Windows XP / Beginners

How Setup Decisions Dictate Your Security Options

Three factors dictate how much control you have over access to shared files and folders on a computer running Windows XP:

  • Disk format Access controls, which determine whether a given user can open a folder, read a file, create new files, and perform other file operations, are available only on NTFS-formatted drives. On drives formatted with FAT32, most local security options are unavailable. Any user can access any file without restriction.
  • Windows XP edition By default, Windows XP Home Edition and Windows XP Professional share a simplified security interface that allows you to set a limited number of access controls based on built-in group memberships. If you use Windows XP Professional, you can configure your system to use more complex security options that closely resemble those found in Windows 2000. We discuss the differences between these options later in this section.
  • User account settings During setup, Windows XP creates a group of shared folders specifically designed to hold files for all users of that computer. (If your computer is joined to a Windows domain, these shared locations are unavailable.) Each user with an account on the machine can designate certain folders as private.

NTFS vs. FAT32

When it comes to security, the single most important factor is the file system you've chosen for the drive containing the Windows system files and user profiles. If the drive is formatted using the FAT32 file system, none of the options discussed in this section apply to you. The only way to enable file system permissions is to convert the drive to NTFS format.

Tip: Access NTFS permissions from Home Edition
We note that users of Windows XP Home Edition are locked out of the full range of file security options. However, there is one noteworthy exception: When you restart Home Edition in Safe Mode, you'll find the full Windows 2000-style access control editor. This back door is designed for recovery of protected files after a system crash, but a determined Home Edition user can take advantage of it to set permissions on files and folders. Our take? If you understand NTFS permissions and need to use them, get Windows XP Professional.

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