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How to access the true Administrator account in Windows Vista

Microsoft has hidden the Administrator account in Vista, but it's easy to resurrect once you know how to find it.

July 24, 2006 12:00 PM ET

In early June, Computerworld published the story, "Visual Tour: 20 Things You Won't Like About Windows Vista." At the bottom of page 5 of that story, I wrote that the built-in Administrator account is inaccessible in Vista Beta 2.

More recently, I've learned from Microsoft that there are two prescribed ways to access the Administrator account, both of which are detailed in this article.

Unlike previous versions of Windows, there are differences in Vista between accounts with "computer administrator" privileges and the Administrator account. For instance, the Administrator account does not have User Account Control enabled. There may also be differences in the ability to remove restrictive file operations and object permissions, but Microsoft is still working out those details and does not expect to reveal them until RC1 and beyond. Finally, by default, the Administrator account is present, but it's hidden and disabled on all clean installs of the operating system.

It's even possible to create an "administrator" account, with a lowercase "A." But that won't be the full-fledged Administrator account, it's just another account with computer administrator privileges.

Figuring It Out

You won't find the Administrator account in the User Accounts Control Panel. But the MMC-based Computer Management section of the Administrative Tools Control Panel does give you access to the Administrator account. By default, the account is disabled, but you can enable it there. Your obvious conclusion might be that all you need to do is enable the Administrator account, restart Windows and then log into the Administrator account. But that doesn't work. There's an added step that Microsoft hasn't documented and that isn't all that intuitive: Not only do you have to enable the Administrator account, you also have to disable all other accounts with computer-administrator privileges. And since Vista's clean-install setup program forces you to create a new user account with computer administrator privileges, everyone has to cross this hurdle in finding the built-in Administrator.

Before you take any steps to reveal Administrator on your computer, please be aware that there's a bug in Vista Beta 2 that can cause you serious woe if you create a password for your Administrator account in Computer Management. The result of the bug is that you will be completely locked out of your Windows Vista installation. So, please follow the directions to the letter. I will show you how to safely add a password to your Administrator account.

Start by booting your computer to Vista in your computer administrator account. Open the Administrative Tools Control Panel. Double-click the Computer Management item to open it. Authorize UAC by clicking the Continue button. Double-click "Local Users and Groups" to open it. Click the Users folder. On the right side of Computer Management, you should see icons for all of the user accounts created on your computer. The ones that have small red circles with an "X" through them are disabled.

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