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Why don't installed programs show up for all users?

I just created a new user account on my computer. Why do some of
the programs not show up on the new account? Is there a way to get them to
appear? I tried reinstalling, but I got a message that the program was already

When you install a program, quite often one of the questions it will ask you
is whether you want to install for the current user only, or for all users.

In other words, exactly what you’re asking about.

The question is what if the setup doesn’t ask, or what if you selected “current
user only” … can you still use the software when signed into a different user account?

Unfortunately, it’s that all too common answer:


Let’s look at some of the possibilities.

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The difference between installing for all users and installing for the
current user only typically boils down to where the setup program places the shortcuts for
the program, where it places any directories or support files, and possibly where
within the registry it places program settings. It all depends on the specific
program being installed (hence the “maybe”), and some programs will have more
differences, and some will have fewer.

For example, if you take a look at “c:\documents and settings” on your Windows
XP installation, you’ll see at least two directories: one with your user name,
and one with the name “All Users”. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see a “Start Menu” item
beneath each of those. The start menu you see is the result of Windows displaying
the contents of both of those: the contents of “c:\documents and settings\all users\start menu”
and “c:\documents and settings\–your user name–\start menu” are merged and displayed
as the system start menu. So if a program’s shortcut appears in the “all users” portion,
then it’ll show up for everyone. If it’s only in one specific user name, then only that
user will see the shortcut. Similar, though not identical, concepts apply to the
registry and other items in within “documents and settings”.

The point of all that is that when a program is installed, it needs to decide
where to put its information: either in “all users”, or in a user specific section. Sometimes
it asks, sometimes it assumes, and sometimes it assumes wrong.

So, what to do? If you’re logged in as user “A”, and want to access
programs that are only visible to user “B”, here are some ideas to try:

  • Re-install the program, and, for programs that do so, select “All Users” when it asks whom to
    make the program available to. You might need to be logged in as administrator
    to make this work, and you might need to uninstall it first (after
    backing up any data you might need to preserve, of course).
  • Install the program as user “A”. Some setup programs are smart
    enough to realize that they’re already installed for another user, and will
    simply then add the appropriate settings for the current user.
  • Copy a shortcut from user “B”. For example, user “B” will probably
    have a shortcut to the program in their start menu:
    “c:\documents and settings\B\start menu\programs\application name\shortcut”.
    Copy that shortcut to an equivalant position in user A’s menu:
    “c:\documents and settings\A\start menu\programs\application name\shortcut”.
  • Manually add a shortcut to the program. This actually works in
    a surprising number of cases, mostly smaller programs and utilities. Locate the installed program (for example somewhere
    in “c:\program files” might be a directory for the application, and within
    that, the “.exe” that is the application), and create a shortcut to
    that program on your start menu.
  • Create another user, “C” and use that. Some programs simply cannot
    be used by multiple users. It’s infrequent, but it happens. So uninstall it
    (again, after preserving any data you need to save), and then create a third
    user that users “A” and “B” can share to use the program. Yes, it’s a pain,
    because they’ll have to log out, or switch users, in order to access the program.
    But it’s better than nothing. Sort of.

Unfortunately, these ideas will not work for all programs. For example, manually creating or copying a shortcut may bypass additional setup steps that some applications require.

The reason that there’s no blanket answer is that setting up an application can be
fairly complex, and it really is up to the
manufacturers of the specific applications to “do the right thing”.
Not only is “the right thing” subject to interpretation, many don’t
do it even when it is clear. So a final suggestion is, of course, to contact the
manufacturer of the package you’re having issues with and ask if they have
a recommended approach to the issue.

Do this

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12 comments on “Why don't installed programs show up for all users?”

  1. Try installing it once logged in as each user. If that doesn’t work, then you really have no recourse other than to talk to the manufacturer of the software.

  2. Leo,

    I’m a computer consultant and I was “cleaning” a computer infected with Viruses and Spyware. I inadvertantly deleted HKLM\Software\Microsoft\WindowsNT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\userinit.exe

    When I rebooted, I could not log in. The welcome screen appeared and when I clicked on the user name it would automatically log me out. At that point I realized I had made a mistake. I was able to find a MS Knowledge base article that helped me restore some default registry settings that eventually let me log back in. My problem is that now, all the programs that were installed like Norton A\V, Word Perfect, and a few others will not run and are not shown in the Add/Remove Programs list, although they are still in the C:\Program Files.

  3. To be honest, in your situation I would attempt a repair install of Windows. It’s hard to say at this point exactly what’s been corrupted given those symptoms. The repair may be the best alternative. Unfortunately, failing that, my next step would be a regular reinstall.

  4. dear sir :
    I have some programs that already installed on my computer and I do not have the software cd.
    I want copy the installed software ( windows xp )
    please help me immediately.

  5. Running XP Pro, downloaded Shock Wave player and Macromedia Flash player from admin profile. The Macromedia apps are not available to other users of the machine only to the admin. Even tried upgrading limited user to admin and then install. It worked as admin but when switched backed to limited or power user the app would not work. Please help. Thanks Paul

  6. I have used the “run as” admin option to install an application on a users computer. I selected the current user option and I now want to remove this application. The problem is the user does not have enough rights to remove the application and the application does not show up in add/remove programs while logged in as administrator.

  7. i in advertently put all users to “limeted”, and i cant change anything back. one thing i did do is make a .NET acount the admin. please save me from my stupidity

  8. At the moment I can’t seem to access some programs that I was able to access before. Don’t know what changed. I have an Admin account that works fine but the Limited account is having problems. Any solutions?


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