Why Do You Have to Log In to Your Home PC, Anyway?

Windows 10's sign-in screen

Every time you turn on your computer, you have to choose a user account and sign in. That’s true on Windows, macOS, Linux, and even Chrome OS. Here’s why this is necessary for PCs but not iPhones, iPads, and Android.

They’re Designed for Multiple Users

Modern operating systems were designed for multiple users. Even if you only ever sign in to your Windows laptop with a single user account, Windows is built for more than that. This means that the same operating system works for a single person’s computer, a shared family PC, or an office workstation.

Different user accounts are continuously being used in the background. Most applications you use run with your user account’s security settings. Some run as Administrator, giving them full access to your system, and you have to agree to provide User Account Control (UAC) permission on Windows before launching those. Different background services and automated tasks run as different “user” accounts with different security settings.

Your password may be used for security in the background, too. For example, FileVault encryption is enabled by default on macOS. With this setting, your Mac’s files are encrypted until you enter your user account’s password. Without the password, you can’t “unlock” the disk and view the files. But FileVault doesn’t use a different password—it just uses your Mac’s regular password.

iOS and Android Have User Accounts, Too

Multiple user accounts on an Android phone

Apple’s iOS operating system and Google’s Android are different. They weren’t designed to be used by multiple people. First and foremost, they were built to run on a single person’s phone—or tablet. But, under the hood, both Apple’s iOS operating system and Google’s Android both use user accounts as well.

The process of booting and unlocking an iPhone, iPad, or Android device is similar to signing into a modern PC. You boot it up and have to enter a passcode before the device unlocks and becomes usable. The only difference is that you generally can’t select multiple user accounts when you boot up the device.

Those user accounts are sometimes visible. For example, iPads have a multi-user mode that can be used only by schools. Android offers multi-user support on both phones and tablets, although manufacturers like Samsung often remove this feature from their devices.

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