Installing and running software in Windows XP

This page is an attempt to explain how software should be installed and used in a Windows XP system. This page is designed with the home user in mind, and is not really meant for installing in a corporate environment. These methods can be applied to both Windows XP Home and Pro systems. Windows XP is an NT-based system that features "true" user profiles. What this means is that certain system settings are specific to the individual user. The complication this causes is that much older software has installation routines that are not written for these types of user environments. For the user migrating from a Windows 9x system, this causes some consternation, as things are a bit more complex.

Subjects include:

  1. Installing software for everybody

  2. Running software in limited user accounts

  3. Restricting access to some programs

  4. FAQ's and issues

1) Let's start with installing software. While many newer programs will install to the system for all users, many old programs will not, specifically those written for use in Windows 9x systems. This is due in part to the way user profiles are built in WindowsXP, and in part to the way installation routines are written. Older software uses routines that are not meant for use in true user environments. The first thing you should try is simply copying the shortcut from the local user profile to the AllUsers profile. Open Windows Explorer, navigate to these folders:

C:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Desktop
C:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Start Menu\Programs

Copy the shortcuts to the AllUsers folders:

C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Desktop
C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs

Once copied, log on as another user and try running the program, it may work just fine. Then again, it may not. The solution here is to reinstall the program while logged on as each user. A bit troublesome, yes, but it's an easy solution and you can reinstall to the same program folder each time.

An Administrator account or "Power User" (WindowsXP Pro only) will have full installation privileges. A limited user will not. For these accounts, you must install them with Administrator privileges. To accomplish this, cancel out of any Autorun routine. Browse to the setup file (whether it is on the hard drive or on a CD), and right-click the setup.exe file. Choose "run as", then enter an Administrator username and password. This will allow the software to install.

2) This is not the end of the line though. Limited users will not have read and write privileges to the system folders. This may cause the software to topple over and not run in the Limited User account. There is an article on this issue in the Microsoft Knowledge Base here:

Some Programs Do Not Work If You Log On from Limited Account

Essentially, what this article covers is how to set the appropriate permissions for the Limited User account for the software to run. To do this, after installing the software, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click the shortcut or Start menu entry and choose "properties"

  2. On the shortcut tab, click the "advanced" button.

  3. Select the option to "run with different credentials"

  4. Enter an Administrator username and password, then click ok.

More often though, it can be fixed by correcting the permissions of the program installation folder. Newly created folders generally only allow "read" permissions for limited users. To run the software, the user will need "read & execute" and possibly "write" permissions. To change these, you must access the security tab of the folder properties. This tab is only available under certain conditions. In a WinXP Pro system, you must undo (uncheck) "simple file sharing" on the view tab of folder options in the control panel. In a WinXP Home system, you must first restart in Safe mode, then logon as the default administrator. Once you've accessed this tab, add "read & execute" to the permissions of the limited user group.

3) Sometimes, this all works in just the opposite way. Sometimes, a user wants a program just for themselves. This is not unusual, as a parent may not want their child to have access to their Quicken software. A program that installs for everyone may need to be restricted. Sometimes, it is sufficient to simply "hide" the program from other users. Basically, it means reversing the steps discussed in section (1) and placing a copy of the shortcut file in just the profiles that need access to the program.

Doing this is fine, but does not actually prevent other users from having access to the program. If they were to drill down to the program's executable through Windows Explorer, they could simply double-click it and run the software. One way of restricting this access is to set permissions on the program folder to restrict access. This must be done from an Administrator account. You can read on how to do this here:

How To: Set, View, Change, or Remove file and folder permissions in Windows XP

There is also a Security Console developed by MVP Doug Knox, you will find it on the Windows XP Utilities section of This is particularly useful for a Windows XP Home installation, where the Group Policy Editor isn't available. It has the capability of allowing you to restrict the use of a given program, on a per user basis, without having to adjust the file system permissions.

4) Frequently Asked Questions and issues:

Q: Can I set up some sort of default account so that all the software automatically installs for everyone?

A: No, there is no way to accomplish this, as the installation is dependent upon the installer used by the program writer.

Q: How about antivirus software? Can this install for all users?

A: In general, yes. Most of these programs will need to be installed only once, and will run for all users.

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