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Choose the Right Account Type in Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 offers a staggering variety of accounts: Administrator, Standard, Local, Microsoft, and Child. What are the differences among them? And which should you choose?

Here's an easy rundown:

  • Administrator: If you're the owner of a PC, make sure you have an Administrator account. In fact, Windows 8.1 automatically grants an Administrator account to the first person who signs in to a new PC. That person effectively owns the PC, is the only person with the power to install new programs, and can create accounts for other people to use the PC. If you trust somebody completely, you can give that person an Administrator account, as well.

  • Standard: Everybody else using the PC should have a Standard account. Standard accounts come with limits that keep them from installing programs (and potential viruses). Create Standard accounts for everybody else who will be using your PC.

When you've signed in with an Administrator account on your own PC, Windows automatically assigns Standard accounts to every other account you create. (You can change them to Administrator accounts later if you must.)

The next three accounts are simply either an Administrator account or a Standard account. The difference is whether the account is linked only to your own PC (Local) or linked with Microsoft's own computers (Microsoft). Here's the rundown:

  • Local: Whenever you try to create a new account, Windows 8.1 makes you choose between a Microsoft account and a Local account. Choose a Local account because it's the least confusing option. Local simply means that the account is limited to your own PC.

  • Microsoft Account: Windows 8 introduced a new account called a Microsoft account. It simply means that that person's account is tied to Microsoft's computers. Microsoft then remembers all of that person's settings in Windows: his choice of desktop wallpaper and Wi-Fi network logon information, for example, as well as any downloaded or purchased apps.

    Some people prefer the benefits of a Microsoft account; others don't. Like Local accounts, Microsoft accounts can be either Administrator or Standard accounts.

  • Child account: Although Windows 8.1 makes this seem like a new type of account, it's simply a Standard account with the Family Safety controls already turned on. If you create Standard accounts for your children and then turn on the Family Safety controls to track their computer use, you've effectively created a "Child" account.

Don't think that you need to create a Microsoft account for every new account on your PC. Instead, you're always safest by creating a Local account. If you create a Local account for somebody who prefers a Microsoft account, he can always change it to a Microsoft account on his own. However, his Microsoft account will always remain in the category you've granted it: Administrator or Standard.

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