Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Multiuser & Networks

When several people regularly use one computer, they'll probably want to set up multiple profiles to keep everyone's preferences straight, including bookmarks, screen settings, and My Documents folders. And when several people in the same house use their own computers, they'll probably end up networking the machines. Whether you're sharing one PC or connecting several, these tips will help you coexist peaceably.

Switch Users—Fast

It takes at least a few tedious seconds to log one user off and another one on. Windows XP has an option to speed that up: Fast User Switching (FUS) lets you switch without logging off. To enable it, open User Accounts in the Control Panel, click on Change the way users log on or off, and check the Use Fast User Switching box. Now, when you select Log Off, a Switch User option appears that lets you quickly change to another account without making any users close their programs. When FUS is enabled, holding down the Windows key and typing the letter L zips you to the Welcome screen.

Beware of the trade-offs of Fast User Switching, though. You should avoid running system-level utilities, such as defraggers or indexing utilities, when another user is logged on, and if you're looking for the best performance, you don't want to let idle accounts in the background tie up system resources. The feature is best for those times when you simply need to get in and out quickly. Also note that Fast User Switching does not work if your computer is a member of a network domain.

Limit Access to the Task Manager

To prevent users from killing important processes like antivirus scanning or usage monitoring, you can use the Group Policy Editor to disable the Task Manager. Log on as an administrator and launch Gpedit.msc using the Start menu's Run dialog. Navigate to User Configuration\Administrative Templates\System\Ctrl-Alt-Del Options. In the right-hand pane, double-click on Remove Task Manager and change its status to Enabled. You can still launch the Task Manager by right-clicking on C:\Windows\ System32\TaskMgr.exe, choosing Run As…, and using the Administrator password.

This works in Windows XP Pro; to accomplish something similar in Windows XP Home, which lacks the Group Policy Editor, log on to each user account and edit the Registry. In HKCU\Software\ Microsoft\Windows\CurrenTVersion\Policies\System, create a DWORD value named DisableTaskMgr, and set its data to 1. Do the same in the key HKEY_USERS\ Default\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrenTVersion\Policies\System.

Network Multiple PCS

If instead of multiple users using one machine you've got several PCs in one dwelling, you'll probably end up networking them, even if only to share an Internet connection. And guess what? Windows has networking set-up and troubleshooting tools. They're in the Control Panel's Network Connections applet. Select Set up a home or small office network and Windows will walk you through network configuration, helping you choose sensible settings.

If you're trying to fix an existing network, try the Network Troubleshooter in Windows Help and Support. It's surprisingly effective.

Troubleshoot Your Network

When you encounter a network problem, some of these command line tools can help you narrow down the source. From the command prompt:

  • ping ipaddress (for example, ping shows whether your PC can contact another computer or network device at a specific IP address. First ping your router to see if your LAN is working, then ping something on the Internet to see if the problem is outside.
  • tracert ip address (for example, tracert reveals every router hop from your PC to another computer or network device. If you start seeing dropped responses, you may be able to tell whether the problem is local.

  • ipconfig /all shows all your computer's IP-related settings. If your PC is having trouble getting online, try ipconfig/renew to refresh your IP address or get a new one.
  • netstat gives you a list of all the active TCP/IP ports on your system—very useful in detecting whether a Trojan horse has commandeered your system.
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