Understanding User Accounts

Get to know the Windows user account control features available within this operating system in this free lesson.

What are user accounts?

A user account allows you to sign in to your computer. By default, your computer already has one user account, which you were required to create when you set up your computer. If you plan to share your computer with others, you can create a separate user account for each person.

Why use separate user accounts?

At this point, you may be wondering why you would even need to use separate user accounts. But if you're sharing a computer with multiple people—for example, with your family or at the office—user accounts allow everyone to save their own files, preferences, and settings without affecting other computer users. When you start your computer, you'll be able to choose which account you want to use.

Screenshot of Windows 8

Administrator, Standard, and Managed accounts

Before you create new user accounts, it's important to understand the different types.

Generally, it's safer to be signed in to a Standard account than an Administrator account. If you're logged in as an Administrator, it may actually make it easier for an unauthorized user to make changes to your computer. Therefore, you may want to create a Standard account for yourself, even if you're not sharing the computer with anyone. You'll still be able to make Administrator-level changes; you'll just need to provide your Administrator password when making these changes.

Adding and managing user accounts

The process for adding and managing user accounts is quite different for each version of Windows. To learn more about adding and managing user accounts, review the appropriate lesson from these Windows tutorials:

Switching between user accounts

If you have multiple user accounts on your computer, it's easy to switch between users without signing out or closing your current apps. Switching users will lock the current user, so you won't need to worry about someone else accessing your account.

To switch between user accounts (Windows 10):

Click the current user icon on the left side of the Start menu, then select the desired user from the drop-down menu. The user will then need to enter a password to sign in.

To switch between user accounts (Windows 8):

Click the current user in the upper-right of the Start screen, then select the desired user from the drop-down menu. The user will then need to enter a password to sign in.

Screenshot of Windows 8

You can switch back by selecting the desired user from the drop-down menu. You'll need to re-enter your password to unlock the account.

windows 8

To switch between user accounts (Windows 7):

Click the Start button, click the arrow next to Shut Down, and select Switch user.

screenshot of Windows 7

If you're finished using the computer, you can also choose to log off. This will allow other users to sign in to the computer with different accounts.