Creating a guest account on your computer

Do you let other people use your computer?

It’s a reasonable thing to do. Guests at your office might need directions to their next destination. House guests might want to check their email.

That said, you might be letting them check your own email, or contact information, or calendars, or other information you would rather keep private. It’s better to let them access a “blank” desktop where they can’t see your private information.

You can do exactly that by setting up a guest account.

When you turn on your computer, you access your account. This might not be obvious if you only have one account on your computer, but that’s how modern computers are set up.

How do you set up a guest account?

To create a guest account, go into Control Panel (Windows) or System Preferences (Mac) to create an account that you can call “guest.” (Different operating systems, and versions of same, have slightly different procedures for doing this. Search for “guest account” plus the name and version of your operating system for more information and instructions.)

Many of the criteria listed here depend on your personal preferences. Also, different operating systems offer different sets of criteria. The research you do on your OS ought to provide any answers you need.

Security

By creating this account, you keep others from accessing your own account, as long as you assign a password to it. Don’t have a password? Take a moment to put a password on your account. And make it secure. (Here’s a neat way to create a secure password.)

Password on a guest account?

That’s your call, since guest accounts should not give others administrative control over your computer. If you do put a password on your guest account, make it something simple like “guest1.”

No administration privileges

Guests should never need to:

  • install new software
  • update existing software
  • change system-wide settings

on your computer. That’s the computer owner’s (your) job. Keep it that way. Chances are, you care far more about keeping viruses and other malware off the computer than other people do.

Network access

Every computer offers several types of network access, and not all types are appropriate for guests.

  • Internet access: This is what people would use to check email or get directions. You might want to turn parental controls on for this account.
  • Printer: If your printer is network-enabled, guests can use it to print maps and other stuff.
  • Network drives: Don’t let guests access network drives, for the same reason you don’t want them poking through your email and files on the computer itself.

This is a basic rundown of how to set up a guest account on a computer.

Mobile devices

You can’t create guest accounts for things like smartphones and tablets, so if you let guests use these things, they have to use the same account you do, which means they can access information you keep on the device. You might be able to find third-party utilities to get around this limitation, and device makers might one day create this feature, but for now, smartphones and tablets are limited to one account.

I got this blog post idea from the following video that shows how guest accounts work on the Mac. The benefits are highly similar in Windows.

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