“Of course it will run under a limited user account”

If I had a tenner for every time I’d heard that from a software publisher, I’d be making a fortune.

A “limited user” account means a user account that does not have administrative privileges, i.e., cannot perform certain actions on the computer, such as installing or removing programs, or changing important system settings.

An awful lot of software is designed by people who never consider that the end user will not have this level of access. Older educational software is the worst culprit; a shocking amount of the software on the educational market today was written many years ago when Windows 98 was still common in schools (in which limited user accounts didn’t really exist), has never been updated, and is simply treated as a licence to print money ever since. Outside the education market, I see it most often in software written by small companies with inexperienced programmers and testers.

The problem with this is that when you’re running a properly secured and managed network of over 300 workstations, only a select few users will have administrative privileges. In our school it is restricted to the IT team and the Deputy Head – without exception. This isn’t terribly unusual in education, so you would think an educational software publisher would know about it. In fact, it turns out most of their technical support staff actually have heard of this mystical “limited user”; they just don’t really understand what it means.

All of which serves as explanation for why twice in the last month I have had technical support staff from two different companies tell me in person, with utter confidence, that their software has no problem whatsoever running under a limited user account, only for me to very quickly find that the program actually does need to modify files or settings that a limited user should not – and does not – have access to.

My best time from hearing that statement to proving it wrong is 3 minutes. The person who said it was still standing in front of me at the time. I’ve discovered that the usual response to this goes along the lines of a set of shoulders being shrugged, along with “Oh, yes, well we always have to work around that“.

I normally restrain my response to a withering look, then later after they have left I will label them as incompetent morons on my blog.

About The Angry Technician

The Angry Technician is an experienced IT professional in the UK education sector. Normally found in various states of annoyance on his blog. All views are those of his imaginary pet dog, Howard.

2 responses to ““Of course it will run under a limited user account””

  1. Tom Newton says :

    Good article! Thought you might like this:
    Non-admin weblog

    We run a “strictly no admin” policy here – even for us tech types.

  2. Gerard Sweeney says :

    Gnn… The old non-admin issue.

    One major company – let’s call them Auto bad – were one of the worst offenders – their official solution was to give all users Admin rights… My suggestion that I should just format C: to save the kids some time wasn’t overly well received. Ho hum.

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