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I was prompted to ask this because of following question: Why does the majority of people in the Windows world still appear to not get that working as admin is plain stupid?

We all know, deep down, that running as admin is foolhardy, but what can we do to soften the pain (maybe pain is overstating it).

I'll admit I haven't tried running without admin rights yet, but if I knew of a few things to try if applications broke I'd be more inclined to have a go.

There was some suggestion in the above question that it wouldn't take much to do:

...even then 99% of the misbehaving apps could be made to work without admin rights within no more than 10 minutes. – Oliver Giesen Jul 20 at 15:28

So, what things can we do or use to coax admin-rights-loving apps into life? Are there any particular apps that just refuse point-blank? I'd be grateful to hear any specific examples and experiences.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

For applications that downright refuse to run the Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit might help which enables you to define fixes for individual applications. This includes the whole range of shims the current compat database already uses for (on Vista) around 5000 applications. I managed to get one program to work with that but it was more like poking around in the dark instead of a foolproof method.

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A brief look at this suggests it being quite time consuming. Am I right in thinking the Standard User Analyzer (included in the ACT) looks like it would be most relevant to establishing an apps objections? –  Umber Ferrule Aug 7 '09 at 13:58
    
It's a good start, usually, yes. But apparently doesn't catch all causes. In the one instance where I got a program to run with the ACT I mainly tried random shims but I didn't get much help from anywhere what could be a real solution, sadly. –  Joey Aug 7 '09 at 14:17

The second most committed sin is apps that write to the LOCAL_MACHINE section of the Windows registry. Any app can read here, but to write here needs admin privileges. Apps should only save their user settings to the CURRENT_USER section of the registry, as a normal user can write here.

If it's writing its own configuration data to LOCAL_MACHINE then it's probably doing it under an entry with it (or it's company's) name under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\*AppName*

To fix this you can right-click the registry key (folder) with the software's name and select security, and then assign permissions to your user account, or the Everyone account.

For troubleshooting problems with apps running as a standard user Sysinternals (now Microsoft) Process Monitor is invaluable, it's an incredibly powerful tool and lets you monitor absolutely everything that's happening on your PC. A tutorial on using it won't fit here, but you'd want to set a filter for the app you're interested on and then filter on permission and access errors.

Edited to correct Process Monitor/Process Explorer confusion

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I think you mean Process Monitor -- technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb896645.aspx –  Kevin Panko Sep 11 '09 at 15:50
    
You're absolutely right, don't know what happened there, can only blame a transport error between brain and keyboard! –  GAThrawn Sep 11 '09 at 22:50

The "sin" committed most often that requires an app run as admin is when the app wants write permissions to it's Program Files folder. Write access is turned off in that folder for standard users by default.

You can enable this on a case by case basis with a relatively simple change — just right-click on the folder, choose Properties, and then under the Security tab click on the Everyone account and check the box to give it write permissions. But of course that change also requires admin privileges (and the ntfs file system).

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As a side note: Starcraft does this (either with the install or in a later patch) and whiel a temporary solution on the user side this is probably entirely not how applications should handle this :-) –  Joey Aug 7 '09 at 13:12
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Definitely: the best thing is to write the application to play by the rules in the first place. But given application binaries that break the rule, this is a better fix than always running as admin for everything. –  Joel Coehoorn Aug 7 '09 at 13:31

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