A Beginner’s Guide to Mac User Accounts

New Mac users may not yet be using multiple user accounts, one for each individual using the Mac. Using accounts is a good way to keep from stepping on each other's toes when more than one person share a Mac. They are a must if you want to use iCloud or customize your Mac experience in any way. You can also set up a guest user account for one time uses.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: A Beginner’s Guide to Mac User Accounts.

If you're new to Mac you may not be using one of the important features which is User Accounts. So basically your Mac can be several Macs. Every user account is like a completely new computer with new settings, with new things on the desktop, new documents, everything. The user accounts are kept separate from each other. How do you set up user accounts?

Well, in the Apple menu go to System Preferences. From there you go to Users & Groups. In Users & Groups you're going to see users listed on the left with the current user at the top which is probably you. Then you'll see other users. Which could be anybody else. Every individual that uses the Mac should have their own user account. It's not a matter of trust. It's a matter of having Settings and Preferences and Documents and things like that. If you and your spouse use the same Mac you're not going to use the same documents, you're not going to want to have things setup the same way and you're not going to use the same iCloud account or iTunes account or any of that.

Having separate user accounts means you can switch easily between these. It's like you each have your own Mac. You each can have your own desktop background, different applications in the dock, everything. So how do you create a new user account?

Well, once you're in here you have to click the padlock here and then authenticate. Once you've unlocked it here you use the plus button to add a new user. You have some options here. Administrator is fine for any responsible adult using the Mac. Standard for most other people. The difference between the two is the ability to install apps. You can install an app as an Administrator for all users on the computer. That's why any adults who are owners of the computer that are using it, you want to be Administrator because when you buy an app or install an app you want it to be available for everybody else.

But for people that you don't want installing apps you can set up a Standard account. So if you have somebody that, you know a relative or somebody, that comes over every once in awhile and wants to use your computer to check their email, a Standard account may be fine for them.

For kids you may want to look into Managed with Parental Controls. You can also enable a Guest User. The way to do that is you click on Guest User here in the list. Then click Allow guests to log in to this computer. This enables people to login as a guest. So they don't need a password. But they don't have access to any of the stuff on your user account. They can just use the Mac and when they logout the stuff they have done is deleted. So it's like a one time thing. They can go in. They can setup email. They can check their email. They can surf the web. Then they logout of that guest account and it all is deleted and goes away. It's a great way to give access to your computer to the internet for somebody that's visiting and then clear it all off. So they can't really do any harm or leave anything behind on the computer.

Now once you've set up multiple accounts you can simply go to the Apple menu and Log Out. Then the login screen will show all of the accounts there and you can choose the one you want to login in to. But fast user switching is much better especially if you and a spouse or other family members are sharing the computer and want to be able to switch easily.

You go to Login Options and you can check Show fast user switching menu and check whether you want full name, account name, or icon. Fast user switching then appears to the top right here and you can jump to any of these accounts.

Now here's an important thing about this. When you leave your account and go to another one it's not logging you out here. It's basically just switching over. So you can be in the middle of something. You can have Pages open and you're in the middle of writing a paragraph. You can have Safari open, you can be composing an email. Doing all this stuff. You go to Fast User Switching and switch to somebody else. Then they can go and pick up where they left off. When they're done you switch back to you. Everything returns just as you left it. So you really can be right in the middle of something. Somebody else comes in and they switch to their account, check their email, switch back to you and now you can pick up where you left off.

A super handy feature. You definitely should have it. I recommend that every individual have their own account on the Mac. It's just much easier and a much nicer computing experience. You can make it feel like you actually have multiple Macs in one piece of hardware.

Comments: 8 Responses to “A Beginner’s Guide to Mac User Accounts”

    1 year ago

    Gary, I respectfully disagree in one aspect: If all users operate day to day out of ‘standard’ accounts, it adds an additional layer of security against nefarious types installing whatever without permission. I’ve been doing this for eons & the only real difference (I’ve noticed) is that an admin password must be entered to install software. Leave an admin account unused. I could be mistaken, but seem to remember learning of this strategy in the Apple support help forums. Cool videos, Thanks!

    1 year ago

    How can I transfer iTunes music files from one account to iTunes in another account on the same computer?

    1 year ago

    Eric: It depends on where the music originated from. If there were music files you created yourself (ripped CDs, for instance) then you’ll need to copy the files to the other account (using the Shared folder is one way) and drop them into iTunes.

    1 year ago

    Standard accounts without a password cannot become ‘admin’ (or root) … another advantage over other non- unix like systems :)

    Barry Lewis
    1 year ago

    How do I manage Login Items, Finder Preferences, etc. on the Guest Account? I can change them when logged into the account – for example, I can go into Finder Preferences and uncheck Hard Disks under “show these items on the desktop” – but nothing is saved when I logout because it is a Guest account! Thanks, Barry

    1 year ago

    Barry: That’s right. It is an account for a one-time use. There is no way to save preferences of any kind because there is no point since you can never log in a second time.

    Christol James
    1 year ago

    Is it possible to change the name of the primary account user admin? When my macbook was new I plugged it into an older computer to grab all the files (as per the setup instructions) and it gave me a user/Home name that belonged to the original owner of the old computer. Or is there a way to move all the files under that Home username to another?

    1 year ago

    Christol: This is dangerous to do, so I would make sure your Time Machine backup is up-to-date and maybe do a clone or at least copy all of your files to a second backup before starting. Then Apple has some instructions at https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201548

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