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Monday, August 6, 2007

Sharing Your MacBook via Access Levels

Perhaps you live in a busy household, with kids, significant others, grandparents, and a wide selection of friends all clamoring for a chance to spend time on the Internet, take care of homework, or enjoy a good game.

On the other hand, your Mac might occupy a classroom or a break room at your office — someplace public — yet everyone wants his or her own private space on your laptop, complete with a reserved spot on the hard drive and a hand-picked attractive desktop background.

Get one thing straight right off the bat: You are the administrator of your laptop. In network-speak, an administrator (or admin for short) is the one who has the power to Do Unto Others — creating new accounts, deciding who gets access to what, and generally running the multiuser show. In other words, think of yourself as the Monarch of Mac OS X (the ruler, not the butterfly).

Only one or perhaps two accounts with administrator-level access should be on any computer. This makes good sense because you can be assured that no one will monkey with your Mac while you're away from the keyboard. Why have a second admin account? You might need to assign a second administrator account to a trusted individual who knows as much about Tiger as you do. That way, if something breaks or an account needs to be tweaked in some way and you're not around, the other person can take care of it while you're gone.

Tiger provides the following three levels of user accounts:

  • Admin (administrator): See the previous paragraph.
  • Standard: Perfect for most users, these accounts allow access to just about everything but don't let the user make drastic changes to Tiger or create new accounts.
  • Managed: These are standard accounts with specific limits assigned by you or by another admin account.

Assign other folks standard-level accounts, and then decide whether each new account needs to be modified to restrict access as a managed account. Never assign an account admin-level access unless you deem it truly necessary.

Standard accounts are quick and easy to set up, and they provide the perfect compromise between access and security. You'll find that standard access allows your users to do just about anything they need to do, with a minimum of hassle.

Managed accounts are highly configurable, so you can make sure that your users don't end up trashing the hard drive, sending junk mail, or engaging in unmonitored chatting. (Note: Parents, teachers, and those folks designing a single public-access account for a library or organization — this means you.)

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