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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky

Volume 17 Issue 12

December 2023

Top Reasons to Create a Spare User Account on Your Computer

The Problem

There are a number of tricky computer problems that you may experience. Some of them are much easier to solve if your computer has more than one user account, so it’s a good idea to create a spare one in advance, and make sure that it’s an Administrator (not a Standard user). It doesn’t take much effort to do that now, and it may give you additional (and simpler) options to diagnose and fix a future difficult and complicated issue.


Do you have one user account on your computer, or more than one?


Whether you use a Windows or Macintosh computer, you already have at least one computer user account. This is different from your email account.


How can you tell? Soon after you power on your computer:


  • On Windows you may first see a full-screen picture that also shows the date and time. This is your “lock screen.” Click anywhere to go the next step in signing in.
  • If you see an icon (with your name below it) on which you have to click in order to get into your computer, that name represents your user account.
  • If you see more than one icon, each with a different name, then your computer has multiple accounts.
  • After clicking on your icon, if your account has a password you will be asked to type it in. This is separate from your email password.
  • Automatic Login on Macintosh: However, if you don’t see any names or icons when you power on your computer, but instead it takes you directly to your Desktop (the screen with various file and folder icons and a background picture), it’s simply been configured to sign in to your regular user and skip that user account question on startup. You still have one (or more) user accounts, but you’ll have to look in the computer’s settings to see the list of all user accounts.


One common reason to have multiple computer user accounts


When multiple people share the same computer, it can be a good idea to create a separate user account for each person. This gives each user their own area on the computer, which includes:


  • Their own user name
  • A separate user sign-in password, if needed; this is separate from any email password
  • A separate collection of folders for their data files: Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, etc.
  • Some users are Administrators, which means that they can create and remove other users, install software and updates, and change other important computer settings, whereas Standard users are not permitted to do those things. There is always at least one Administrator user on a computer.




  • If you decide that your spare Administrator account should have a password, be sure to keep it in a safe place.
  • Tell any trusted technical person who’s helping you that you have a spare Administrator account in case it might be helpful.


Why I suggest that you create a spare user account on your computer


Having a spare user can sometimes help diagnose (and even repair) strange problems, including:


  • Password problems: If your regular user account has a password but all of a sudden, when you try to sign in, it tells you that you’re not typing in the correct password. This can happen by accident, or if some settings get corrupted, or a hacker may do this to punish you for not paying them. There are techniques to reset your user password, but when you have a spare user it’s much simpler: You sign in as the spare user, get into the account settings for your regular user and change its password.
  • Profile problems: Your user profile is a collection of settings, including your Desktop background picture, web browser settings, program preferences, etc. If your profile develops a problem you may see some strange symptoms, including errors when you try to sign in or run some of your programs, missing files or folders, changes to the way things appear on the screen, inability to send or receive email, etc. After trying some regular troubleshooting (Restarting, updating your software, scanning for malicious software, etc.), if you sign in to your existing spare user (or if you create a “fresh” new spare user) and you don’t see those problems, that can help confirm that your regular user’s profile may be corrupted. There are techniques to repair a profile, but with a spare user you also have the option to “move” to a new user and discard the one with the damaged profile.


When creating that spare user, I also recommend


  • On Windows, create a “local” user, i.e., one that is not associated with a Microsoft account. This is not an issue on Macintosh, where all users are “local.”
  • Make sure that it’s an Administrator (so it’s authorized to manage your computer), not a Standard user.
  • As you presumably did when your regular user was created, either set a user sign-in password for security (for example, if this is a computer that you might leave unattended, so anyone who finds it could sign into it and get access to all of your files, as well as any online accounts whose passwords you’ve stored, etc.), or choose to have no password for convenience.
  • Set a Desktop background picture (“wallpaper”) that is very different from the one you chose for your regular user. This will enable you to tell at a glance which user you’ve signed in to.


Some technical people may suggest that you create a Standard user


Some computer people suggest that you should use a Standard user for all of your regular computer activities, and only use an Administrator account for things that involve maintaining your computer, including installing new software, updating existing software, etc.


Their goal is to prevent a less-experienced person from making mistakes, including accidentally installing malicious software or creating other problems.


This approach can work if you take care of the computer (so you would be the Administrator) and you also share your computer with your children or another adult who won’t do any maintenance, or if you have a separate, trusted, and knowledgeable person who does your computer maintenance (so they would be the Administrator).


However, this approach doesn’t prevent a user from getting tricked into revealing personal or financial information to a scammer, whether in an online conversation, via text messaging, or over the phone.


Bottom line: If you’re the only person using the computer, this approach is very inconvenient, so I usually don’t recommend it.


Where to go from here


As always, if this seems too complicated to manage on your own, I recommend that you find someone you know and trust to help you.


In the searches below, replace “X” with either “windows” or “macintosh,” depending on what type of computer you have.


  • google: X create local administrator user
  • google: windows create local user avoid microsoft account
  • google: X change desktop picture
  • google: X change user password

How to contact me:

email: martin@kadansky.com

phone: (617) 484-6657

web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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