User accounts in Windows XP

Windows XP offers you the possibility to create and use more then one user account. With different user accounts, you are able to personalize settings and data. Every user has his or here own documents, favorites, e-mail, address book, Live Messenger, ... The only disadvantage is setting up each user account, with all the settings and registry tweaks. Here you read how to optimize this!

Creating and changing user accounts

Creating a user accounts is easy: Control Panel, User Accounts, Create a new Account. Next you are asked to create an Administrator account or an user account with limited rights. If there is no need for the new user to be an Administrator, it seems wise to create a user account with limited rights. This can cause many troubles setting up the account, because of the limited rights, I advise to create an Administrator account. If needed you can always change this setting later by going back to the user account settings in the Control Panel.


Take into account that it's wise to create an account name without using spaces or other non alphabetical signs, this can cause troubles later. The provided name will be used to create a folder in the Documents and Settings folder, that's why things can go wrong. You can always change the name of the user account later (first use the new account). Change the name of a user account by Control Panel, User Accounts, select an account, Change my name.


I prefer to create an image of your Windows system. With a system image you are able to recover your system, in case you (or one of the other users) did something terribly wrong. If there is no need to. That's one of the reasons I prefer to use Administrator accounts only. If you have something to hide you need user accounts with limited rights! If you really want to be safe, create a limited account for yourself as well for frequent usage. If you provided one and only Administrator account with a password, which you forgot, check the page about creating a bootable CD-ROM, to crack the password. On the page Offline NT Password & Registry Editor you will also find a useful tool to do this!


I advise not to use fast user switching (or as less as possible). This option has a great advantage to quickly check your e-mail, print a file or whatever, while the other user is logged on. To disable this fast user switching: Control Panel, User accounts, Change the way users logging on or off, disable Use Fast User Switching. By disabling Use the Welcome screen, users must long on with both their username and password.


Different users, different user accounts, different passwords, which are saved..... Sometimes this can be very difficult, especially with the Live Messenger (.NET Passport). By Start, Run, enter control userpasswords2, tab Advanced, button Manage Passwords.


It is possible to enter an user account automatically at Windows startup, even though you have multiple user account. Download and start the powertool TWEAKUI, tab LOGON, tab AutoLogon (only available as administrator). Enter the name and password of the account which has to logon automatically (sometimes a password is needed for proper functioning).


If you are not able to delete a created user account anymore, try the following: Start, Run, command CMD, in the command console NET USER. With this command you will see all created user accounts. With the command NET USER name /ADD you are able to create a user account, with the command NET USER name /DELETE you are able to delete a user account. Especially deleting an account can be useful! The command NET offers more possibilities (see the commands NET and NET HELP). In Windows XP Home, the command CACLS offers you the possibility of rights management for every user account.

In Windows XP Pro you can change rights, using the folder properties, tab Security. To be able to change the folder rights, you have to disable the option Use simple fiel sharing in the Windows Explorer, Tools, Folder Options, tab View. This option is also available for Windows XP Home, but only in safe mode (press F8 at Windows reboot).


If you are having an account with limited rights (where some application don't work properly because of the limited rights), you probably need to give additional rights (also available in Windows XP HOME: the command CACLS or in safe mode (press F8 at Windows reboot)). To find out which files and registry entries are causing the limited rights troubles, use the utility Process Monitor ( This utility monitors the accessed files and registry keys by Capture Events. The additional rights can be applied, if you are logged on with an administrator account.

Files and setting of the different user accounts

The files and settings of the different user accounts are stored in the folder C:\Documents and Settings (or one of you other disks). In this folder, sub folders are created for the different user accounts, probably your name is already there. For every user, a new folder with documents and settings for that user is created. In the Windows Explorer you will see the following (hidden files and folders included):

user accounts documents and settings

NOTE: Normally you won't be able to see all files, they are hidden in the Windows Explorer! To unhide: Tools, Folder Options, tab View, enable Display the content of system folders, enable Show hidden files and folders, disable Hide extensions for known file types and disable Hide protected operating system files.

The account sub folder contains sub folders like Documents, Favorites, Desktop, Cookies, Start Menu and some other folders with settings. This information is only used for a specific user account.


You are able to maximize the use of disk space for each user account. Click with the right mouse button on one of the available hard disks (C: or D:) and select Properties, tab Quotum. After you have activated Quotum management, you are able to limit the use of disk space for each user account.


