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Is there a difference between an "Administrator" and a "person with an admin account"?

Is there a difference between an "Administrator" and a "person with an admin account"?

  • Comments 24

Yuhong Bao pointed me to his blog post (about Raymond's post "The admin is an idiot") which referenced this snippet from an Apple Style Guide:

To maintain the distinction between professional administrators and
Mac OS X users with administrator accounts, avoid using the noun
administrator by itself to describe a person who has an administrator
account in Mac OS X. Instead, say an admin user or a user with an
administrator account-typically, the owner (or owners) of a particular 
Macintosh computer.

Yuhong's comment was that maybe we need to differentiate the professional administrator from someone who happens to be running as an admin.

I'm not sure that there's any meaningful difference, unfortunately, except for the fact that the professional administrator hopefully has more training (this is not always guaranteed unfortunately).

Except in certain environments (mostly large corporations), the idea of a professional administrator is essentially gone.  Back before my mom retired, she ran a number of professional organizations (the last of which was the Society of Women Engineers).  All of these organizations had relatively small offices - essentially your typical small business.  There were a half a dozen full time employees, and they didn't have the budget to have an administrator.  Instead they contracted out with a company to setup and troubleshoot their email servers (which sat in a storage room in the office).  They treated the systems as same way they treated the HVAC - the box sat there in the corner doing its thing, and (just like the HVAC system), they called in the professionals when it broke (and paid about the same obscene hourly rate as they would for the HVAC repair).  But for the half dozen or so computers in the office, the various people working there managed them themselves.

Raymond's right - these days users are expected to perform all of the tasks that were normally associated with a professional administrator.  The professional administrator (or BOFH if you'd rather) of many machines is the 12 year old kid that lives next door (or the person who rides at your barn whose husband happens to have worked at Microsoft for a long time :)).

For consumer operating systems, there is no meaningful distinction between a professional administrator and a user with admin rights.

I believe that the Apple style guide quote is an attempt to make this clear - when you use the word "Administrator", it implies that the comment applies only to professional administrators, and not your riding instructor, when in fact it does apply to her, she just doesn't know it.

  • I would wholeheartedly agree that there should be a distinction.  Especially considering up until Vista, by default everyone was an Administrator if you define "Administrator" as someone running as admin.  A message appearing in XP Home Edition saying "Contact an administrator" basically means the user.  If they're not a professional administrator they don't know *they are* the administrator; so a distinction needs to be made.

    Besides, if a home user pays someone to manage some of the IT tasks for the computer (like removing virii) then "and administrator might mean something to them, and it's not the person who happens to have admin rights.

  • Unices suffer from the same sorts of problems.  Though the steps are different, you still end up with some of the same catch-22 scenarios.  I like the steps recent MS offerings have taken to remove the need to run as Administrator all the time, but maybe a Windows version of chroot is the way to go.

    I don't think we'll ever solve this problem till there's a compelling Web based OS used for internet transactions (i.e. web browsing, listening to music subscription services, etc.)

  • I'd almost be willing to go further and propose that we simply ban the word administrator unless we're talking about things like the Active Directory or Exchange - in other words server products that really SHOULD be managed by a professional.

  • You see, someone who have an admin account on a home computer often is an owner of the computer that is often just like the average user, while someone who have an admin account on a business computer usually have an admin job.

  • BTW, UAC and sudo uses the same idea, at least.

  • I have an admin account on my business computer, but I don't have an "admin job".  For some businesses, it makes sense for the users of a computer to be different from the administrators of that computer (for instance the doctors at my HMO have absolutely no need to be administrators of the tablet PCs that they use for patient record management).   But that's not always the case for many businesses.

  • That is why I said "usually". Hopefully these admins are not average users.

  • In the end, I abandoned the idea for Windows in general, since it is also used in businesses with real admins, but for Windows Home Server were not designed for use in such cases. It was designed for homes in which the "admins" are owners that are just like the average user, so why not do so for that?

  • In other word, maybe we want to ban the word "administrator" for Windows Home Server.

  • The account name "Administrator" came from the day when Windows NT computers WERE often managed by real admins, BTW.

  • "the professional administrator hopefully has more training"

    That was exactly my point. I mean, most of the "admins" on home computers are an average user who owns the PC.

  • BTW, any cases where average users got employed as admins? I bet they were the exception and not the rule. BTW, in the NT vs NetWare war, one of the points were that NT was easier to admin.

  • I was annoyed by so many people talking how using computers is hard and how it should be easier.

    My response is:

    1. If it is hard don't do it. Nobody is holding you at a gun-point.

    2. Driving a car is hard too, but you still have to pass the exam and learn how to do it properly or you face the similar (albeit much more dangerous) risk as if you are using the computer without understanding what you are doing.

    3. If you need to use it just like you need to drive a car and you don't want to do the maintainance work, then PAY someone to do it for you just like you are paying the mechanic to maintain your car.

  • I posted an update to my blog post.

  • Update to my blog entry on this issue.

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