How To Tame Microsoft Windows Vista's UAC - InformationWeek

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How To Tame Microsoft Windows Vista's UAC

Are all those Windows Vista User Account Control warnings driving you nuts? Here are seven ways to make Vista's UAC less intrusive, while keeping legitimate security threats at bay.

"Boop." Windows needs your permission to continue.

Is there any feature of Microsoft Windows Vista more universally reviled than the User Account Control, or UAC for short? It's a necessary evil at best, and a hideous inconvenience at worst.

Or, to take a more moderate stance, it's a feature the likes of which have been badly needed in Windows for some time now -- a way to moderate administrative user access so programs that don't need administrative access don't get it.

I take the second view, but I know there are plenty of people who take the first one, and I don't blame them. Aside from disrupting a good many existing work habits, there are also questions of how programs behave, or ought to behave, under UAC.

It's tempting to just turn off UAC and be done with it, but I'm not convinced this is a worthwhile solution. There are times when you'll want the protection that UAC affords, and there are ways you can make UAC a lot friendlier and less intrusive. Work with it rather than against it, and you may be pleasantly surprised at how manageable it really is.

Slow An Overzealous UAC

UAC may trigger needlessly if your permissions are set incorrectly.
(click for image gallery)

The first thing worth talking about is under what circumstances the UAC dialog should and should not show up. One complaint I've heard from many people is that UAC bugs them to do something for what seems like a perfectly ordinary system action, like opening a file or copying something somewhere. This isn't how UAC is supposed to work, so here's a quick rundown on when you should and shouldn't get UAC prompts.

First, UAC should trigger whenever you click on any Windows icon or dialog that has the "shield" logo. The shield logo was created as a visual cue that any action involving that item will require UAC approval, giving users some degree of forewarning. These include things like application installers, which obviously need to have admin permission to do their thing. You've probably noticed by now that app installer icons have a little shield logo emblazoned on them; that's another visual cue to indicate you need UAC approval to run them.

UAC should not trigger when you open documents in your user directory, when you access documents on another drive that you know is yours, or when you run regular workaday programs like Office or Firefox that don't require administrative permissions to work properly. If that happens, then there's a strong chance the permissions controls on those files are damaged or misconfigured.

One such situation often occurs when working with files on a hard drive that was migrated from another computer, such as one running a previous version of Windows. A drive formatted as FAT or FAT32 won't show such issues since those file systems don't use permissions, but an NTFS-formatted drive may have the ownership on its files and directories set to a user that doesn't exist on your current system. As a result, any file operations on that drive have to be done in admin mode, and may fail even then.

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