Besides the folders with documents and settings, there is also a file called NTUSER.DAT with registry keys. These are the registry settings from the key HKEY_CURRENT_USER. You can change these settings with the registry editor.


The folder Local Settings contains the sub folders Temp and Temporary Internet Files. These are the folders where the temporary (internet) files are located. You can safely delete the content of these folders. In time, these folders contain a lot of files, which you don't need anymore. To delete all files, you will have to visit all the user accounts.

The folders All Users en Default User

The folder All Users contains files and settings which apply to all user accounts. For example, by moving a shortcut (to a file, folder or application) from the Desktop or Start Menu folder of one of the user accounts to the Desktop or Start Menu folder of All Users, all the users will have the shortcut.

The folder Default User is used for creating a new user account. This folder will be copied to the new user account folder. By editing this folder, you can change the settings of new user accounts in the future. By changing these settings once, all the new user accounts will profit.

Copying settings to the new user account

With the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard, you are able to copy many different settings of an existing account to a new created account. Actually this Wizard is used to copy files and settings to a new computer, by abusing it you can use it to copy account settings to another user. This saves a lot of clicking! Make sure the existing user account doesn't contain (that much) personal data like e-mail, Live settings or favorites. Start the Wizard by Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. Click Next, select Old computer, select Other and use the Browse button to find a suitable location for the settings backup.

Restoring the settings in a new user account is practically the same. Instead of Old computer you select New computer, I don't need the Wizard Disk, select Other and use the Browse button to find the backup location. You need to log off and on again. To finish you will have to change some desktop settings and none-Windows software settings.

Remember the consequences of the system image: move personal data!

If you plan to create and recover a system image (but also if you don't) you need to move all personal data to a second partition (for example D:). Else you will lose personal data when you try to recover your Windows partition! This need to be done for ALL user accounts! I prefer to use the D: partition (a logical NTFS drive in an extended partition) to store all personal data (another possibility is to create multiple partitions (logical disks in the extended partition): everybody has his or here own disk). On the D: partition you create multiple folders with the names of the different user accounts (you can create these folders with the Windows Explorer).

In the Windows Explorer you are able to change the default storage location of the My Documents folder for each user account. Logon the specific user account, start the Windows Explorer, right clicking the My Documents folder, select Properties, tab Target and move the My Documents folder to the folder D:\user account. All the files (including My Pictures, My Music, ...) will be moved at once!

The next folder to move, is the Favorites folder. Navigate to C:\Documents and Settings\user account\ and find the Favorites folder. Right click the Favorites folder, select Cut, move to the D:\user account\, right click this folder and select Paste.

The next step is moving the e-mail storage location. Create a subfolder D:\user account\MAIL for each user account. How to change the archive locations is described elsewhere on this website: Outlook Express (don't forget the Address Book!) and Outlook (don't forget to move or switch off the AutoArchive function!).


If there are multiple user accounts, while only one is used frequently it can be useful to logon this account automatically without showing the welcome screen at boot. This is possible with the tool TweakUI, option Logon, tab AutoLogon (only available with an administrator account) and select the name of the account which has to be logged on automatically. Add a password to the user account if the automatic logon is disabled after a reboot.


It happens frequently that a standard user is not able to apply certain necessairy changes becuase the rights are too limited. If it is a one time issue, the account could be changed to an administrator account temporarily, but that is not a perfect solution. It is better to use the tool Process Monitor of Sysinternals (download: to find out which files or registry keys are causing the problem. This tool monitors the requested files and registry keys after the command Capture Events has been given. The next step is to add permissions to those files and registry keys within an administrator account. These settings are available by right clicking the registry key, option Permissions, tab Security. Change the permissions of the user account to give Full Control to the registry key (use the button Add if the user name is not yet available). If Full Control is activated, the user account is allowed to make any changes to the registry key. Changing permissions to files and folders works in a similar way. The permissions are available by right clicking a file or folder, option Properties, tab Security (this tab is only visible if the option Use simple file sharing (recommended) has been disabled in the Windows Explorer folder options). For Window XP Home it is necessary to boot in safe mode (press F8 while booting Windows) first to get access to the tab Security.


To prevent users from making undesired changes to the operating system, it is wise to apply account limitations. Windows SteadyState (download: is a very useful tool for this purpose because it restores all changes to the default settings after rebooting Windows.

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