Set up a PC as a kiosk using Windows 8.1's Assigned Access

Learn how to use Windows 8.1's Assigned Access feature to configure a local user account to essentially function in kiosk mode.

At one time or another, you have probably thought about setting up a PC to work like a kiosk, where the PC is locked down so a user can only perform a single function. While it's possible to do so in versions of Windows prior to 8.1, it involves editing the registry and dedicating the PC solely to the task of working as a kiosk.

Windows 8.1's new Assigned Access feature allows you to configure a local user account to essentially function in kiosk mode, and it doesn't even require you to edit the registry or dedicate a PC to the task. Once you configure an Assigned Access account, a user signed on to that account only has access to the one Modern app that you specify -- the user cannot run any other application or make any changes to the operating system. Other users can sign on to the computer and have full access to Windows 8.1.

In this article, I show how to set up Windows 8.1's Assigned Access feature. This feature is only available in Windows 8.1 RT, Pro, and Enterprise.

An example situation

A client who runs a real estate agency wanted to set up a PC in the waiting/conference room for their customers to scout out neighborhoods where homes were for sale. After doing some research, we decided on a Dell Inspiron One 23 all-in-one PC with a 23-inch touch screen and Windows 8.1 Pro. I then set up an Assigned Access account and assigned it access to the Microsoft Bing Maps app.

In addition to allowing customers to use the PC as a kiosk with the Maps app, real estate agents could sign in with their user accounts and have access to the full operating system so they could perform other tasks.

Create a local account

The Assigned Access account must be a local account. Creating a user account in Windows 8.1 is a bit different because Microsoft moved the capability from the User Accounts tool in Control Panel to the PC Settings in the modern UI. Fortunately, creating a local account in Windows 8.1 is a fairly straightforward operation in the new PC Settings interface. 

To begin, point to the lower-right corner of the screen until the Charms bar appears and then, click Settings. When the Settings bar appears, click Change PC Settings (Figure A).

Figure A



Once you access the Charms bar, you can get to the Change PC Settings command.

In a moment, you'll see the PC Settings bar slide out, and you'll select the Accounts command. When the Accounts window appears, select Other Accounts from the menu and then click Add An Account under Manage Other Accounts (Figure B).

Figure B



From PC settings, you’ll access the Accounts tool where you can add a local account.

When you add an account in Windows 8.1, you'll be prompted to set up a new user account using an email address as a username. However, if you look toward the bottom of the screen, you'll see a link titled Sign In Without A Microsoft Account (Not Recommended). Click the link, and the Add A User screen will appear. You're encouraged to create a Microsoft Account, but you should select the Local Account button instead (Figure C). 

Figure C



Microsoft makes it a bit tricky to create a local account.

You'll be prompted to enter a username, a password, and a password hint. Then, you'll click the Next button and click the Finish button to complete the procedure.

Log in to the local account

You need to log in to the new local account at least once in order to be able to set it up with Assigned Access. When you do, Windows will set up the account and install all of the base apps. If you don't log in, you won't be able to select any apps for the Assigned Access.

Once you log in, you'll have to install the app that you want to use for Assigned Access. In the case of my example situation, I'm using the Microsoft Bing Maps app, which is installed by default.

Configure Assigned Access

After you create a local account and log in to it once, you're ready to configure Assigned Access. When you return to the Accounts screen, you'll select the Set Up An Account For Assigned Access link (Figure D).

Figure D



After you log in to your local account, you can make it into an Assigned Access account.

The Assigned Access screen will prompt you to choose an account and an app. To begin, click the Choose An Account icon; you'll see a popup that displays the local account that you just set up -- select that account. Next, click the Choose An App icon, and you can select any of the available apps. These steps are illustrated in Figure E.

Figure E



From the Assigned Access screen, you'll choose a local account and a single app.

When you're finished, you'll see your Assigned Access account. (In the case of my example, my Assigned Access account looks like the one in Figure F.) Then, you can close the Accounts app window.

Figure F



For my Assigned Access account, I selected the Microsoft Bing Maps app.

Work with an Assigned Access account

Now you can work with your Assigned Access account. To begin, go to the Start screen, right-click your user account pictures, and select the Assigned Access account. To continue with my example, I select the Map Reader account (Figure G).

Figure G



You’ll sign in to your Assigned Access account.

You'll only see the app that you allocated to your Assigned Access account -- you won't be able to access anything else, including the Start Screen or desktop. You'll be able to use all of the features that the app makes available, but that's it.

When you're finished using the app, you can walk away from the PC, or you can sign off your Assigned Access account by pressing the Windows key five times. When you do, you'll find yourself at the Sign On screen, where you can sign back on to your real account or sign back in to your Assigned Access account.

It's important to remember that when you sign off from an Assigned Access account by pressing the Windows key five times the account actually remains open. The Windows key procedure acts more like locking Windows than signing off of the account.

If you want to close down the Assigned Access account, you must do so from your real account. You need to access Task Manager, select the Users tab, right-click the Assigned Access account, and then select Sign Off (Figure H).

Figure H



You'll use Task Manager to really sign off your Assigned Access account.

At any time you can return to the Accounts app and change your Assigned Access account. For instance, you can click the app icon and select another app from the list. You can also convert your Assigned Access account into a regular account -- just select the account and then choose the Don't Use Assigned Access command.

If you're completely done with an Assigned Access account and want to get rid of it, you need to go to the User Accounts tool in Control Panel and use the Delete The Account command.

What's your take?

Have you wanted to set up a PC as a kiosk? If so, what do you think of Windows 8.1's Assigned Access feature? If you have comments or information to share about this topic, please drop by our forums and let us hear from you.