Secrets for Maintaining the Multiple-User Mac

SAN FRANCISCO (04/19/2000) - The Macintosh has always been a computer with a personality-but ever since the arrival of Mac OS 9, it's had 39 more.

Personalities, that is. With OS 9's Multiple Users feature, you can create as many as 40 different user accounts on your Mac. Though the various users share one machine, they have their own access rights and can-to a degree-customize their systems with their own preferences and style. Here's a quick overview of the Multiple Users feature and power-user tips.

The Basics

As the owner of your Mac, you can configure your machine for each user through the Multiple Users control panel. Each user you designate can be assigned one of three different working environments. The Panels environment-primarily geared toward children-is a simple, button-driven interface similar to Apple's At Ease. Only the items designated by the owner appear in the Panels windows.

Limited users can see all the items visible in the Finder but can open and use only those to which you give them access. The Normal user environment provides full Mac access, but it hides the contents of document folders owned by other user accounts.

Expert Tips

It's easy to get started with Multiple Users, but here are some tips that will help you use this control panel like a pro:

You don't have to shut down or restart to switch between user accounts. Just use the Logout command in the Finder's Special menu. This is also the easiest way to tell if Multiple User mode is enabled-just check to see if there's a Logout command in the Finder's Special menu.

Creating a custom welcome message for your Mac used to require either a ResEdit hack or the creation of a custom start-up screen. With Multiple User mode, you can now create your own message, which will appear on the welcome screen that prompts users to log on. This short message (about 60 characters) can be more than a greeting. Use this space to include instructions for logging on or to provide a couple of password hints.

The easiest way to find out who is logged on to a Mac is to launch the Apple System Profiler from the Apple menu. Near the top of the System Profile report, you'll see the version of Multiple Users software that's running, along with the current environment and the name of the user who is logged in.

You can have users log in by speaking a password, but only if you activate the Allow Alternate Password option in the Multiple Users control panel (click on the Options button to find it). Once you've turned the alternate-passwords feature on, you'll have to open the Alternate Password panel when you edit each user's profile and have each user record a password voiceprint. Voiceprint recognition can be pretty flaky, though. As a rule, longer voiceprints-five or more words-tend to work more reliably than shorter ones.

Adding a Mug Shot

You probably already know that Multiple Users lets you assign a different picture icon to each user account on your Mac. These icons appear in the Login window, next to each account name. You can also add your own custom icons for each user-the face of the user or some other favorite image-but there are a few tricks to doing this easily and making the icons look good.

You can drag and drop a picture into the User Picture box to install a custom picture from the Finder, as long as it's the right type of file: a picture-clipping file or an image from the Scrapbook.

To turn just part of an image into a custom user picture, you can open the image in SimpleText, make a selection by dragging across a portion of the image, and then drag only the selection directly into the User Picture box in the Multiple Users window.

You can drag in a JPEG or GIF image from a Web browser.

Make sure your pictures maintain the same aspect ratio-48 by 48 pixels-as the User Picture icons. In other words, make sure they're square, not rectangular.

Don't worry if your selected picture is a little too big; the Mac automatically scales down larger pictures. But nonsquare images will end up with clipped edges or ugly white space on the sides. And make sure that your pictures are at least 48 by 48 pixels; smaller images will automatically be scaled up in size, resulting in fuzzy or distorted images.

The No-Touch Zone

If the users of your Mac ever have to make changes in network configuration, you may not want to use the Multiple Users feature. The control panels that handle network settings are inaccessible to anyone other than the owner. The off-limits items include the Multiple Users, AppleTalk, TCP/IP, Remote Access, and File Sharing control panels.

This is because Apple assumes that even though multiple users may be on one Mac, they'll all need to access the same network, use the same TCP/IP protocol, dial the same ISP, and so on. Obviously, this isn't necessarily true. Even if you set up a user with Normal privileges-essentially giving that user full access to the files on that machine-and you give that user the right to manage other accounts (an option in the Setup Details section of the control panel), that person still cannot manage these network-access features. For that the owner is required.

If you want to be able to switch settings, such as network configurations and dial-up numbers, without having to manually make changes in control panel after control panel, there is a way to do it: forget about Multiple Users, and use the Location Manager, which lets you save groups of these settings.

JOSEPH SCHORR is a coauthor of Macworld Mac Secrets, fifth edition (IDG Books Worldwide, 1998).

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