Windows Auto Sign On In Locked Mode

Earlier this week, after enduring yet another windows update, I came up with a feature request for Windows that would make me a much happier user.  We’ve all heard about requests for speeding up boot times and there has been some progress on this (and of course there are hardware solutions like SSDs that can help here).  What I’m looking for is related, but not quite the same.



I had just turned on my computer, after shutting it down at the end of the day and letting it install updates.  That took a few minutes, but not too bad, but then it wanted to finish installing 3 updates as it started up.  Ok, fine, so I went and did something else for a while.  Then I returned to find it was finally ready and I signed in, but of course then I had to wait for windows to come up, and then my usual auto-start programs to come up, and then my non-auto-start-but-I-manually-start-them-every-time programs to come up, and 10 minutes later my computer was finally at a point where I could compose an email.

Why must I repeatedly wait on my computer when what I really want is to be able to sign in as needed and immediately have the system in the state where I’m productive with it?

A gentle note to commenters: Please don’t tell me to just leave my system on and use Sleep/Hibernate to avoid this issue.  I do that.  Unfortunately, that isn’t an option when Windows Updates are involved, as my scenario above makes clear.  Thank you.


Request: Automatically Sign In (with Locked Screen)

I would love it if, when I turned on my computer, it automatically logged me into my account, auto-started all my startup programs, etc., but did so in the background behind the login screen (which in this case could be the “Locked” screen).  What I want is a boot-to-locked-account mode.  I want to go into an account and say “Automatically boot into this account (locked)” as a checkbox.  With this, I could let my computer start up and I can be doing other things and when I come back to it, it’s actually ready for me to use it, not just at another roadblock that requires my intervention and results in my having to wait again.

Microsoft of late has done a great job at removing needless UI intervention in various installers and combining installers into one (the Web Platform Installer is awesome this way, for example).  I’ve also suggested in the past they provide a way to automate installation of multiple applications from MSDN.  This would be another area in which they could make the task of starting up the computer less painful by requiring less user intervention.


Hacking It

There is a way you can do this today, but it’s not easy, is a hack, and introduces some security holes into your system.  Having been so warned that these instructions might cause your computer to explode or kill your kittens, the responsibility for your actions should you choose to follow them rests solely on your shoulders.

If you want automatic logon, you can follow these instructions which should fork for XP/Vista/7.  That gets you a system that logs into a particular user account automatically, but of course then anyone walking up to it can start using it.  If you want it to be locked, you can follow these instructions for locking windows from the command prompt and then run these from a .bat file in your Startup folder.  The Win2000 instructions should work fine on Win7.  That’s it.

Thanks to Brian Keller for the tip on how to get this to work currently.

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  • Steve Hiner

    I used this method for years on my home theater media server. I use Beyond TV on it and Beyond TV doesn’t run well as a service. If my system rebooted I needed to get the system logged in so my scheduled shows would record. It worked great.

  • Neil

    I did this but there is a period of about three seconds after Windows XP auto logs in that the desktop is visible before the .bat file runs and locks the computer. Is there a way to make those three seconds go away?

  • Anon

    Those 3 seconds are gone and you’re not going to get them back. In the future, you can make them go by quicker via a variety of techniques, excessive alcohol consumption being the most readily available and legal one in the US… 😉

  • Neil

    Thank you Anon for that.

    It is not losing three seconds that worries me, it is that in those three seconds damage can be done to my machine by a fast malicious user.

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