Windows User Account Basics for your PC - dummies

By Dan Gookin

Today’s computers can accommodate multiple users by letting you create multiple User Accounts. The computer uses Windows User Accounts (and associated passwords) to know who you are.

Three reasons to create User Accounts

The first and foremost reason for your computer to know who you are is security. Being able to confirm that you’re the user you say you are means that your stuff in the computer is safe.

Second, whenever you log in to a computer, your account “owns” the programs it runs. Every program must belong to a user. To see how it works, look at the Task Manager window. The User Name column on the Processes tab lists the user associated with a specific task. The System, Local Service, and Network Service accounts are programs that Windows runs or that require a higher priority.


The third reason for having your own user account is to keep your stuff separate from other stuff inside the computer. That way, your files, email messages, settings, and other items cannot be accessed or changed by anyone else.

Understand the user profile

Along with your account comes your user profile. That’s the official name of the folder in which your files and account settings are held in Windows. The name comes from an internal variable used by Windows to help locate your files and settings whenever you’re logged in to the computer.

The user profile folder is given the same name as your user account name. So, if you log in as Frank, your user profile folder is named Frank.

In Windows 7 and Windows Vista, the user profile folder is stored on the main hard drive (drive C, usually), in the Users folder.

In Windows XP, the user profile folder is stored on the main hard drive, in the Documents and Settings folder.

Other necessary folders branch off beneath your user profile folder. Some folders are visible, which is where you keep your stuff. Other folders are hidden, which is where Windows keeps settings and other information.

  • The user profile folder is created when you first configure your account in Windows.

  • A user profile exists for every user account on the computer. A general-purpose user profile is also available, which Windows uses to configure all accounts.

  • In Windows 7 and Windows Vista, a public user profile is available for sharing documents between users on the same computer. This folder can also be shared over a network.

Configure your account

You can modify your user profile from the User Accounts window. The User Accounts window looks similar in Windows 7 and Windows Vista. To display the window, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Control Panel.

  2. Open the User Accounts window.

    • In Windows 7, choose the heading User Accounts and Family Safety and then choose User Accounts.

    • In Windows Vista, choose the heading User Accounts and then choose User Accounts.

    • In Windows XP, open the User Accounts icon.


In Windows 7 and Windows Vista, the User Accounts window lets you manage your own account.

In Windows XP, the User Accounts window provides an overview of tasks for all user accounts on the computer. To get to your account, choose its icon at the bottom of the window.

The quick way to see information about your account in Windows 7 and Windows Vista is to click the account picture at the top of the Start menu.