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Friday, April 4, 2008

User Accounts and Fast User Switching

Windows XP represents Microsoft's big push to get the largely Windows 9X-based user community to an operating system family based on the Windows NT-kernel. In Windows XP, new client services not only blend the ease of use of familiar Windows 9X profiles with the robustness of Windows NT (and Windows 2000) user management, but significantly improve on the combination. While the majority of these advancements will be appreciated most by home users, enterprise customers that share assets-for instance, with shift workers and telecommuters or with users who access e-mail from multiple machines while roaming-will also see improvements.

Many computers are shared between multiple users, particularly in the home environment where studies have shown that 80% of computers are used routinely by multiple people. In previous versions of Windows NT, user account management-which could be strictly enforced across the enterprise by administrators-was a somewhat tricky process that was beyond the abilities of most non-computing professionals. Simple-to-use Windows 9X profiles, however, were not enabled by default and were largely ignored: The cost of actually using the profiles, which required that users log off before allowing other users to access the system, meant that the vast majority of machines made do with a single shared profile, with all of the corresponding security, configuration, and data-loss risks.
In Windows XP, user profiles are always enabled and even non-enterprise users are encouraged to create accounts during the Setup process. These accounts are based on Windows NT profiles and allow Windows XP to provide strong isolation and protection of users' data and settings. If multiple user accounts are configured on a machine, then users are presented with a Welcome screen that appears featuring separate-and customizable-graphics for each user. Users of Windows XP machines that are members of an NT-style domain do not see this screen, since presenting a list of machine users could be considered a security violation. A new control panel applet replaces the familiar Windows NT User Manager and Windows 2000 Computers and Users snap-in, providing a simple interface that allows almost anyone to set up a new user and give them appropriate rights and privileges.

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