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Paranoid? Quickly lock your Mac’s screen while staying logged in

Paranoid? Quickly lock your Mac\'s screen while staying logged in

Users coming from the Windows world may be used to pressing the Windows+L keys to instantly lock their screens. In Mac land, you can (almost) do the same.

Whether you have sensitive information on your computer or you’re just plain paranoid about unwanted snoopers hopping on your Mac, privacy is a big deal to just about everyone. So what do you do when you’re using your Mac and have to walk away for a minute or two? There are a few ways to go about it, so let’s go through them just for kicks.

Would you log out and be forced to close everything you’re working on? No way! That’s too much trouble to be worth it. Maybe put it to sleep only to wake it back up almost right away? You could, but it sure seems like an unnecessary waste of time. How about temporarily locking your screen to block others from accessing the system? Bingo! Not only is it faster than putting your Mac to sleep, but it also leaves all of your open windows just as they were when you return.

The best way I have found to carry out this task is to take advantage of Mac OS X’s fast user switching. This feature can be enabled with just a few clicks in System Preferences. In the Accounts pane, click the Login Options menu item and check the box next to “Enable fast user switching.”

Enable fast user switching

You should notice a new icon in your menu bar — clicking on it should reveal a menu item called “Login Window.” When you go to the Login Window, your Mac will become password-protected while still running all of your active applications in the background. You can safely walk away from the machine knowing that it’s protected from curious passersby and that it will resume right where you left off once you come back.

Unfortunately, going to the menu bar icon with your mouse seems to be the only way to activate the Login Window. Apple has foolishly neglected to include a proper keyboard shortcut and there is no easy way to add one yourself. Unless you enlist the help of third-party software, that is. For example, a program called WinSwitch offers a more advanced & customizable version of the fast user switching menu bar item, but I’ve found it to be unreliable with Leopard. It’s probably not the best way to work around the inconvenience.

Instead, your best bet would be to check out a keyboard shortcut utility like SizzlingKeys, which does the trick admirably. Although it takes up a small amount of system resources by running at all times, the benefit far outweighs the negative. Now whenever you press Command+Shift+L (just an example; you can specify your own shortcut), the Login Window instantly appears and locks your screen until you enter your password. Take that, nosy friends and family!

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8 Comments Have Been Posted (Leave Your Response)

To lock the screen without allowing other people to log in:

system preferences -> desktop/screensaver -> screen saver

The hot corners button in the bottom left, click that. Set one of the corners to start the screen saver. Then set up the screensaver to require a password.

Now just move the mouse into whichever corner you set up to activate the screensaver.

ooh! this will be good to know when I finally get myself a mac!
*bows to the master of macs*

There’s an even easier way to do this if you use Quicksilver, which I highly recommend!

1) Go to System Preferences -> Security -> General and check the box “Require password to wake this computer….”

2) Open Terminal and run this command (without quotes):
“sudo ln -s /System/Library/Frameworks/ScreenSaver.framework/Versions/A/Resources/ /Applications/Screen\”

3) Setup a Quicksilver trigger to run the Screen

another way to log out with a keyboard shortcut using quicksilver is to initiate quicksilver and type “fast log out” its a plug in so if you dont have it then you can install it through quicksilver preferences.

Actually, there’s a much easier way to do this that does. Open Keychain Access and enable the Keychain Access menu bar item (I think it’s in the Preferences for said application). A lock icon will appear in the menu bar. This icon contains, amongst other keychain-related options, a Lock Screen menu item.

Selecting Lock Screen activates the screen saver and requires a password to get the desktop back, regardless of your screen save password settings.

Rokcet Scientist
May 2nd, 2009, 11:08 PM

You don’t even have to do that Keychain business, Patrick. Simply set a hot corner for your screensaver, and in System Preferences/Security/General you select “Require password to wake this computer from sleep or screensaver”. Waaaay faster and simpler than pressing Windows+L!

How about this key combo “Shift+CTRL+Eject”

Built in command. No programming or setup required.

Brings up login screen, leaves running apps open and negates the requirement for Fast User Switching.

What the…?

@JasonD: Key combo “Shift+CTRL+Eject” on Mac OS is the same “Windows+L” on Windows OS. Thank so much!