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How do I install programs if I'm not the administrator of the computer?

I’m trying to run in a “safe” limited user account, but I often find that I
need to install something – which I can’t. Is there a way I can install
software on my machine without having to be the administrator?

This can be a very frustrating situation, I know. I have machines
where the primary account is an administrator simply because of the frequent
irritation of application updates and installations that require it.

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I will cut to the chase and say that if an application you’re attempting to
install is failing because you’re not the administrator your only recourse is
to login as the administrator. Or perhaps not install the application at
all.

In other words, you’re basically screwed.

The big variable is the program that you’re attempting to install. They fall
into three buckets:

“… if an application you’re attempting to install is
failing because you’re not the administrator your only recourse is to login as
the administrator.”
  • Programs that don’t need administrative access and don’t ask for it. They
    just install or update happily as needed.

  • Programs that do need administrative access. I at least understand these
    programs. Perhaps they’re installing or updating device drivers, secure areas
    of the system or registry, or who knows what. Basically the whole point of
    running as a limited user is to prevent this kind of access by accident. It
    makes sense that they would be blocked and warrant the extra scrutiny of
    someone who would login as administrator.

  • Programs that don’t need administrative access and ask for it
    anyway. Why, for example, do I have to be administrator to update MSN Instant
    Messenger? This is the frustrating bucket.

One clarification: even though I’ve said program’s “ask” for administrative
access, under Windows XP, at least that’s really just a simplification. Most
just try to do something administrative in nature, and that either works or
fails if the user isn’t logged in as administrator.

Now there’s a very strong argument that installing any software
should be totally restricted to administrators. I’d even go along with that if
it weren’t so darned impractical under XP. It seems every day or so something
wants to update, requiring that the user logout from their limited user account
and login as administrator. (Or wait until the person with administrative
access can do so.)

The good news is that I believe that there’s hope on the horizon.

Much like Linux and the Mac, rather than forcing you to log out and log in
as administrator, Windows Vista will prompt you for the Administrative password
if administrative access is needed. Yes, you still need to know that password,
so it’s not a free ticket for the kids to install something that mom or dad have
hopefully protected the computer against. But it is a step in the right
direction to both secure the system while minimizing the inconvenience.

I know that this “feature” of Vista tends to pop up a little too often for
some people, but when it comes to installing software, the approach makes sense
to me.

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19 comments on “How do I install programs if I'm not the administrator of the computer?”

  1. I don’t agree with your “frustrating bucket” point. The whole purpose of limited accounts is to restrict access which in general isn’t needed (such as writing to system directories like C:\Program Files). Updating MSN Messenger naturally needs to change these files so needs to have write access to that folder.

    Admittedly the Windows XP implementation is very poor because you can’t log in as an administrator temporarily within your session.

    Now what is frustrating is poorly written programs that need administrator access when they shouldn’t really need it at all. That just stems from the fact that traditionally every user is an administrator. I very poor policy on Windows’ part.

    Reply
  2. No need to download a “runas” program. Simply right-click the program’s icon and select the “run as” choice. I do this all the time on my kids’ computers, where the younger ones use a “restricted” account.

    If it’s on an auto-run CD, you need to go to “my computer”, right-click the drive’s icon and select “open” (rather than “autorun”), and examine the “autorun.inf” file to see which program to run.

    Reply
  3. Ken: when you right-click the program and select “run as…”, the resulting dialogue calls the runas.exe program that I refer to in my post; that’s how it works. Of course there’s no need to download it; it’s been a part of Windows since Windows 2000.

    Reply
  4. I agree with Ken and Simon regarding exe’s but when the program is a .msi install file you won’nt find the runas option when u right click on the icon.No problem write the runas command to start a command prompt(cmd.exe) remember the command prompt with admin previleges is a powerful tool its true that this command line cannot do a list of simle things.Ok this is the command >runas /env /user:administrator “cmd.exe” if you are in a domain and need domain admin previleges then the command >runas /env /user:mydomain\administrator “cmd.exe” These will open a command line with admin previleges then simply navigate to the .msi file and type >msiexec /i myapplication.msi .That’s it its very simple!.Always remember that it is a good practice to use the machine with a restricted user previlege account to avoid attacks from viruses,hackers,malware… .etc.Read this article for more information.It also provides you a solution as to how you should run programs that need an administrator previlege. http://www.microsoft.com/resources/documentation/windows/xp/all/proddocs/en-us/windows_security_whynot_admin.mspx?mfr=true

    Reply
  5. I have to tell you, I once tried running in a limited account but it turned out to be more of a hassle than it was worth, I feel if you use due diligence handling downloads(like scanning every file multiple times before trusting it), you’ve covered your ass pretty good. It seems to me that for a home user to run a limited account is abit paranoid, I don’t think I’ve ever installed a program w/o knowing it…lol

    Reply
  6. I am a developer that has always used a limited account for everything I don’t need Administrator privileges for. I prefer to use the Administrator account to install software since I hope that the software will install for “All Users”.

    Reply
  7. If say one day I log into my windows XP Packg.II,
    And I TRY to change my mothers Picture Icon, & Her desktop to another picture; Something she can’t do for herself, I am the ‘ADMINISTRATOR’, BUT……..I have NO IDEA HOW I got this ‘Frustrating ADMINISTRATOR’ Thing Opened in the first place?! HOW Can I Remove Myself as the ADMINISTRATOR?? Please. It’s driving me, and Mother CRAZY!!
    Thanks,
    Kelly S.S.

    Reply
  8. Its no great shakes in XP to simply switch user and and log in as Administrator to instal the MSI (as I did two minutes ago), log out of Administrator and back to your regular user account.

    In answer to Kelly SS, set yourself up as a Poweruser and leave the Administrator account hidden.

    Reply
  9. I am the only user on this *)#@ Vista machine, and when running certain programs I get the message “Need Administrator Privileges”. I AM The administrator and there is only one user account, mine! How do I get around this ?

    Reply
  10. This post is not helpful to those who searching for a solution to install a program without administrator privilages. please look for something else.

    Sorry you feel that way, but if a program requires administrative access to install, it requires administrative access to install. If you don’t have administrative access you can’t install it. Complain to the provider of the program.

    – Leo
    20-May-2009
    Reply
  11. Yes you can use applications without adminsistrator access

    Well there are some simple basic things to know. Earlier it was not possible to acheive this but with the advancement in technology now you can use your favourite applications on any computer in the world. you just need to have internet connection and a user account in that PC(only windows)

    Okay coming to the solution of the problem, you can use portable versions of the software that you want to use on the internet and if they are not available you can create your own portable applications and host them for free on internet and which can be accessed by anyone in the world anywhere. Just read my how to do this post at http://abtevrythng.blogspot.com/2009/11/creating-web-hosted-portable.html

    Reply
  12. I use runas and if i want to enter the administrator account with password automatically i use this tool
    http://www.robotronic.de/runasspcEn.html
    But sure.
    1) you need the administrator account with password to install an application
    2) normaly an application should be run with standard rights. But some applications cannot run without administrator rights. So i use runasspc

    Reply
  13. Well I installed as an administrator but somehow cannot use the same as a limited user; it keeps requesting for installation. How do I do this now?

    Reply

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