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Creating and managing user accounts in a GNOME 3 or Ubuntu desktop

Creating and managing user accounts on a Linux system is just as easy as on any other operating system. However, users new to Linux might not know the different account types on a Linux system.

And that is what this tutorial is all about. Very briefly, with screen shots to clarify, but detailed enough for a new user to get the whole picture, it describes the different user account types on a desktop using the GNOME 3 desktop environment, Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu-based distributions.

Like every task on a Linux system, creating and managing users can be done from the command line, or from a graphical interface. Because this tutorial is intended for new users, every task will be illustrated using the graphical interface.

On any GNOME 3 or Ubuntu desktop, the graphical application for creating and managing user accounts, is simply called User Accounts. You will find it in System Settings, the hub for most graphical management applications on such systems. This screen shot, from the lower section of System Settings, shows the utility in the bottom right corner.
GNOME 3 User Accounts Tool

And this is what the interface looks like. On a new system, only one user account is listed. That should be the one created during installation. In a distribution that does not make use of the traditional root account system, that user has root account privileges. That means that the user can perform any administrative task on the system. And you will find it listed as an Administrator account.
User Account Utility

An Administrator account is one of two user account types on a GNOME 3 or Ubuntu desktop, and you can create more than one Administrator account, all in the Administrators group. The other account type, is called the Standard account. A user logged in using a Standard account cannot perform system-wide administrative tasks unless the user has access to an Administrator account password. And that is the difference between an Administrator and a Standard account. You may create any number of each account type.

By default, the User Accounts tool is locked. To create a new account, it has to be unlocked, and you do that by clicking on the key icon on the upper right corner of the tool. You will be prompted to authenticate.
User Account Types

After authentication, this window will open. By default, the system will want to create the account as a Standard account. You can change it to an Administrator account by selecting that option from the “Account Type” dropdown menu. Complete the other account credentials, and click Create.
Create User Account

A newly created account does not have a password, and will be disabled. To specify a password, click on Account disabled.
Create User Account

From the Action dropdown menu of the window that opens, you may elect to set a password, or set the account to log in without a password (not recommended).
Set User Password

If you opt to specify a password. you also have the option to select from a set of random or system-generated passwords.
Set User Password Options

After the password has been set, the account is now usable. You may logout and log back in with it. You may also configure the account for automatic login, which would log you into the system without requesting authentication from you. While that is not recommended, there are situations when it could be useful.
Standard User  Account

On the login screen, the new account will be listed with other existing accounts on the system.
GNOME Login Screen

You typically create a Standard account for a user you do not want to grant administrative privileges. Though a Standard account user can see any tool on the system, if the tool requires authentication as an Administrator, then that user cannot use the tool unless you have given (s)he an Administrator account password.
Gksu Authentication

If there are more than one Administrator accounts on the system, they will be shown in a dropdown menu.
Multiple Administrator Accounts

A Standard account user attempting to authenticate with a non-Administrator password, will see this message.
Gksu Authentication Failure

And if the same user attempts to authenticate at the command line for a task that requires admin rights, (s)he will see this message.
Sudo Authentication Failure

That is about all you need to know about the different user account types on a GNOME 3 and Ubuntu desktop. Note that aside from the Administrator and Standard user accounts, Ubuntu also has the Guest Session. This is not a real user account, just a temporary session that allows a user who does not have an account to use the system. Any data generated while using the system with the Guest Session is lost after the session ends.

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