User Types in Windows XP

One of the major areas of difference between Windows XP Home and Windows XP Pro relates to the types of user accounts that you can define. While Windows XP Pro continues on the multiple account types offered in Windows NT and Windows 2000, the home edition only provides two account types - administrator and limited. This makes it extremely difficult to run some types of software on XP Home since a limited account does not provide enough access to run some programs while an Administrator account provides far too much access.

While there are not a huge number of application programs around now which have not had new versions released to resolve the problems of the very limited access that a limited account provides in XP Home, there are still some such programs. A lot of these programs are older games where the game writers rather than patching their old games to run properly on XP instead moved on to write new games instead. If you want to run the old games then there are all sorts of complications in getting the game to install and run properly without having to use an administrator account (and hence losing all of the security benefits of using XP rather than DOS in the first place).

Even where there are new versions of programs available it does not necessarily resolve the problem. I am going to use Paint Shop Pro as an example of this. With the old computer that I had which is running Windows NT 4.0 I had Paint Shop Pro 5 installed and running properly without requiring an administrator account to run it (from memory I had my account set up as a power user). Reinstalling that software on XP Home means that the software runs fine on the Administrator account but refuses to work on a normal limited account. Given how useful I found that program to be I decided to try downloading a trial of more recent version of the software to see how that would go with a view to purchasing it if it was as useful as version 5 had been.

The latest version at the time is version 12 and so I decided to download that. It took many hours to download as the setup file is a huge file of almost 350Mb, far far larger than the earlier versions used to be. I was intrigued to find out what extra features they had added to make the program so much bigger. The trial version needed a password in order to install it and that was sent to me in an email. I swapped across to my administrator account to run the install but didn't get very far. The stupid install process asks for the password early in the install process rather than after the install finishes. Since I didn't have the password available (it was in an email that I didn't have access to from my administrator account) I cancelled the install and deleted the file. If the program writers were too stupid to set up their install to work properly then there wasn't any point in proceeding further.

I then discovered that trials of older versions were still available for download and decided to give version 8 a try. This download was a lot smaller than the more recent one and was able to be installed without difficulty using my administrator account however when it came to actually trying to run the program from a limited account the program popped up a message saying that it can't be run from a limited account. That is no real improvement over version 5 which produces less meaningful error messages.

So there is no version of Paint Shop Pro that can be installed onto Windows XP Home without a lot of messing around printing emails and then rekeying long and meaningless character strings during the install which is simply not worth the bother. It will probably be easier for me to just figure out the registry changes needed to get the PSP 5 version that I already own to run properly on XP Home. In the meantime there are plenty of other free graphics programs that can be installed and run on XP Home without these problems. Also PSP5 runs fine on NT 4 running in a virtual PC environment within my limited XP account.

Another issue with limited accounts is with regard to when you have multiple hard drives or have partitioned the drive in order to better organise your data. The only way to make a data drive writeable so that you can update your data files is to share the drive with the whole network. The only options that are made available for sharing files between users on the same computer don't work since that would require moving that entire hard drive into the shared documents folder on the other drive something that is not physically possible.

Presumably all of these security issues can be resolved by making the appropriate changes in the registry once I figure out what the required changes are. Of course none of this would be an issue had Mircorsoft thought out what limitations to apply to limited accounts properly in the first place. The problems could also be resolved by replacing XP Home with XP Pro.


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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