Microsoft Office/Logging In & Out

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Modern computer operating systems support a “multiple account” system, wherein each person using the computer may (but does not necessarily) have their own user account. Having multiple user accounts helps to separate the files and settings of different people who use a computer, while helping to shield it from malicious or inadvertent settings changes.

Every Mac and Windows PC has at least one computer account; some have quite a few more. You are required to create a user account during the initial setup tasks that run the first time you turn on a brand-new computer. Any additional accounts must be manually created following the completion of the initial setup. While discussion of how to create and manage user accounts is outside the scope of this book, knowing how to effectively utilize a computer set up to use multiple accounts is an important part of being a productive employee in today’s modern workplace.

For platform-specific information on how to use user accounts, see the Windows subpage and the Mac subpage. This page discusses conceptual, cross-platform user account topics only. Any Mac- or Windows-specific instructions should go on one of those two pages.

What Is An Account?[edit]

Normally, user accounts can only make changes that affect their account only. However, some accounts (called administrator accounts) can modify settings that affect every user on this computer, or even an entire network of computers. If you are the owner of a particular computer, or if you are the one who initially set it up, you most likely have an administrator account. Unless you know otherwise, always assume that your account is not an administrator account. On school or work networks, administrator accounts are usually only given to members of the organization’s IT department.

Accounts are identified by a name. Usually this is a friendly name, like “Janice Smith”, but sometimes it is something more cryptic. For example, while your name might be Janice Smith, you might have to use the name “SmithJ” to log in. So that someone else can’t use your account without your permission, accounts are protected with a password. A password is a secret string of letters, numbers, spaces, and symbols that only you know. If someone else can guess your password, that person can break into your account. User accounts on modern versions of Windows and OS X also have a user picture, but in large networked environments (schools and workplaces), you generally aren’t allowed to choose your own user picture — if you even get one at all.

Logging In[edit]

Before you can use a computer set up to use multiple accounts, you must tell the computer who you are (so that you see your files and settings and not someone else’s). This is called logging in. If you walk up to a computer and see someone else’s desktop, the last person to use that computer forgot to log out when they were done. Never use somebody else’s account. This could land both you and whoever owns the account you’re using in deep trouble. Instead, log out first so that their files and settings are secure. Before you can log in, you must know your username and password. If you don’t know either of these facts, consult whoever set up the computer or network you’re trying to use (the computer or network administrator).

Logging Out[edit]

When you’re finished using a computer, you should log out before you leave. This ensures that passersby cannot use your computer account without your consent. (As noted above, unauthorized account use can have disastrous consequences in a school or work setting.) When you log out, the computer will close all programs and files that are open at the time. If you have any unsaved files open, you will be prompted to save or discard your changes before the process is complete.

Locking the Screen[edit]

If you are leaving your computer unattended for a few minutes (if you need to use the restroom, say), you should not just leave your computer logged in. If you do so, you run the risk of having your user account hijacked, your private files being read, or worse. But what if you don’t want to close everything out just because you’ll be away from your computer for a moment, and then reopen everything when you return? Screen locking was invented for just this very circumstance. When you lock your screen, all your programs remain open, but are hidden. To reshow the desktop, you must enter the password of the user who locked their screen. (The password prompt will state who is currently logged in.) If you can’t provide the correct password, you won’t be given access to the desktop. Screen locking is supported on modern versions of Windows and Mac OS X.

Please be courteous while locking your screen. If you are going to be away from the computer for more than a few minutes, and it is possible that someone else would want to use the computer while you’re gone, please log out fully instead of just locking your screen. (This is especially important in a school setting, where a large number of students share a few computers.) If the screen is locked, but the person who locked it is nowhere around, and you need to use the computer, you must force the computer to shut down (usually by holding down the computer’s Power button), and then restart it. If you do so, whatever the previous user currently had open would be gone forever; changes will not have been saved.

Due to a quirk of the operating system, locking a Mac’s screen and putting the Mac to sleep (a special mode which conserves electricity) are one and the same process. Unfortunately, simply putting a Mac to sleep does not guarantee that you will be asked for your password upon waking it. If you wake the computer and your desktop appears immediately, consult your system or network administrator on the proper steps to take. If are working with sensitive information, please test to make sure that you will be prompted for your password before relying on this feature to protect your files while your computer is unattended. (However, you will always be prompted for your password after locking a Windows-based PC.)