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Share Your Computer With Your Family And Stay Sensible!

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                                                                                                           PCwithFamily                  Source: http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/electronics/detail-page2/c26-ptv1000-3-l.jpg
Sharing a computer is a bit like sharing a room. You’ve always got somebody that makes a mess and doesn’t clean up after, somebody that moves things around and you can no longer find things, somebody who throws something away that you wanted.

While sharing computers makes perfect economic sense, it can be frustrating sharing it with the whole family. The average home in Australia has just over 2 computers, and this means that more than likely you are sharing a computer with one or more family members.

We come across many complaints in the course of meeting our customers. Some of the common ones relating to sharing a computer are:

  • There is no agreed upon location where each family member stores their documents. Hence people store their documents seemingly at random, with some locations (like the Desktop) cluttered with documents from everybody. So when it’s time to find your document, you’ve got to find it in the middle of other people’s mess. 

  • People move or delete things around without checking with others. You had all your photos safely stored in a folder, but when you go there the next day, they are gone! You ask the family and everyone denies touching the photos. Yet somebody must have… 

  • You like your desktop background. It’s a picture of your family taken at Christmas last year. But every few days, one of the kids changes the background to a photo of some rap singer.You change it back to the family photo. And it changes back to the rap singer later. And on and on it goes…

  • You have setup the icons on your screen to the way you like it. But somebody else changes the colour scheme, or the display resolution, or something else…

  • Something was working yesterday, and today it’s not. Aargh!

Any of this sound familiar? Well – the good news is that a lot of this pain can be taken away by some simple changes to the way you all use your computer, and a few agreed upon rules. Sound good? Well read on…

1. Each member of your family should have a separate login to the computer

When you login to your computer, you are logging in with an account that has been created on the computer. Maybe the account name is your name. Or you’ve got an account named ‘Family’. In the example to the right, there are 3 login accounts created on the computer.

So the first tip is to make sure that each person has their own account name. When you login with a particular account, Windows makes sure that you only are seeing your documents. And not anybody else’s. So as long as you all login to your own account, you have complete control over what’s in ‘My Documents’, what’s on your desktop, your background image, colour scheme, etc. Feel free to personalize to your heart’s content, and know that nobody is going to change things around.

An important caveat: as long you store your documents in the ‘My Documents’ folder, Windows will keep things separate. By default, most programs will prompt you to store your documents in there, so you should be safe.

Using the ‘shared room’ analogy, using multiple user accounts is similar to giving each member of the family their own room. They can do what they want in their room, and it won’t affect you as long as you don’t put your things in their room. But if you put stuff in a common area, like the kitchen, (ie: you don’t keep your documents in ‘My documents’), then there’s no guarantees as to what could happen to your stuff.

Now of course, you will need to know how to create multiple user accounts. We won’t cover that in today’s article, but here are some useful links to Microsoft help.

2. Everyone must agree to never use another person’s login

So you’ve now got everybody a separate login, and all your information is being kept separate from each other. Great! Now you’ve all got to agree never to use another person’s login. Often family members will leave the computer unattended, and somebody else will take over it. That’s ok – as long as the new person uses their own login.

The good news is that you don’t need to log out the person who was originally using the computer. Windows supports a feature called Fast User Switching. All you need to do is hit the ‘Start’ button, and instead of ‘Log Off’, select ‘Switch User’. This will take you back to the XP login screen, where the new user can login. The previous user is not logged out, so their documents are still open.

3. Share and stay Sensible!

If you are able to maintain this discipline with the family, then you have significantly reduced the hassles of sharing a computer. You can now be secure in the knowledge that your documents will stay where you left them, and everything will remain the way that you like it.

Here’s our big disclaimer – there is still no way to protect yourself from people uninstalling applications that you like, or installing a new application that breaks something that used to work, or installing a virus and impacting everyone on the computer.. if you want more protection, you should consider only allowing one person in the family the permissions to have ‘Administrator’ privileges – that is, only that person can install or uninstall programs. Everybody else will not be able to do this. This does mean that you are restricting freedoms, however, you will have a more controlled environment.

Don Davis

Web Developer and Senior Technician at Technical Support Today
Sagar is a Senior Technician and webdeveloper with Technical Support Today. He specialize in PHP and Open Source programming, HTML5, CSS, Javascript and web standards. When not programming or managing developements, he contribute in TST Blog.
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