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Keep Vista's User Account Control on guard duty

They slow you down, but those pop-up security alerts do serve an important purpose.

Well, Microsoft has finally come clean about the real motivation behind Vista's User Account Control feature. As Tom Espiner's reports from the recent RSA Conference in San Francisco, Microsoft UAC Program Manager David Cross admits that UAC was designed to annoy users.

Espiner quotes Cross telling the security-conference audience that negative user reaction was the only way to coax independent software vendors to update their applications for Vista. As fewer programs violated Vista's rules, users would have to click through fewer UAC prompts.

I'd feel worse about being manipulated by the biggest corporation in the world if UAC weren't such a good idea, though less-than-perfectly implemented. It's true that disabling the feature may allow a balky application or process to work, but too many important Vista features rely on UAC.

To change your UAC setting, press the Windows key, type user accounts, and press Enter. Click "Turn User Account Control on or off," and check or uncheck Use User Account Control (UAC) to help protect your computer."

Windows Vista's User Account Control setting.
Alter Vista's User Account Control setting via the User Accounts Control Panel applet. Microsoft

You get more granular control over UAC's behavior via the Local Security Settings. To access these options, you must be logged in as an administrator, and the PC must not be on a domain. Press the Windows key, type secpol.msc, and press Enter. (Note that the Local Security Settings aren't available on all Vista PCs.)

The eight UAC settings are found under Local Policies > Security Options. You can find more about these settings on Microsoft's Windows Vista TechCenter, but I'll save you the time and trouble: you're better off leaving the settings as they are. UAC is far from perfect, but it's better than computing with no UAC at all.

If you're experiencing a UAC-related problem, Microsoft offers a list of potential solutions on its Help and Support site. For everyday computing, you're better off with UAC than without it.

Tomorrow: low-tech Office alternatives.