How do I install programs if I’m not the administrator of the computer?

September 9, 2007

‘m trying to run in a “safe” limited user account, but I often find that I need to install something – which I can’t. Is there a way I can install software on my machine without having to be the administrator?This can be a very frustrating situation, I know. I have machines where the primary account is an administrator, simply because of the frequent irritation of application updates and installations that require it.

It’s not always this, way, which is fine.

It does, and it doesn’t have to be this way, and that is frustrating.

I will cut to the chase and say that if an application you’re attempting to install is failing because you’re not the administrator your only recourse is to login as the administrator. Or perhaps not install the application at all.

In other words, you’re basically screwed.

The big variable is the program that you’re attempting to install. They fall into three buckets:

“… if an application you’re attempting to install is failing because you’re not the administrator your only recourse is to login as the administrator.”

  • Programs that don’t need administrative access, and don’t ask for it. They just install or update happily, as needed.
  • Programs that do need administrative access. I at least understand these programs. Perhaps they’re installing or updating device drivers, secure areas of the system or registry, or who knows what. Basically the whole point of running as a limited user is to prevent this kind of access by accident. It makes sense that they would be blocked, and warrant the extra scrutiny of someone who would login as administrator.
  • Programs that don’t need administrative access, and ask for it anyway. Why, for example, do I have to be administrator to update MSN Instant Messenger? This is the frustrating bucket.

One clarification: even though I’ve said program’s “ask” for administrative access, under Windows XP, at least that’s really just a simplification. Most just try to do something administrative in nature, and that either works, or fails if the user isn’t logged in as administrator.

Now there’s a very strong argument that installing any software should be totally restricted to administrators. I’d even go along with that if it weren’t so darned impractical under XP. It seems every day or so something wants to update, requiring that the user logout from their limited user account and login as administrator. (Or wait until the person with administrative access can do so.)

The good news is that I believe that there’s hope on the horizon.

Much like Linux and the Mac, rather than forcing you to log out and log in as administrator, Windows Vista will prompt you for the Administrative password if administrative access is needed. Yes, you still need to know that password, so it’s not a free ticket for the kids to install something that dad has hopefully protected the computer against. But it is a step in the right direction to both secure the system while minimizing the inconvenience.

I know that this “feature” of Vista tends to pop up a little too often for some people, but when it comes to installing software, the approach makes sense to me.


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