administrator account you should be able to specify that other accounts have access to the program, but clearly that doesn't always happen with the older stuff. It's also worth noting that the stuff users are running into problems with seems typically to be games, music programs and so on - so you've got to give your five year old admin rights so they can run Age of Empires, right? Right. As Microsoft says, "If you installed a game by using an administrator account, you may have to log on with an administrator account before you can play the game."

Or alternatively, as one suggestion in the newsgroups goes, just install it again for each user you want to access it, using the same folders.

The "limited user" account also makes an appearance in the knowledge base. If you look here, you'll find a substantial list of things you might not be able to do, and a very long list of programs you can't run, if you're logged on as a limited user. Not being able to see the CD in the drive will no doubt make Linux defectors feel at home.

But given that paterfamilias is quite likely to reckon the kids ought to be limited users, you can see what a heap of trouble this one could cause.

Register browser wars trivia: This happens every now and again, and happened just now when we thought we'd just look around http://support.microsoft.com to see if there was much else on admin account issues in XP. Using Opera 5.11 masquerading as IE 5, you get a continuous high speed looping between "sending request to support.microsoft.com" and "connecting to support.microsoft.com". We surmise that this is a result of Opera saying "hello, I'm IE5" and microsoft.com saying, "hang on a moment, no you're not", "yes I am", etc. And when it finally times out the tag on the dialogue box reads "http://support.microsoft.com/support/misc/unsuppor..." Our friends in Norway may care to get loudly outraged about this sometime.

As regards those admin account issues, we can report after a brief excursion into IE5 that there are currently 200 articles in the XP knowledge base containing the word administrator. One cracker is Q293834, "User Accounts That You Create During Setup Are Administrator Account Types". It applies to Home and Pro editions, and (hold onto the strap before you read this, Unix geeks) is summarised as "After you install Windows XP, you have the option to create user accounts. If you create user accounts, by default, they will have an account type of Administrator with no password." Outstanding. ®

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