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Issue #380: Nov 2-8, 2014

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Q: Your thoughts and suggestions for understanding various computer problems have always been my most anticipated read for the Sunday paper. Your solutions have always been my mid-week project, and are always “spot on!” I hope you can help with this situation. 

Over the last ten or twelve years I have used a system of organizing and archiving my documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, and other files by initially saving the files to a folder on the root of my hard drive with the name of the current year (for example C:\2014). Within that year I further organize the files by using assorted sub-folders in various categories. At the end of each calendar year I copy all of the files and folders to an external USB hard drive and a DVD for permanent storage. When I make this copy I usually do it from the “administrator” login. This practice has worked well for many, many years without problem and has always provided ease of access to my archived files.

During the past year I attempted as a “standard user” to open some of these archived files from 2012 and 2013 and encountered problems. When opening a Word file I received the message “Word cannot open the document: user does not have access privileges.” Upon opening a PDF file the message was “There was an error opening this document access denied.” When using Windows Explorer I notice a lock icon for the troubled files. No problems have been encountered in prior years, but some files in the 2012 folder have this problem. All of the files in the 2013 folder are a problem.

I suspect there is a problem with permissions for the “standard user” logged in. Upon looking at the file names as an “administrator” login I am able to open these files. Is it possible that a Windows update may have created this situation? If the problem is the user permissions, I am troubled as to how it happened because I have never made any effort to change any permission for the standard users on my Windows 7 workstation. 

– Ed P.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A:  That’s a lot of “alwayses” in that opening paragraph, Ed, but I’m flattered, and thank-you for being an avid reader.  I hope you have found my column after its move to Saturdays on NWFDN’s Business Page.  If you prefer to read it on Sunday, you can always get the latest edition at ItsGeekToMe.co.

There are no permissions associated with a user account. It works the opposite way.  The files themselves have associated rules, called, aptly enough, “File Permissions”.  These are rules that windows associates with objects on your computer or your network, and uses to determine whether a given user is allowed to access the object, and what he or she is allowed to do with it.  Windows has the ability to grant or deny access to a file on a pretty granular level.  File Permissions can be set to apply to all accounts within a group, or for any individual user. They can be also be inherited from the folder in which the file resides.

It sounds like somehow your administrator account started setting permissions on files to deny access to certain (possibly all) accounts other than itself. You can examine the permissions of any file or folder by right-clicking it and selecting “Properties”.  Click the “Security” tab, then click a user or group name.  If you do this while signed-in under an account that has Write access to the file (such as your administrator account) you can change the file’s permissions.  You can do this on entire folders and groups of files.  This will allow you to restore access for your Standard User account.  If you’d like to read up on what each of the permissions means, visit tinyurl.com/ocze78p to see a Microsoft article on the topic.

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