Home / Windows 10

Sharing Computer

Windows allows several people to share one computer, laptop, or tablet without letting anybody peek into anybody else's files.

Windows grants each person his or her own user account, which neatly isolates that person's files. When a person types in his user account name and password, the computer looks tailor-made just for him: It displays his personalized desktop background, menu choices, programs, and files - and it forbids him from seeing items belonging to other users.

This tutorial explains how to set up a separate user account for everybody in your home, including the computer's owner, family members, and roommates.

It also explains how to create accounts for children, which allow you to monitor their computer activity and set limits where you feel necessary.

Understanding User Accounts

Windows wants you to set up a user account for everybody who uses your PC. A user account works like a cocktail-party name tag that helps Windows recognize who's sitting at the keyboard. Windows offers two types of user accounts: Administrator and Standard. (It also offers a special Standard account for children.)

To begin playing with the PC, people click their account's name when the Windows Sign In screen first appears.

Well, Windows gives each type of account permission to do different things on the computer. If the computer were a hotel, the Administrator account would belong to the desk clerk, and each tenant would have a Standard account. Here's how the different accounts translate into computer lingo:

  • Administrator:
    The administrator controls the entire computer, deciding who gets to play with it and what each user may do on it. On a computer running Windows, the owner usually holds the almighty Administrator account. He or she then sets up accounts for each household member and decides what they can and can't do with the PC.
  • Standard:
    Standard account holders can access most of the computer, but they can't make any big changes to it. They can't run or install new programs, for example, but they can run existing programs.
  • Child:
    The Child account setting is actually just a Standard account with the Microsoft Family settings automatically turned on.
Guest: Windows 10 no longer offers guest accounts. These days, most visitors arrive toting their own smartphones, tablets, or both.

Here are some ways accounts are typically assigned when you're sharing the same computer under one roof:

  • In a family, the parents usually hold Administrator accounts, and the kids usually have Standard accounts.
  • In a dorm or shared apartment, the computer's owner holds the Administrator account, and the roommates have Standard accounts, depending on their trustworthiness level (and perhaps how clean they've left the kitchen that week).

To keep others from signing in under your user account, you must protect it with a password.

Sometimes somebody will be signed in to her account, but the computer will go to sleep if she hasn't touched the keyboard for a while. When the computer wakes back up, only that person's user account and photo will show up onscreen. Windows 10 lists the other account holders' names in the screen's bottom-left corner, though, letting them sign in with a click on their names.

Giving yourself a Standard account

Whenever an evil piece of software slips into your computer - and you're signed in as an administrator - that evil software holds as much power as you do. That's dangerous because Administrator accounts can delete just about anything. And that's why Microsoft suggests creating two accounts for yourself: an Administrator account and a Standard account. Then sign in with your Standard account for everyday computing.

That way, Windows treats you just like any other Standard user: When the computer is about to do something potentially harmful, Windows asks you to type the password of an Administrator account. Type your Administrator account's password, and Windows lets you proceed. But if Windows unexpectedly asks for permission to do something odd, you know something may be suspect.

This second account is inconvenient, no doubt about it. But so is reaching for a key whenever you enter your front door. Taking an extra step is the price of extra security.

Changing or Adding User Accounts

Windows 10 now offers two slightly different ways to add user accounts. It separates them into the two types of people you're most likely to add to your computer:
Family members:
By choosing this, you can automatically set up controls on your children's accounts. Any adults you add here will automatically be able to monitor your children's computer usage. All family members must have Microsoft accounts; if they don't already have them, the process helps you create them.
Other members:
This type of account works best for roommates or other long-term guests who will be using your computer, but don't need monitoring or the ability to monitor children.

The next two sections describe how to create both types of accounts, as well as how to change existing accounts.

Only Administrator accounts can add new user accounts to a computer. If you don't have an Administrator account, ask the computer's owner to upgrade your account.

Adding an account for a family member or friend

Adding a family member adds an important distinction to the account. If you add a child, the child's activity will be curtailed according to the limits you set. And if you add an adult, that person will also have the ability to monitor the activity of any added children.

If you want to add an account that's not involved in these family matters, choose the other option, called Adding an Account for Someone Else. There, you can create an account for a roommate or long-term guest.

Administrator account holders can create either type of account by following these steps:

