Choosing a User Account Type in Mac OS X

July 18, 2011, By Christian Cawley

How many user accounts do you have on your Mac? The chances are it is just the once, regardless of how many people live in your house and are likely to use your Mac. This is less than ideal, as each user account is capable of sharing visual preferences and other useful key settings.

What this means is that anyone who logs into your Mac has to look at anything you look at, which isn’t safe and could prove to be inconvenient at best, embarrassing at worst.

It doesn’t have to be this way, however, as there are several types of user account available in Mac OS X, designed for difference types of user. It is vital that you select the right one for the other users.

Choosing a user account type in Mac OS X

When you first setup your Mac you will have added a new account (unless you purchased an ex-display device) an this will have been an administrator account; if you’re the sole user then that is fine, but affording these access privileges on an expensive computer when there are non-advanced users or even children around is not a good idea…

Choosing the Right Account Type

As the owner of the Administrator account, you are able to create and alter other user accounts, install applications and also tweak your Mac’s settings.

There shouldn’t be any reason to give these privileges to anyone else, as this might lead to some of the problems hinted at above, and additionally you should avoid using the automatic login procedure for the Administrator in order to prevent unauthorized access to this elevated account. You can do this via System Preferences > Security > General, where the Disable automatic login box is ready to be checked.

There are four different user account types in Mac OS X.

Standard – this account type is perfect for most users, and enables them to install software (which can only be used under that account) and change a few settings to customize OS X to their own preferences; things such as the Dock, desktop background and screensaver. Unlike the Administrator account, a Standard account cannot create, edit or delete other user accounts.

A Managed with Parental Controls account is ideal for families, and allows you to create an account for your children that will then allow you to manage what time the computer can be used, what apps can be run and which websites accessed. Changes to the Dock can also be prevented, as can altering the password and print settings.

If you run your Mac on a network and require access to files and folders from another computer, a Sharing Only account can be created which is used to access specific files across the network.

Finally, a Guest account can also be used by non-Administrators, and this affords access to your Mac without requiring a password. The downside of this is that anything saved in the Home folder is wiped, but parental controls can be used to manage how the guest account is used.

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