So you’ve decided it is time to ditch Windows XP and introduce yourself to the world of Windows Vista and the new way of doing things.

Like many other users you are accustomed to logging into Windows XP and running in a profile with administrator privileges. Running with lesser rights makes it quite cumbersome to install applications, configure things, and in some cases move about your computing tasks in general.

Now that you are boldly venturing into the realm of Windows Vista, you probably have carefully unpacked your shinny new machine, hooked it all up, and booted it for the first time.  Greeted with a sparkling new interface you gladly meander through the initial configuration.  Now it comes time to customize your user login. Familiar with XP terminology, you give yourself administrative privileges and log in.

You begin by installing your applications, and on the first attempt you are greeted with an unexpected error. The installer won’t run because it has insufficient rights to your system and registry.  Being the smart user you are, you check to ensure that your profile has indeed been assigned to the Administrator’s group, and it has. So why then don’t you have the accesses you need to install your application?

Well, Microsoft has in Vista separated rights for Administrator into two levels: Administrator and you guessed it, Administrator. One might think that they would create a new term such as Super Administrator for the top level, but they stuck with Administrator and created much confusion amongst users everywhere.

The first “Administrator” is the level assigned to your profile. This allows you to do most things on your computer that lesser access groups cannot. Unknown to you until now is that there is another level of Administrator for such things as registry access and the ability to write to  certain protected folders on your hard drive. Access to this level of Administrator is given to you through the system’s User Account Control or UAC.

The purpose of UAC is to strengthen security in Vista and to minimize risks from malware. Should you be subjected to a virus, the virus would not be permitted to do any harm to critical protected parts of the system unless the UAC was invoked, and you, when prompted allowed the virus access to critical system areas. Of course this also does affect other applications from accessing needed parts of the system as well.

In the first example above, you were trying to install some software. In order to perform the install, you would need to opposite click the application and select “Run as Administrator“. This would call upon the UAC which will prompt you to allow the install access to the needed parts of your system.

UAC is not required for all software installations, and it can also be invoked during other operations. An example of this is flushing the local DNS cache of the computer. This is a function that you might perform at the Command Prompt. After launching the command prompt window you proceed to type the following:

ipconfig /flushdns

The system immediately returns: “The requested operation requires elevation” This is fancy IT talk for, “You don’t have access rights to do this”. In order to successfully perform this function, you have to run the Command Prompt window with elevated rights. For this, you would once again opposite click on the Icon, and select “Run as administrator“. Once prompted with the UAC window, you click the continue button. This time when you input the command “ipconfig/flushdns” you are greeted with: “Successfully flushed the DNS Resolver Cache“.

Although this may be confusing to users, the extra step does provide you with valuable protection for your computer. There is a way to turn off UAC, however given the rampant state of malware in the cyber-universe, I would not recommend it.

Edward Blokland, Systems Manager, Penad Pension Services Limited