  1. Click the Start button and click the Settings button.
  2. When the Settings app appears, click the Accounts icon.
    The Accounts screen appears, offering ways to change your own account, as well as how to add accounts for other people.
    While you're here, you can tweak your own account by clicking Your Account on the left pane. You can change the password of a Local account, for example, or even switch from a Microsoft account to a Local account.
  3. Click the words Family & Other Users from the left pane. (If you're adding somebody who's not a family member, jump to Step 5.)
    The right pane of the Family & Other Users screen, lets you create either of two accounts: One for a family member, or one for someone else. If you're creating an account for a family member, move to Step 4. If you're not adding a relative, jump ahead to Step 5.
  4. Choose Add a Family Member, and follow the steps to send the person an invitation.
    A window appears, asking if you're adding a child or an adult. Click the appropriate checkbox, then decide which e-mail address to use for that person. You have several options:
    • If you already know the person's e-mail address, type it into the Enter Their E-mail Address box and click the Next button. (If the e-mail address isn't already a Microsoft account, it will be turned into one.)
    • If you don't know the person's e-mail address, click the words, The Person I Want to Invite Doesn't Have an E-mail Address. That takes you to a page where you can sign them up for an e-mail address that also serves as a Microsoft account.
    No matter which option you choose, your invited family member, either a child or adult, will receive an e-mail saying they've been invited to have a family account on your computer. Once they accept the offer, they automatically appear as an account on your computer.
    If they ignore the offer, or don't respond within two weeks, the offer becomes invalid. (If they still want an account after two weeks, you need to send them another invitation.)
    At this point, you've finished adding a family member. To add somebody who's not a relative, move to Step 5.
  5. Choose Add Someone Else to Your PC.
    Microsoft immediately complicates matters, as shown in the How Will This Person Sign In? By asking for the new account holder's e-mail address.
    Microsoft is trying to say is that you can choose either of two types of accounts for your new account holder:
    • Microsoft account:
      A Microsoft account is required for many Windows 10 features. A Microsoft account is simply an e-mail address that links to Microsoft, its computers, and its billing department. Only Microsoft account holders can download apps from the Windows Store app, store files on an Internet storage space called OneDrive, and access other perks offered by a Microsoft account. To create a Microsoft account, go to the Step 6.
    • Local account:
      Select this option for people not interested in Microsoft accounts and their privileges. It lets the person use your computer with an account specific to your computer. To create a Local account, click the words Sign in Without a Microsoft Account (Not Recommended) and then jump to Step 7.
    Tip: Can't decide which type of account to create? Creating a Local account is always a safe bet. (Local account holders who want or need the advantages of a Microsoft account can upgrade to one at any time. )
  6. Type the e-mail address of the new account holder's Microsoft account into the Email Address text box, click Next, and then click Finish.
    The account will be waiting on the Sign In screen shown.
    When the person wants to use the computer, he chooses the account bearing his e-mail address and then types in his Microsoft account password. Windows visits the Internet, and if e-mail address and password match, the account is ready for action. You've finished.
  7. Click the words Sign In without a Microsoft account (Not Recommended).
    Alarmed that you'd consider choosing a lowly Local account over the wondrous Microsoft account, Microsoft displays a confirmation page with two buttons: Microsoft Account and Local Account.
  8. Click the Local Account button.
    This tells Microsoft that yes, you really do want a Local account. (After all, Local account holders can always turn their account into a Microsoft account at any time.)
    A new screen appears, asking for a name for the account (username), the account's password, and a password hint in case you forget the password.
  9. Enter a username, password, and password hint and then click Next.
    Use the person's first name or nickname for the username. Choose a simple password and hint; the user can change them after he signs in.
  10. Click Finish.
    Tell the person his new username and password. His username will be waiting at the Sign In screen's bottom-left corner for him to begin using the computer.
Windows normally creates Standard accounts for all new users whether or not they've signed in with a Microsoft or Local account. You can upgrade that later to an Administrator account if you want by changing the account, described in the next section.

Changing existing accounts

The Windows 10 Settings app lets you create a new account for a friend or family member, as described in the previous section. And it lets you tweak your own account, changing your account password or switching between a Microsoft or a Local account.

Administrators can even modify other accounts, changing them to either Standard or Administrator accounts.

But if you want to have more control than that - the ability to change an account's name or password - you need the power of the desktop's Control Panel. There, you can also create a Guest account, handy for visitors who need a quick trip to the Internet, and nothing more.

You can't change Microsoft accounts with these steps - those account holders must go online to do that - but you can change a Local account.

To change an existing user's Local account or turn on the Guest account, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click the Start button in the screen's bottom-left corner and choose Control Panel from the pop-up menu.
    If you're a touchscreen user, hold down your finger on the Start button and tap the words Control Panel from the pop-up menu.
  2. Open the Control Panel's User Accounts category.
  3. Click the User Accounts link and then click the Manage Another Account link.
    The Manage Accounts window appears, listing all the accounts on your computer.
    While you're here, feel free to turn on the Guest account by selecting its name and clicking the Turn On button. A Guest account provides a handy and safe way to let visitors use your computer - without giving them access to your files, changing your settings, or doing anything that might harm your computer.
  4. Click the account you'd like to change.
    Windows displays a page with the account's photo and lets you tweak the account's settings in any of these ways:
    • Change the Account Name: Here's your chance to correct a misspelled name on an account. Or feel free to jazz up your own account name, changing Jane to Crystal Powers.
    • Create/Change a Password: Every account should have a password to keep out other users. Here's your chance to add one or change the existing one.
    • Set Up Microsoft Family: An Easter egg for parents, Microsoft Family lets you choose the hours that an account holder may access the PC, as well as limit the programs and games the account holder may run.
    • Change the Account Type: Head here to promote a Standard user of high moral character to an Administrator account or bump a naughty administrator down to Standard.
      Warning: Delete the Account: Don't choose this option hastily, because deleting somebody's account also deletes all her files. If you do choose it, also choose the subsequent option that appears, Keep Files. That option places all of that person's files in a folder on your desktop for safekeeping.
    • Manage Another Account: Save your current crop of changes and begin tweaking somebody else's account.
  5. When you're through, close the window by clicking the red X in its top-right corner.
    Any changes made to a user's account take place immediately.
[Next...Switching Quickly between Users]