Much has been written about User Account Control in the media. You might have heard that it's a big headache to have dialog boxes popping up all the time, that it slows you down, or that you really don't need it. It's true that UAC can be jarring when you first encounter it. It's a different way of working with your computer, and it can take some getting used to. But I’ve been using it for months now, and I don’t find it intrusive at all. For me, the peace of mind I receive knowing that malicious software can’t silently install itself on my computer is worth the small inconvenience of occasionally clicking a dialog box prompt.
Let's address some common myths about UAC.
Myth: Dialog boxes are popping up all of the time.
Reality: How often you’re prompted for permission really depends on what you’re doing. When you first set up your computer, you should expect to see quite a few UAC dialog box prompts—especially if you are installing a lot of software or customizing settings in Windows Vista. Over time, as you shift to day-to-day use of your computer, the “noise level” will go down significantly. You should only be prompted when you make a change to your computer that affects all users, such as installing software or changing global settings. Not all prompting that you receive on your computer is from UAC. Other programs, such as Internet Explorer, have built-in security features that will prompt you when you are downloading files or trying to open something on a webpage that requires a program outside of the program you’re using. You can look at the title of the dialog box to see the source of the prompt. If it’s UAC, the title of the dialog box is “User Account Control.”
Myth: UAC takes away my control over my computer.
Reality: UAC actually does the opposite: It informs you of changes—including those not initiated by you—to your computer and lets you decide if you want to allow them. This can be a bit of a hassle if you are purposefully making a change—such as installing software—and you're asked if you want to continue, but it can also save your bacon when harmful or unwanted software tries to install itself on your computer. If you're an administrator on the computer, you have the same permissions in Windows Vista that you had in Windows XP; you can still install programs and make changes to the computer. The difference now is that programs cannot take over your computer without you authorizing them to do so.
Myth: UAC slows me down.
Reality: It's true that the UAC dialog box prompt presents an extra step for certain actions. But sacrificing some convenience is the tradeoff for more effectively preventing the installation of unwanted software on your computer. Think about how much time it takes to clean up your computer if you have software on it that you don’t want. Or even worse, think about how much time and data you may lose if you get a virus. As a standard user, you can work more efficiently in Windows Vista than you did in Windows XP because you don’t have to log off and log back on as an administrator to do things that require administrator permissions; you can enter a user name and password in the UAC dialog box and keep rolling.
Myth: UAC breaks my computer—my programs won't work.
Reality: Newer programs or programs that have been updated for Windows Vista should give you the UAC dialog box prompt when you start the installation process. Some older programs might not automatically prompt you for permission. You can still run these programs by right-clicking the setup file and then clicking Run as administrator. If you are trying to run a program that does not seem to be working, try this technique.
Myth: I don’t need UAC; I already have security software on my computer.
Reality: Using an antivirus program, a firewall, and anti-malware software are all essential practices for protecting your computer and your data. UAC offers something that these programs cannot: protection against malicious and unknown or unwanted software. When I was running Windows XP, I had an antivirus program and antispyware software on my computer, but I still got those pesky toolbars and some sort of virus. None of these programs are foolproof, which is why UAC alerts you to every piece of software that is being installed on your computer.