How Mac Handles Accounts

Various options exist for OS X to handle the accounts, how to switch between accounts once someone is logged in and more.

How to Handle Accounts On Mac

Logging In & Out

Open Accounts from System Preferences, then click Login Options.

If you are the only user on the Mac and if you have no important personal data, set OS X to automatically log in to your account. Otherwise choose Display login window. The select whether you’d like the computer to request both the Name and Password of whoever is logging in, or present a List of users. In this case click your name and enter the password.

Fast User Switching

Within the Login Option pane you can enable Fast User Switching. This function is useful, as it enables you to log on without the current user first logging off. Any documents, applications or Webpages that the current user has open stay active in the background, hidden from view and password protected (assuming the account does have a password). When you switch back, it will be as if you never logged out.

If you activate Fast User Switching, the current user’s name or a generic icon will appear in the menu bar, next to the clock. Click to dispaly a menu that lets you switch between users. It can take a few seconds to log in a user this way. But if users are already loged in, the process is almost instant.

Private & Shared Folders

Each user who shares the computer has a home folder, which is preloaded with sub-folders labelled Documents, Music, Pictures, Movies and so on. Users can add to these folders, use them, delete or rename them, but experts recommend neither to delete nor rename these folders, especially the Library folder.

The home folders are located in the Users folder within the top level of the hard drive, which is usually labelled Macintosh HD. For each user, their home folder bears a little house icon. Other users’ home folders look like standard folders, but the items in these folders will not be accessible. Keep in mind though that anyone on the Mac with a bit of technical know-how wull be able still to access your account, unless you proceed to apply special privacy and passwords protocol.

Sharing Files Between Accounts

If you need to pass files between different users, you can do it by dropping those files into Macintosh HD folders (go to Macintosh HD – Users – Shared or use Macintosh HD – Useers – Your Name – Public. Both of these emplacements can be accessed by any user who have account on the computer.

If you don’t want that other users could see the shared file, so you don’t want to place the file in Public or Shared folder, put that file in the other user’s Drop Box, where anyone can add files but whose contents can only be seen by the owner. To access the Drop Box: Macintosh HD – Users – User’s Name – Public – Drop Box.

There exists another option to use OS X’s permissions setting, but it’s technically more complex and people apply it only when a special sharing arrangement has been established.

Sharing Photos & Music and More Accounts

If you choose Share My Library in iTunes Preferences or Share My Photos in iPhoto Preferences, other users of the Mac, as well as other users on the same network will be able to access your songs and photos. They will not be able, though, to delete your favorite songs). If you want to give other users the full access, thus they could add tracks, create playlists, change the content and so on, you should use permissions, as OS X provides a permissions file-management system that allows complete control over which users can access which files.

You can share screen savers, widgets and fonts with other users on your Mac by dragging them from their folders in your personal Library to the corresponding folders in the top-level Library.

Tip About Permissions

By default, the user who creates a file is considered the Owner. Only the owners have access to the file, but any user with administrative power can change these setting by selecting a file or folder, pressing Command key + I and going to the Ownership & Permissions pane. Once there the administrator can specify access (read, write, both, none) for a specific user, under Groups, of for all users, under Others.

Permissions settings are useful, but if your knowledge of the technical confidence is, say, limited, you’d better leave that option alone.

Final Considerations

Fast User Switching provides a convinient way to use the machine at the same time. However this option can take its toll on system ressources. If there are many accounts running in the background, each with many open applications and documents, your Mac may run much more slowly.

Each user can access the Accounts Preferences panel from the Fast User Switching menu on the menu bar. However if they are not authorized to make changes, they will find all the options greyed-out.

If you see that you regularly access the Shared user folder, drag its icon onto your Sidebar or your Dock. The same goes for a particular Drop box.

Links

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