Modern computers, both PCs and Macs, allow you to create different accounts for different users. If you’re the only person using a computer, why should you create more than one account? To be safe.
When you first set up your computer, it automatically created an account for you. If you left it like that, then every time you turn it on, it immediately puts you into that account.
There is a problem with that default account. It has administration privileges. That means that it is capable of making changes to any file on the computer, including the files used by the operating system.
If you get an evil program, like a computer virus, it is going to install itself by modifying the operating system files. Once that happens, you’re going to have a devil of a time getting rid of it.
What you should do is create a user account that does not have administration privileges and use that account for normal work. That way, no virus or other malicious program can wreck your computer.
Create a user account now. Immediately. Before you even finish reading this post.
On a Mac running OS X, go to the little “apple menu” in the upper left corner of the screen and select the item: “System Preferences…”. In the box that appears, select “Accounts”, the first icon on the fourth line. In the Accounts Box, click the lock to make changes (if necessary) and then click the plus sign right above it. A form will drop down asking for a name and password. Fill out the form with a name and password that you will remember. The most important thing on that form is that you select “Standard” for the New Account type.
On a PC running System 7, open the “Start Menu” by clicking on the Windows logo at the beginning of the task bar and select “Control Panel” from the list on the right side of the pop-up menu. In the Control Panel Box, select “User Accounts and Family Safety”, then select “Add or remove user accounts” to get the “Manage Accounts” box. Click on “Create a new account” and fill out the form to give it an account name that you will recognize (like your own name). Make sure that you select “Standard user” (the default) and not “Administrator”. After you have created the account, you can set a password in the Manage Accounts Box if you wish.
Other operating systems will have some similar way to do the same thing. Every general-purpose computer for several decades has the capability of supporting multiple accounts, some of which do not have administration privileges.
Now that you have a proper user account (you have already done as instructed in the previous two paragraphs, right?) something different will happen the next time you turn on your computer. Instead of seeing your usual screen, you’ll get a list of two accounts. This time, and for almost all future times, click on the new, standard account. This is where you should be working.
The only time that you’ll log into your old administration account is when you are installing new software or managing your accounts.
The first thing that you’ll notice is that all your documents are gone. Don’t worry. They’re not really gone. They’re all in the administration account. You’re going to have to log into that account and copy the files over to your new account.
The easiest way to do this is to log into your administration account, copy your documents to a flash drive, log into your new user account and copy them back off the flash drive. You’ll be up and running in your new account in hardly any time at all.
Now what happens when you get a virus? You back up all of your documents to a flash drive or CD-ROM or external drive, then delete the files from the user account and delete the whole account using the same control panel that you used to create it. Presto! The virus will be gone. Follow the instructions above to create another, clean user account and you’ll be up and running again.
When I’m doing anything really dangerous, like surfing for porn (research for my own stories, of course) or downloading pirated books (I don’t get paid for my books, why should other authors?), I create a “sandbox” account that doesn’t have any of my own documents in it. That way, if I pick up a virus, I can delete the account without losing anything of my own.
You can have as many accounts on your computer as you wish. If you have more than one person using it (spouse, children, room-mates, co-workers) then every person should have their own account with only standard user privileges. That way, they can’t corrupt your files or wreck your computer.
As well, the single administration account should be protected with a password and only you and someone else you trust should know that password. I do not let my grown children know the passwords for the administration accounts on my computers. They are stored in a sealed envelope in my safe with instructions that it is not to be opened until after my death. My children complain bitterly that I’m not letting them install software that they downloaded from the web into my computer. That is exactly my intent. I turn a deaf ear to their complaints.