How do I get my whole family working on one Mac?

One family and one Mac
Working together on one computer has its advantages:
- you only have to buy one computer
- everyone has his own home folder with his own files
- everyone has is own program settings, Email, music files, movies et-cetera
- those files are separate, so no issues with altered or missing files
- of course you can share files also
- parents can control the computer behavior of their children

Resume: when you log on, the Mac is adapted to your needs. When your fiancée logs on, the Mac fits hers/his.

The structure of MacOS
You might nog have noticed, but your hard disk contains a structure, a hierarchy. You won't notice in case you're the only user, but in case you start to work with multiple users, its important to know about.

The reason for this hierarchy under the hood is the origin of Mac OS. It's based on the UNIX system. This operating system is made for multiple users sinds it was first developed in 1969. By letting users work in their own corner, you prevent them from tampering with the operating system itself. This creates more stability and security.

Two areas
There are two seperate areas on your hard drive.
a. An area with the central System Programs and Libraries, Sofware and System files.
This is the System part and its on the first level of your hard drive.
b. Your own corner with your own files and data, the so-called User-folder. Recognizable by the house icon and your Account Name. This part is suited in the Users folder.

The reason for this, is the underlying structure of MacOS. This structure is based on the UNIX system. This operating system was first created in 1969. It was designed to be used by multiple users. By letting users work in their own corner, you prevent working in the operating system itself. This makes that stability and security are on a high level.

How does this work?
In a schematic way, when we color it, it looks like this:

NOTE: The sharing of files between users goes through a folder called "Shared".

How does this look in reality?
Go in Finder to the Go menu and select 'Computer':

Now you can see the structure of Mac OS very well. Here the System part is colored red and the User part is in blue:

Macintosh HD is the name of the hard disk. On this disk there are four folders:
Applications: all the programs on your Mac, including Utilities
Library: in this there's information that Mac OS uses.
System: all the system files Mac OS uses are to be found in here.
Users: here's the folder with all the users of the Mac

Never throw away or rename any of these folders!

The User folder
Here you can see 3 folders. One is called 'Shared'. This one is always there. Then you see the folders of all the individual users of the Mac. In this case:
and 'macosxtutorial'.

NOTE: you can see which user is logged on by the house icon in front of the user name.

About the Users folder

So in this folder you can find all the Users the Mac has. In case you are the only one using the Mac, there will be only one folder with your account name "Me", plus the Shared folder. However, you won't see a thing of this structure.

Keep other peoples noses out of your folders
The fact that the Mac can work with multiple users, has to indicate that those users can work privately.
In this case, I'm logged in as macosxtutorial and the other user's name is 'macmiep' and I am not allowed to peek in her folders:

Users and their privileges
In a multi user system, it is wise to determine what users can and cannot do on the computer. Who is allowed to change critical system preferences, use certain programs, and look into certain folders? So there are two kinds of users.

The user called 'Administrator'
This user has the right to change all System Preferences, make new user accounts and use all programs. The lock symbol you can see in the lower left of most System Preferences give the Admin the opportunity to protect these preferences against unauthorized changes. Is the lock closed (click on it to close or open it) an administrator user name and password has to be provided before any changes can be made:

NOTE: in case you are the only user on the Mac, you'll be the Admin too.

The user called 'User'
The User is allowed to work with the Mac and do anything the Administrator has allowed him to do, in any detail. This can be useful with young children. If you want to allow them to play games but not to go on the Internet or Email, it can be done easily.

How do I know what I'm allowed to do on my Mac?

When you start up a forbidden program, the Mac will tell you that you do not have the privileges to do so and won't start up the program. Folders that are forbidden have a 'wrong way' road sign on them.
This is also the case when your Administrator determined which hours you are allowed to use the computer.
These settings can all be adjusted in Parental Controls. I'll explain in a moment.

To add a new user.
Go to System Preferences and choose 'Users & Groups'. Hit the '+' button to create a new User:

Choose a new Account name and a password.

Chose at New Account what kind of account you want it to become:
Administrator = the 'boss' on the Mac with special privileges
Standard = usual user
Managed with Parental Controls = also a usual user, but with special limits
Sharing only = special anonymous account for guests

In this case, I make an account for my ten year old male cat Tippy. I think he should be 'Managed with Parental Controls':

And there's Tippy's new account:

NOTE: how to put a nice picture on an account you'll read later on as a TIP.

Parental Controls
You can allow or disallow what things your Parental controlled user can do. Also all actions will be recorded in a log file. As an Administrator, you can find exactly what the kids do on the Mac....

Possibilities of Parental Controls
What programs are allowed?

What websites can be visited?

With who can be emailed, gamed or chatted ?

What time of day and how long can the computer be used?

Do you want them to see dirty language?

Log files
You can also keep logs of all activities:

Switching from one user account to another
It is possible to be logged on with more users at a time. To switch from one user to another, go to the upper right corner of your screen and click on your username (here: Tippy the Cat).

This user's password will be asked:

Keep on working

You can switch back and forth with users without changing anything. All open files and programs stay open. It's like there are two computers at work on only one screen.

Fast user switching menu

Go to System Preferences => Users & Groups at Login Options.
Click the Show fast user switching menu.

Logging Out
You can also choose to Log Out and log on again as a different user:

The log in screen:

Removing Users
In System Preferences => Users & Groups you can remove users. This can only be done when logged in as the Admin account. The account that's about to be removed can't be logged on. Select the account name and click the - minus symbol.

Removing a user account isn't always that easy
The Administrator account - if it's the only one - can't be removed this way.
First, make a new Admin account, log on to it and then you can remove the old Admin account.

Guest User

You can allow Guests to temporarily use your Mac. Temporarily means that their work can't be saved and all traces of using the Mac will be removed at logging out. Turn the Guest User on at 'Guest User'.

A Guest User will appear at the log on screen (no password needed):

NOTE: After a Guest logs out, all his data will be lost!

Your own picture at login
In System Preferences=> Users & Groups click on the little triangle just in the lower right of the picture.
A little pop up menu will appear. You can choose a nice picture from the default collection, but also your own. Choose 'Recent' and then Drag and Drop your favorite pic.

Adjust the picture to your liking:

And there Tippie has his own portrait as an user icon:

NOTE: At the 'Camera' section, the internal webcam will be activated, so you can take a picture too.

Disclaimer: MacMiep is independent. This means she writes what she wants, based on 20+ years of Mac-experience. She doesn't get paid for stories (positive or negative) on this website.