Microsoft made a few quiet but great changes to its kid-proofing SteadyState tool for Windows 7, changing the name to Guest Mode and trimming it into a dead-simple way to protect your PC from anyone's error-prone fingers.
Guest Mode isn't the same as the "Guest Account" sometimes enabled on your system. In early builds of Windows 7, it was dubbed PC Safeguard, but someone at Microsoft—probably not in the Windows Live division—caught on that it was a pretty wonky name, and sounded like circa-1999 boxed fakeware. Now it's just a feature of the User Accounts setup that an administrator can enable or disable, with one sub-option to control drive access.
In the simplest terms, Guest Mode takes a snapshot of how a PC was working before the kid, friend, coffeeshop customer, or whoever else is using the Guest Mode account logs on. That user can't do much to alter the system, and whatever they can do, like dropping files on the desktop, is discarded when they log off. In specifics, Paul Thurrott's SuperSite breaks down Guest Mode's features, and we'll thumbnail it further:
- Prevents system setting changes. Any attempts to change the system while running under a safeguarded account are prevented.
- Prevents the installation of applications and other software. Once you've enabled Guest Mode, it is impossible to install or permanently configure already installed software applications.
- Prevents the user from writing to the disk outside of their user profile.
- Data saved inside of the user profile is deleted when the user logs off.
Want to set up a bomb-proof space for your nephews or friends who don't quite respect an optimised system? Head to the Control Panel, then User Accounts and Family Safety, click User Accounts, choose Manage another account, then either create a new account, or select an existing one. Now hit Set up Guest Mode, and you'll get a basic on/off switch, with some explainers:
After turning on Guest Mode, you can head back to that "Set up Guest Mode" screen from the account manager and click the "Lock Drives (Advanced)" link just below the on/off options. The drive Windows 7 sits on is locked by default, but you can go further to prevent users from writing to any of your USB or other connected drives:
While Guest Mode didn't let me choose a removable USB drive to lock down, the user in Guest Mode can't really get at any of your crucial files, so it's probably safe to let them copy their own stuff on and off that thumb drive—assuming Guest Mode's installer/system protections hold steady.
If you're using the Windows 7 beta and want to enable Guest Mode now, however, take heed. Microsoft has issued a warning for the beta saying that doing any of the following while in Guest Mode could kill that account:
- Change any HomeGroup settings.
- Use CardSpace to create a personal InfoCard.
- Install Adobe Flash Player.
In addition, Windows® Media Centre will stop responding if you attempt to run it from an account in Guest Mode.
Let's assume (okay, and hope) that those bugs will get worked out before the final release. Otherwise, we're digging the streamlining of a pretty great tool for letting someone else onto your system without having to worry about how they're going to nuke your registry this time.