Introduction

Computers have been categorized by a variety of user accounts for years, with Windows systems being no exception. Having different types of accounts makes computer management easier for administrators and basic computer users because it is unlikely that all computers with an organization should have the same access and privilege rights. 

Likewise, not all organizations are the same in terms of size, scope and purpose. A “one-size-fits-all” approach may work for baseball caps, but not for user account needs. 

This article will detail the two most popular user accounts in Windows 10, domain and workgroup accounts. We will explore what domain accounts are, what workgroup accounts are and when you should choose each of these accounts.

What are domain accounts?

Domain accounts are likely the type of account you are thinking of when you think of those used in organizations and enterprise in general. In fact, domain accounts were designed for the purpose of managing networks and resources on workplace networks. This type of account is the most tightly controlled of all Windows 10 accounts and is managed by a network administrator.

Characteristics of domain accounts in Windows 10

This type of account has been around for years in earlier versions of Windows, and although some slight changes have been made in Windows 10, the basics of the domain account remain the same. Domain accounts are controlled by servers, also known as domain controllers (DC). Network admins use DCs to manage security and permissions for all computers in the domain. 

To be a domain account, an Active Directory account must be created for the domain account. Active Directory is hosted on a local server, normally one of the domain controllers. Windows 10 has added a new option for active directory — Azure Active Directory. With Azure Active Directory, credentials are managed in the cloud instead of a local server. 

To be on a domain, a computer needs to join the domain. This can easily be performed by first navigating to Control Panel → All Control Panel Items → System, which will bring you to the basic information about your computer. Scroll halfway down the window and you will see “Computer name, domain, and workgroup settings.” Click on “Change settings”; within the tab “Computer name,” click Change. Click on the radio button next to Domain, specify your domain and click “OK.” Your computer is now on a domain.

Please note that like in previous versions of Windows, Windows 10 home computers cannot be joined to a domain and are in a workgroup by default.

There are six common characteristics of a domain account:

  • Domain accounts need an account to log into a computer joined to the domain
  • Domain controllers manage computers on the domain
  • There can be potentially thousands of computers joined to a domain
  • Computers on a domain can be on different local networks
  • Domain accounts can log into any of the other computers on the domain by using their domain login credentials
  • Only limited changes can be made by the domain account user — the bigger, important changes need to be made by the administrator

What are workgroup accounts?

Workgroup accounts are the default account for Windows 10 computers and belong to the most basic of network infrastructures. This means that unless you join a domain (or a homegroup), your account will remain in a workgroup. 

Unlike domains, workgroups are not managed by a domain controller server. Rather, no computers in the workgroup have control over the others. 

This type of account is suitable for home, small business, and clusters of computers that reside on the same local area network (LAN). The biggest benefit for the user with workgroup accounts is that users can make changes with local group policy that would be impossible in a domain without administrator credentials. 

Common characteristics of workgroup accounts in Windows 10

  • No computers in the workgroup has control over any other computer; rather, they are peer computers
  • Each computer in the workgroup has multiple accounts associated with it. Each workgroup account can only log into the workgroup computer it belongs to
  • Workgroup accounts are not password-protected
  • Computers in a workgroup must all be on the same LAN or subnet
  • The number of computers in a workgroup is far smaller than in a domain. This breaks down to an average of 20 computers for a workgroup

Which account type should you choose?

Domain and workgroup accounts are different accounts, but they both have their own distinct uses. Domain accounts should be set up when an organization is larger than 20 computers (just as a sort of numbers benchmark), with resources large enough to have at least one domain controller server (or cloud-based). 

This account type is best suited to organizations where users have different privilege levels and where there is a need for at least some control of network resources. If your organization is an enterprise, school or other large organization, this is the account for you.

Workgroup accounts are best suited to home computers, small networks where all users have the same privileges, and for networks that do not have a domain controller server. The easiest part about the workgroup account is that you do not have to join it — you are part of the workgroup club right out of the box. 

Conclusion

Windows 10 systems offer different accounts which are intended for different situations. Domain accounts are used by organizations with large networks that have users with different levels of privileges and access rights where control is centralized by a domain controller. Workgroup accounts are intended for small networks on a single LAN or subnet and offer its users greater control over their computer. 

The account you choose should be based upon your needs and your organization’s needs.

 

Sources

  1. Windows 10 setup: Which user account type should you choose?, ZDNet
  2. Using Workgroups in Computer Networking, Lifewire
  3. What is a Windows Domain and How Does it Affect My PC?, How-To Geek

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