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Issue #504: March 19-25, 2017

Q: I work with a computer that has two accounts set up, one admin with password, which is almost never used, and one standard that goes through Microsoft and requires a password. I want to set up a local account (not through Microsoft) with no password and only one or two programs available to the users. I have set up the account, however most or all links on the already established standard account show up on the desktop for the new account. I tried to delete the unwanted links but they also deleted from the original account. How can I set this account up so only the wanted links show on the desktop?

– Richard T.
Crestview, Florida

A: Great question, Richard!  But…you can’t.  Not by setting up the account up in any particular manner anyway.  You are looking at it exactly backward trying to get it to do what you want.  The icons that appear on a given user’s desktop have very little to do with how the account is set up; and in a home installation of Windows (that is, one that’s not administered in a corporate environment) there is little, if anything, that you can change in a user account that will alter what appears on the desktop.

What we call the Desktop is actually two things.  From a system perspective, it is the logical construct where application windows appear, and if you’re a programmer-type geek, it is the ultimate parent window of most applications.  From the user’s perspective, it is a special folder, with the same abilities that any other folder has to store files, shortcuts, and other folders.  In highly simplified terms, a special folder is a Windows feature that uses common names like “My Documents”, “My Music”, “My Pictures”, and of course “Desktop” but allows the actual physical folder location to be different for every user, yet still be called by the same logical name no matter which user is signed in. In other words, every user has a “My Documents” and a “Desktop” etc., but the contents are different for every user, because they are located in a different physical directory for every user.

These folders share a common base path of C:\Users\.  If you visit that location on your own PC, you’ll see a couple of different things.  First of all, you’ll see a different folder for each user account on this machine.  If you browse into one of these folders (hopefully the one for the Windows account under which you’re signed in), you’ll see the various special folders.  Drill down into Desktop, and you’ll find all some, but not all of the stuff you usually see on the Windows Desktop, and therein lies the answer to your (great) question, Richard.

Notice first of all that I said “some, but not all of the stuff”.  Now go back up to C:\Users\ and you’ll find another folder named “Public”.  Drill down into it, and then into the Desktop folder, and you should see the rest of the icons that you didn’t see in your user-specific folder.  Special folders that reside below the Public folder are shared among all the user accounts, so changes you make here affect all users on the system.  When you’re viewing this from the Windows Desktop you can’t really tell which icons are yours, and which icons are shared with everybody else.  But deleting the shared ones will delete them for every other user, which is exactly what you described in your question.

So, the simple way to accomplish what you want is to move the shortcuts in question out of the Public\Desktop folder, and into the Desktop folder of the account that you want to see them.  Anything you’ve moved will not appear on the desktops of any other accounts, including any new accounts you make.  This could be a problem for some people, but it sounds like what you’re trying to do.  Hint: If you later want to make these appear in another user’s account, copy the shortcuts to that user’s Desktop folder.

Final word: Removing the shortcuts from a user’s Desktop doesn’t stop them from actually running the linked programs; it only stops them from seeing the shortcuts.

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