Vista Hands On #18: Log on automatically

Vista Hands On #18: Log on automatically

Summary: A reader asks how to automatically log on to a default user account without having to click an icon on the Welcome screen. The procedure for setting up auto-logon is pretty simple, as long as you understand the security risks. I have step-by-step instructions, plus a link to a useful power toy that does the necessary registry edits for you.

TOPICS: Windows, Microsoft

Today’s tip is in response to a reader question:

When Vista is booting it displays the welcome screen and requires me to click on the icon with my name on it before it will continue to boot. My old machine with XP did not make me do this, it continued to boot without any input from me. How can I make Vista do the same?

The procedure for automatically logging on to a default user account is essentially the same in Vista as it is in XP. First, the obligatory caveats and warnings:

Don’t do this if your system contains confidential data and is physically insecure. It’s a very bad idea to enable auto-logon on a notebook, for instance, because anyone who walks away with the notebook can get to its contents just by turning it on. The same is true if your system is in a location that can’t be locked up, such as a cubicle in an office bullpen. A passerby who wants to break into your computer only has to hit the power switch and wait for your system to restart and log on automatically to your account.

Also, don’t follow the instructions from some older Windows versions to enter your default password in the Registry. That option works but leaves your logon password exposed in clear text where anyone can find it. The option described here saves this value as an encrypted LSA secret, which is many times more secure.

As long as you understand and accept the risks, here’s how to enable auto-logon (these steps work identically in all Vista editions, including Home Basic and Home Premium). These instructions assume you are using a workgroup configuration and not logging on to a Windows domain:

1. From an account in the Administrators group, click Start. In the search box, type netplwiz and press Enter. This opens the Advanced User Accounts Control Panel shown here. (Update: If you're trying to accomplish this in Windows XP, click Start, Run, and type control userpasswords2 in the Open box.)

Auto logon to Vista

2. Clear the check box to the left of Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer and then click Apply.

3. In the Automatically Log On dialog box, enter the user name assigned to the account you want to Windows to use each time you start up. Enter the password in both dialog boxes.

Auto logon to Vista step 2

4. Click OK to save your changes.

Now restart your system. You should bypass the logon screen and go straight to your desktop, just as you did in XP.

For a little more control over the autologon process, including the ability to set up Autologon for a limited number of sessions, download the Autologon.exe command line utility, created by Microsoft developer Andrew Jennings. Usage instructions and some interesting comments are available in this post on the Microsoft Shell Blog.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft

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  • The only situation I can think of

    where it's not a bad idea to enable auto-logon is when you're talking about a kiosk. And even then you'd want it to auto-start the kiosk program and lock out alt-tab and all that other good stuff to keep people from poking around.
    Michael Kelly
    • Other situations

      I have a Vista Media Center PC in the living room. I want it to log on automatically and go straight to the Media Center interface.

      Also, for most home PCs this is a non-issue. In an office, I would never recommend it, but at home, where no one has access to the PC but trusted family members, it's fine.
      Ed Bott
      • For the home

        I find it handy using user accounts with fast user switching as is I can sit down at the PC and leave my wifes applications running while I pop on to pay bills. On top of that my preference are kept the way I want them and hers are kept the way she wants them. This really is the key one for me.

        I'd say at home the only time you'd want this is when you know you are the only one using the PC.

        I had a second PC running Windows 2000 Pro that auto logged on. My wife was wanting that since Windows 2000 Pro didn't have fast user switching. She hates it because the settings are always getting changed. The funny thing was before XP she was happy with autologon but after XP when I forced her to use a users, which she complained about at first, she came to love it. Now her desktop is how she wants it and it doesn't changes and I know I'm happy because my stuff is how I want it.

        I think as my kids get older I'd rather have them with their own account too. That way I can lock that account down more. I'd really rather not have my kids installing anything and everything they can download. I'd like to be able to lock them out too and limit their time when they can logon but I think I'll need a server of sorts for that. Now if WHS does this well I'll buy one.
        • Vista already has parental controls

          Plus as a limited user they can not install anything and everything. With the perantal controls you can also limit their time on the computer-limit what games they play-web sites they can access.
          Michael L Hereid Sr
        • Auto-logon not for a shared PC

          I thought it would go without saying that this technique is not appropriate for a shared PC where multiple users regularly log on.
          Ed Bott
      • When you think about it...

        The way you are using the media center you can consider it to be a form of a kiosk. It autostarts an application, and if set up correctly you do not want it to run any other application, so you would still want to disable alt-tab, keep it from running other apps, etc., to keep it secure. You do want it to be secure to some extent. If that media PC gets stolen and someone were to P2P your copyrighted media... well ok, since NTFS has no real security I guess that would be a non-issue anyway. But still it's always a good idea to make hackers jump through as many hoops as possible to get your data when you have something of value. And I would think a media PC would have some data of value on it.

