The Windows desktop operating system has been using the administrator account since Windows 2000. The administrator account is similar to the Linux “root” account. The Windows administrator has full access to the operating system and computer configurations. If you own the computer such as a home or office computer, you probably have administrator rights to the machine. However, your local account is usually restricted in Windows 7. To overcome some access restrictions, you can run your software as an administrator.
What is the Purpose of the Windows 7 Administrator Account?
With older Windows operating systems, you just needed access to the computer to change critical settings. If you were unsure how the registry, services, and hardware settings worked, you could destroy your computer rendering it unbootable. Just one wrong setting in the Windows Registry could ruin your computer, and the operating system won’t be able to boot.
To overcome this issue (and to provide more security on a desktop system), Microsoft introduced some networking security that was included in the company’s networking operating system at the time, Windows NT. Windows 2000 desktop operating system used the option of administrator, power users, regular users and any type of account in between. The result was better security, and network administrators in work environments could block regular users from installing software or changing hardware settings. Stopping software installation reduced the number of viruses installed on the computer or installation of software that wasn’t compatible with employee software. Removing the ability for users to change hardware settings provided security against users rendering hardware drives incompatible with desktop hardware. There are other reasons to stop users from changing critical configurations, but these two reasons are major concerns.
The administrator account has full control of Windows settings. This means that any changes can be made using this account. For a home user, you probably have administrator access if you installed the Windows operating system. You set up the Windows administrator when you install the Windows operating system.
For network administrators in an office environment, you use this account to create regular user accounts. Regular users can’t change much on the computer, so it can be frustrating for most experienced users. Network administrators have to balance between allowing the user to access the computer with reasonable flexibility and blocking unneeded changes that can cause issues with productivity.
Incidentally, if you forget the administrator password, you’re forced to reinstall the operating system. When you reinstall the operating system, you’re prompted to again create the administrator user name and password. One way to defend against hackers is to change the administrator user name. The new user name still has administrator functionality, but it’s a different user name and password to prevent hackers from knowing the default administrator account user name.
Run As the Windows 7 Administrator
In older Windows computers, you are forced to log out and log back in as an administrator when you wanted to use the account. This meant any changes to documents were lost (unless you saved them) and programs were closed. This was inconvenient for the logged in user.
To change the inconvenience, Microsoft introduced the option to run software as the administrator. If you have administrator access with the currently logged in user, you don’t need to enter a user name or password. If not, you’re prompted for the administrator’s password before the operating system will run the application. For instance, most Windows command line utilities don’t run properly unless they are run with administrator access. To overcome this limitation, you right-click the command line icon in the Windows Start menu and select “Run as administrator.” You can then run command line applications as the administrator without receiving an “Access Denied” warning.
Another common reason to use the “Run as administrator” option is when you run a development environment. When you run software development programs (especially for Microsoft), the account needs access to run Windows services or connect to certain ports. Without administrator access, you won’t be able to access these operating system-specific resources. Even if you run the applications using Visual Studio, you’ll be blocked from accessing the resources. You can bypass this problem by right-clicking the Visual Studio shortcut and running it as the Windows 7 administrator. Run your Windows services again in your Visual Studio project and you won’t receive the “Access Denied” errors.
Viewing Windows 7 Admin Accounts
You can view a list of accounts in the Windows 7 Control Panel. Click the Windows “Start” button and click “Control Panel.” Click “User Accounts and Family Safety” and then click “User Accounts.” A window opens with your user name shown as default. If you have “Administrator” listed under your account, then you know you have admin rights to your computer. This means that if you right-click a shortcut and choose “Run as administrator,” you won’t need to enter a password.
To view other accounts, click the “Manage another account” option. You can view all your users in this window, so you can find any other administrator account. You can also see who has access to log in to your computer. If you want to elevate users, you can open the account profile window and check the option to make the user an administrator.
The Windows 7 user account system isn’t too complex, but you should understand how your users control and interact with the machine. Security permissions aren’t too much of a concern when you are the only one who uses the computer, but you should take these security issues into account when you run Windows 7 on a network with several users having access to the machine.