Sunday, April 1, 2012

Windows 7: Deleting Excess "User" Accounts

One day, while wandering through the forest of drive C, I came upon C:\Users, where I beheld more users than I had anticipated. We had Administrator, All Users, Default, Default User, Public, Ray, and Ray Woodcock.  Who were all these people?  And did I want to be associated with them?

Most of these weren't listed in Control Panel > User Accounts > Manage another account.  There, I saw only Ray and Guest.  (I had set myself to be Administrator.)  Guest wasn't listed in C:\Users, so there seemed to be some slippage here. Maybe Guest didn't actually exist yet; the button was there just so I could add a guest account when needed.  So were all these Users in C:\Users real?  Could I delete any of them?

This appeared not to be exactly the same as deleting an account that would appear in User Accounts.  Here in C:\Users, I was dealing with folders that looked like they were tied in with other things.  In other words, it seemed that it could be a bad idea to delete the wrong account.  I ran a search, seeking guidance, but even Microsoft seemed pretty blasé about the prospect:  "If you have a user account on your computer that is not being used, you can permanently remove it by deleting it."  Period.  Just do it.  There were different steps, they said, according to whether the computer was on a workgroup or a domain.  Their procedure for making that determination was (in my translation) to go to Start > Run > SystemPropertiesAdvanced.exe > Computer Name tab.  (Soon, I would run into stories of grief from those who had actually proceeded to wipe out their C:\Users subfolders willy-nilly.)

Back in C:\Users, I went into the Administrator folder.  The only thing there was a subfolder called Application Data\ImgBurn\Log Files.  Well.  Could I set ImgBurn to put its log files somewhere else?  It seemed I could.  The relevant settings were in ImgBurn > Tools > Settings > File Locations tab.  There were actually four different folders that I needed to create elsewhere, in order to completely eliminate ImgBurn's need for C:\Users\Administrator.  I saved the ImgBurn Settings.ini file so that I wouldn't have to do this again after some future installation.  Then I deleted that folder.

Next, I went into C:\Users\Ray Woodcock.  This one had evidently been created by Microsoft Office, for the use of Outlook.  But I wasn't using Outlook.  So I just deleted C:\Users\Ray Woodcock.

The list was getting shorter, but now the sledding was tougher.  I wasn't going to delete the Ray account.  Two of the four others -- All Users and Default User -- had padlock icons, suggesting that Windows would rather keep them.  All four also had lots of subfolders.  It appeared they might not meet the Microsoft qualification:  IF the account is not being used.  These accounts were not being used by me, directly.  But it appeared that someone was using them.

I tried a search for the Public account.  I ran pretty quickly into advice not to delete that folder, and a cry for help from someone who had done so.  End of story on that.

Well, how about the (padlocked) All Users folder?  For that, a search yielded the information that C:\Users\All Users was just a symbolic link to C:\ProgramData.  I attempted to check this.  Yes, both folders did seem to contain the same subfolders, apparently used by a variety of programs:  Adobe, Apple, Skype, etc.  The status bar at the bottom of Windows Explorer said there were 26 items in each.  It seemed that the All Users folder was there for backward compatibility with programs that would look for it instead of for C:\ProgramData.  In short, I could make things difficult by deleting it, and it seemed that deleting it wouldn't actually have anything to do with any real accounts.

This left me with the Default and Default User folders in C:\Users.  I didn't understand the difference between these two, so I ran a search.  MrBruce1959 said that Default was a system folder, not to be toyed with, whereas Default User was supposed to be the initial or default account for the person who would be using the computer.  In that case, I didn't understand why Windows created a separate Ray account (my choice of name, their choice of folder) instead of renaming Default User to be Ray when I was first setting up the system.  Why leave a superfluous Default User folder after the real default user has made an appearance? 

I tried a different searchSomeone passed along the rumor that I could just go ahead and delete the Default User folder.  Another post spoke blithely of deleting the Default User folder (actually, they said "profile," not folder) with a script, so as to replace it with a preconfigured Default User replacement.  That one was followed (at the bottom of the Experts Exchange page) with an extended discussion of programming technique, so apparently it was OK in principle to delete the folder, at least if a look-alike then took its place.  A post in another thread said that Default User was the one from which other user profiles were built.  I didn't plan on letting anyone else into my world, so I felt I could do without it for that purpose.

I decided to zip the Default User folder, delete it, and save the ZIP for future reference.  Before doing this, I made a System Restore backup (Start > Run > SystemPropertiesProtection.exe).  Also, since System Restore had been flaky sometimes in the past, I made an Acronis drive image.  I gave this some time, to see whether it would have adverse effects.  A couple of days later, the system seemed to be running OK.  The removal of the Default User folder did not seem to have any immediate or obvious negative effects.



Several weeks later -- still no adverse effects attributable to any of these removals.