Cohabitating with Computers

If you have more than one person using a computer, things can get a little bit frustrating when preferences, bookmarks, and software might be different between people and accounts. The standard way of dealing with this is to use Windows accounts to log in under your own account or ‘switch users’. I’m not a big fan of this approach because it can potentially leave a lot of stuff running in the background and the time to log out of one account and into another can be annoying. With that in mind, I came up with a few other tricks to let somebody have their own preferences without logging out.

Desktops from SysInternals

Though now at version 1.02, I’ve mentioned Desktops before as a way of keeping your workspace organized. Allowing Desktops to set the boundaries for workspaces is a good place to start for successfully sharing a computer/account.

Desktops allows you to create up to 3 additional virtual desktops for your computer. This only requires about 5 megabytes of memory for the process and allows you to keep your work spaces organized. You could have one desktop where you are browsing and a second for another person to work. As you can see in the screenshot above, you can configure hotkeys to switch easily between desktops and enable the program as a service so it starts up with your computer.

Unfortunately, Firefox has the same issues as having more than one session with Remote Desktop. You can open Firefox on more than one desktop if you use a different profile on each one otherwise you’ll get a message that the profile is in use. The next section will cover how to do that.

Mozilla Firefox Profiles

Firefox allows you to have multiple profiles under your account. You can create, delete, and select profiles using the Profile Manager. You can access it by going to Start, Run… and entering:
firefox.exe -profilemanager

This will bring up a window like that below. Profiles can be useful to separate out extensions or bookmarks. For example, I have a ‘dev’ profile for Firebug and other website development tools. They can also be used to keep bookmarks and addons separate for different people.

Instead of going through the Firefox Profile Manager each time, you can create a shortcut to automatically open a specific profile. Just create a shortcut with this target:
“C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe” -P “Jason”
(Replace Jason with the name of the desired profile.)

The profile specific shortcut is certainly a convenience, but if you have Firefox open with one profile and try to launch another, you’ll get an error message like:
Firefox is already running, but is not responding. To open a new window, you must first close the existing Firefox process, or restart your system.

To counter that problem, we need to amend the shortcut target with a -no-remote parameter to allow us to run more than one instance at a time:
“C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe” -P “Jason” -no-remote
(Again, replace Jason with the name of the desired profile.)

Remote Desktop

I run Remote Desktop on my home desktop and have certain software titles installed that my wife doesn’t have installed on her laptop. If I’m busy using the computer (typing up this blog article for example) then she can just remote desktop in, use the software, and not have to wait around for me to finish up or kick me off, making everybody happy. Due to technical limitations, this solution doesn’t work well unless the host computer is running a Windows Server operating system.

If you know any other tricks to getting along without letting technology get in the way, feel free to share them in the forum.

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