        As for home PC's, again it depends on what kind of data you are storing on it. All it would take is one small piece of personal information that you do not want anybody from outside your trusted circle knowing about. Certainly anybody who does any sort of personal finance on their PC has no business having an auto-logon. PCs do get stolen.
        Michael Kelly
        • If someone steals my PC...

          Then it's already game over. Unless I've encrypted the hard drive using BitLocker or something similar, they can just take ownership of the files and do whatever they want. Physical possession trumps just about every other form of security.
          Ed Bott
          • I know I'm getting off-topic here

            but this illustrates why I believe BitLocker (or something similar) should be a standard feature on all SKUs of Vista and every other modern day OS. The need for security on the disk level is by far more common than not having the need for it.
            Michael Kelly
          • True, but ...

            ... most of the time they just want the computer. If they cannot login to anything, they will have to know how to boot from a CD in order to break in. At that point,they CAN take control over my information but more likely they won't. instead, they will wipe the HD anf rebuild the machine so they can resell it.
            M Wagner
      • trusted family members

        And the Guy breaking into you house!
        • If a guy breaks into my house

          ...I have bigger problems than auto-logon.

          Look, as I mentioned earlier, anyone who gets physical possession of my PC owns it and all the data on it. Unless I've used strong encryption, it is trivially easy to get anything off it.

          Of course, this thief could also steal my social security correspondence, medical bills, bank and credit card statements, and all sorts of other physical items that offer the same sort of access to identity theft.
          Ed Bott
          • i have to agree if someone breaks in to the house theres more goodies

            i have to agree if someone breaks in to the house theres more goodies laying around that i would be worried about than the data on my computer.

            all the data on my computer is backed up every week to a dvd disk so i'm not going to lose much but the SS-numbers CC Statements and all of the expensive stuff would bother me more than data theft from my home computer.

            my wife has her own computer i have my computer laptop and file-server. at home so auto login is great for us.
            SO.CAL Guy
      • Even for home, I make my wife ...

        ... and my eight-year-old son log in. This keeps them both 'out of trouble' by (1) preventing my wife (who does not know much about computers) from accidentally breaking something and it keeps my eight-year-old son (going on 18) from not-so-accidentally getting into mischief. He means well but in a few years, he'll be trying to break into my admin account and, would resent it if I took away his privileges then if I left him wide-open now!
        M Wagner
        • I have no kids, and my wife has her own PC

          People are different. Obviously in your home you want a welcome screen at startup. In mine, it's not necessary. I suspect there are other people like me.
          Ed Bott
  • Vista Hands On - aka How To Shoot Thyself In The Foot

    Guys - Whoa - stop this nonsense - nobody - but nobody aint never gonna read this carp - yeah, yeah - I know already - but the ONLY reason I DID read this was to log on to stomp your butt. Go to youtube or uboat or wdf or watch porn, but we expect this kind of drivel in Kindergarten or the LAT not from you folks. Chill Bro - add a splash of Vodka to yr V8 .. later in health & happiness > Jack Daniels Esq
    • What's this prat on about?

      Seems like he's one of those who likes leaping through hoops just to use a computer.

      Maybe he doesn't understand that there are those people who own their own machine (and like use it to read text rather than just gawking at pictures) and who like *their* machine to do what *they* tell it to. Many of these people deeply resent this current idea that even if you live in an unreachable castle on top of a hill, with security that would defy the cleverest burglar, you should still surround your sofa with barbed wire and armed guards 'just in case'. If it's your machine it should do what you tell it, when you tell it to.

      If you tell it to self destruct then that's what it should do (maybe with *one* confirmation box along the lines of 'are you really an idiot' Yes/No/Retry). With luck the self destruction element will take the owner with it, and we have successful evolution in action.

      Computers do what you tell them to, no more & no less. If you can't tell them to do only sensible things then you shouldn't have one. You certainly shouldn't be trusted on a public network.

      • Nah.. He's just trolling to be a troll...

  • semi-auto-login, another use

    I use auto-login half-way. (by the way Ed, thanks. I didn't know about the builtin exe control, I did it the hard way via Regedit)

    I don't want the Windows user welcome screen listing all active user accounts. When I am the only user of this notebook it is a PITA (pain in the...). Other user accounts are there only for when I need to be THE Administrator, and for when I activate password level file sharing to get at the drive from my home office desktop. I want to use my notebook exactly like I did from XP. Boot to a login screen showing ONLY my user account and force me to enter a password to complete the login.

    By using the auto-login feature, but leaving the password settings blank, I achieve most of this. I boot to a screen telling me my userID or password is incorrect. I hit enter which then shows me only my usual login with the cursor in the password field, type the password and hit enter again. No wasting time with the touchpad or tab key.
    Jim Johnson
  • Autologin

    The autologon worked with Vista, but XP was a different story. The search for "nelplwiz" only uncovered "DLL's" and not the executable file. The autologin.exe would not work. Is there another method for XP?
    • For XP...

      You get to the equivalent dialog box in XP by typing this command in the Run box:

      control userpasswords2

      I'll add an update to the original post.
      Ed Bott