How to Successfully Share a Single Windows XP or Vista PC

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How to Share a Single PC

When there are multiple users on one computer, you can choose to let someone use the PC with your personal account, have everyone use the same account, or create multiple accounts and log off and on each time someone uses the PC. Whatever the case, problems arise when multiple data is saved to the PC, no matter how you do it. In addition to having multiple instances of data, which is the biggest problem, there are other issues. Users may install programs that others don’t have access to, and they may have access to others' personal data, depending on how the PC is set up. There are a few ways to improve the multiple-user PC experience though, and that’s what we’ll talk about there.

Fast User Switching

Fast user switching is a feature of both Windows XP and Windows Vista that allows multiple users to be logged on to the PC simultaneously. With fast user switching, even if someone else is logged on to the PC, any other user can log on using their own user account, without closing the programs that the currently logged on user has open. (Of course, you’ll have to wait for the current user to give up his seat in front of the PC, but that’s another issue!) Having the ability to log in and out, while not having to close programs or documents, or even Outlook Express or Mail, certainly has its advantages for single PC families.

As with anything though, there are disadvantages. If you have three running programs, and your son logs on and opens four, and then your significant other logs on and opens another two or three, the PC is really going to get bogged down and everyone will notice a performance hit. This is certainly a problem and should be addressed among users.

In Windows Vista, fast user switching is part of the operating system. All users have to do on Vista is click Start, and click the arrow next to the lock button, and select Switch User. The rest is automatic. [See Image 1].

In Windows XP you have to enable fast user switching:

1. Open Control Panel, and open User Accounts.

2. In the User Accounts window, select Change The Way Users Log On Or Off.

3. In the Select Logon and Logoff Options window, select Use The Welcome Screen and Use Fast User Switching.

4. Select Apply Options.

Using the Shared Folders (or Creating Your Own)

If you have multiple users sharing a single PC, you should be taking advantage of shared folders. Windows XP comes with preconfigured shared folders that all users can access, as does Windows Vista. Anytime you want to share something with everyone who access the PC, just put it in one of these folders. Shared folders in Windows XP look just like your own personal folders; they include Shared Documents, Shared Pictures, and Shared Music. (These only work for home networks though, they are not available in domains.) In Vista, you can choose the Public folders. Each user who accesses the computer should configure a shortcut to the shared folders on their desktop. This way, they can easily copy or save data there, and there will be less chance duplicate data will exist on the PC.

For more information on Vista and sharing, read my article Public Folder Sharing vs. Personal Folder Sharing – What’s Best for your Home Office?

Tip: You can always create your own shared folders. Simply create a new folder, name it appropriately, and then right-click to share it.