Windows 8.1′s Assigned Access feature allows you to easily lock a Windows PC to a single application, such as a web browser. This feature makes it easy for anyone to configure Windows 8.1 devices as point-of-sale or other kiosk systems.
In the past, setting up a Windows PC in kiosk mode involved much more work, requiring the use of third-party software, group policy, or Linux distributions designed around kiosk mode.
Assigned Access is available on Windows 8.1 RT, Windows 8.1 Professional, and Windows 8.1 Enterprise. The standard edition of Windows 8.1 doesn’t support Assigned Access.
Create a User Account for Assigned Access
Rather than turn your entire computer into a locked-down kiosk system, Assigned Access allows you to create a separate user account that can only launch a single app — such as a web browser. To set this up, you must be logged into Windows as a user with administrator permissions.
First, open the PC settings app — swipe in from the right or press Windows Key + C to open the charms bar, tap Settings, and tap Change PC settings.
In the PC settings app, select Accounts and select Other accounts. Use the Add an account button to create a new Windows account.
Select the “Sign in without a Microsoft account” option and select Local account to create a local user account. You could also create a Microsoft account, but you may not want to do this if you just want a locked-down account with only browser access.
If you need to install apps from the Windows Store to use in Assigned Access mode, you’ll have to set up a Microsoft account instead of a local account. A local account will still allow you access to the preinstalled apps, such as Internet Explorer.
You may want to create a user account with a blank password. This would make it simple for anyone to access kiosk mode, even if the system becomes locked or needs to be rebooted.
The account will be created as a standard user account with limited permissions. Leave it as a standard user account — don’t make it an administrator account.
Set Up Assigned Access
Once you’ve created an account, you’ll first need to sign into it. If you don’t, you’ll see a “This account has no apps” message when trying to enable Assigned Access. Go back to the welcome screen, log in to the new account you created, and allow Windows to go through the first-time account setup process. If you want to use a non-default app in kiosk mode, install it while logged in as that user account.
Once you’re done, log out of the other account, log back in as your administrator account, and go back to the Other accounts screen. Click the Set up an account for assigned access option to continue.
Select the user account you created and select the app you want to limit the account to. For a web-based kiosk, this can be a web browser such as the Modern version of Internet Explorer. Businesses can also create their own Modern apps and set them to run in kiosk mode in this way.
Note that Microsoft’s documentation says “web browsers are not good choices for assigned access” because they require more permissions than average Modern (or “Windows Store”) apps. However, if you want to provide a kiosk for web-browsing, using Assigned Access is a much better option than using Guest Mode and offering up a full Windows desktop.
When you’re done, restart your PC and log in as the Assigned Access account. Windows will automatically open the app you chose and won’t allow a user to leave that app. Standard Windows 8 features like the charms bar, app switcher, and Start screen won’t appear. Pressing the Windows key once will do nothing.
To sign out of Assigned Access mode, press the Windows key five times — quickly — while signed in. You’ll be sent back to the standard login screen. The account will actually still be logged in and the app will remain running — this method just “locks” the screen and allows another user to log in.
Automatically Log Into Assigned Access
Whenever your Windows device boots, you can log into the Assigned Access account and turn it into a kiosk system. While this isn’t ideal for all kiosk systems, you may want the device to automatically launch the specific app when it boots without requiring any login process.
To do so, you’ll just need to have Windows automatically log into the Assigned Access account when it boots. This option is hidden and not available in the standard Control Panel. You’ll need to use the hidden netplwiz Control Panel tool to set up automatic login on boot.
If you didn’t create a password for the user account, leave the Password field empty while configuring this.
If you’re using this feature to turn a Windows 8.1 system into a kiosk and leaving it open to the public, remember to consider security. Anyone could come up to the system, press the Windows key five times, and try to log into your standard administrator user account. Ensure the administrator user account has a strong password so people won’t be able to get past the kiosk system’s limitations and tamper with the system.
Even Windows 8′s detractors have to admit that it’s an ideal system for a touch-screen kiosk device, running either a browser or another specific application. Assigned Access finally makes this easy to set up on Windows systems in the real world — no IT experience, third-party software, or Linux distributions necessary.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 10/11/13