User Account Control (UAC) – quick update

There’s been a ton of interest in how we have improved user account control (UAC) and so we thought we’d offer a quick update for folks. We know most of you have discovered this and picked a setting that works for you, and we're happy with the feedback we've seen. This just goes into the details on the choice of defaults. --Steven

In an earlier blog post we discussed the why of UAC and its implications for Windows, the ecosystem, and our customers. We also talked about what we needed to do moving forward to address the data and feedback we’ve received. This blog post will provide additional detail on our response and what you can expect to see in the upcoming beta build in early 2009.

As mentioned in our previous post, and your comments supported this, the goals for UAC are good and important ones. User Account Control was created with the intention of putting you in control of your system, reducing cost of ownership over time, and improving the software ecosystem. It is important not to abandon these goals. Instead, we want to address feedback we’ve received and build on the telemetry we have using those to improve the overall experience without losing sight of the goals with which we agree.

For those of you using 6801 you have started to see the benefits of prompt reduction and our new and improved dialog designs. You also have seen our efforts to give the user greater control of their system – the new UAC Control Panel. The administrator now has more control over the level of notification received from UAC. Look for the UAC Control Panel to appear in Start Search, Action Center, Getting Started, and even directly from the UAC prompt itself. Of course, the familiar ways to access it from Vista are still present.

User Account Control control panel.

Figure 1: UAC Control Panel

The UAC Control Panel enables you to choose between four different settings:

  1. Always notify on every system change. This is Vista behavior – a UAC prompt will result when any system-level change is made (Windows settings, software installation, etc.)
  2. Notify me only when programs try to make changes to my computer. This setting does not prompt when you change Windows settings, such as control panel and administration tasks.
  3. Notify me only when programs try to make changes to my computer, without using the Secure Desktop. This is the same as #2, but the UAC prompt appears on the normal desktop instead of the Secure Desktop. While this is useful for certain video drivers which make the desktop switch slowly, note that the Secure Desktop is a barrier to software that might try to spoof your response.
  4. Never notify. This turns off UAC altogether.

We know from the feedback we’ve received that our customers are looking for a better balance of control versus the amount of notifications they see. As we mentioned in our last post we have a large number of admin (aka developer) customers looking for this balance, our data shows us that most machines (75%) run with a single account with full admin privileges.

Distribution of number of accounts per PC

Figure 2. Percentage of machines (server excluded) with one or more user accounts from January 2008 to June 2008.

For the in-box default, we are focusing on these customers, and we have chosen number 2, “Notify me only when programs try to make changes to my computer”. This setting does not prompt when you change Windows settings (control panels, etc.), but instead enables you to focus on administrative changes being requested by non-Windows applications (like installing new software). For people who want greater control in changing Windows settings frequently, without the additional notifications, this setting results in fewer overall prompts and enables customers to zero in on the key remaining notifications that they do see.

This default setting provides the right degree of change notification that a broad range of customers’ desire. At the same time we’ve made it easy and readily discoverable for the administrator to adjust the setting to provide more or fewer notifications via the new control panel (and policy). As with all of our default choices we will continue to closely monitor the feedback and data that come in through beta before finalizing for ship.

--UAC, Kernel, and Security program managers