How to Password Lock Your Desktop with Fast User Log Out in Mac OS X

Feb 21, 2009 - 28 Comments

finder-icon A quick way to lock your Mac desktop is to hit Shift-Command-Option-Q to do a fast user log out. This logs the current user out of Mac OS X, which is one way to initiate a login screen when the Mac needs to be used again.

Another method is brought to us by inaminit who left the following in our comments: “If you have Fast User Switching enabled through the System Preferences/Accounts, you can just click on Login Window in the drop down menu from the menu bar to do the same thing.”

What inaminit is referring to is the Fast User Switching menu bar item, which is in the upper right corner of OS X if you use the feature. Pulling it down and finding “Login Window” is what immediately logs out and password protects the computer.

login-window-from-fast-user-switch-mac

The obvious downside to this of course is that it requires fast user switching to be on, and it also closes all the windows, and if the Mac is a single-user workstation then that wouldn’t make much sense to use. For those cases, try using another approach to locking the desktop, like enabling a lock screen and activating it by keyboard strokes or hot corners:

Each method has it’s own strengths and weaknesses depending on the user skill level, read through each of them to determine what fits your needs the best. In all cases though, it is highly recommended to actually do this any time you leave a computer unattended. It’s a very simple and easy security precaution that can help to prevent unwanted access to your machine.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

28 Comments

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  1. gruhlke says:

    well, but there is an other more simple way…. Use the key-utility (in german its called Schlüsselbund) from Progams -> Utilitys. It gives you the ability to place an icon in the menu bar which do this yob as well without downloading anything… Please excuse my simple english…

    Liebe Grüße
    Gruhlke

  2. inaminit says:

    If you have Fast User Switching enable through the System Preferences/Accounts, you can just click on Login Window in the drop down menu from the menu bar to do the same thing.

  3. I knew there was a way! Thank you :)

  4. michele says:

    As gruhlke said, start Keychain Access.app, Preferences -> Show Status in Menu Bar, and you get a nice “lock” icon that let’s you lock screen and keychains.

  5. Ronny-André says:

    I use the Keychain Access method. Gives a nice little lock icon in the menu bar where I can lock the screen :)

  6. Chance says:

    I use the Locker widget from apples website, it works just like windows switch user button. Hope that helps!

  7. Cathi says:

    I have hot corners enabled in the Screen Saver Pref. Pane. Point the mouse in the corner of the screen and poof: screensaver activated with password protection

  8. CdtDelta says:

    There’s also a preference pane app called Lock Tight that I use on all my Mac’s. It let’s you do a key command lock screen like doing a Windows-L on a M$ OS.

  9. John says:

    Like Cathi, I use Exposé’s hot corners to lock my Mac. Set the screen saver to lock when the screen saver starts then pick a corner to start the screen saver when the mouse is parked there. It’ll start the screen saver and lock the Mac within less than a second. No third-party scripts, no extra clicking, just move the mouse to the correct corner.

  10. Pavel says:

    I’m with John; very handy.

    Except every once in awhile, it refuses to work until I reboot.

  11. cirrus says:

    You can also lock the screen by running the following in Terminal:

    /System/Library/CoreServices/Menu\ Extras/User.menu/Contents/Resources/CGSession -suspend

  12. Rubni110 says:

    Sizzling Keys has an option to create a keyboard shortcut to start up the screen saver, which works better then a screen corner or apple script.

    http://www.yellowmug.com/sk4it/

  13. TheSkeptic says:

    You don’t need to download anything – or enable Fast User Switching.

    Gruhlke is on the right path – Open “Keychain Access”, select Preferences and then tick “Show status in menu bar”. You can then select “Lock Screen” anytime you need to.

  14. T says:

    I was looking for a script like this!

  15. kadi says:

    For a keyboard shortcut solution for Terminal.app see:

    http://codesnippets.joyent.com/tag/lock

  16. Alan Hecht says:

    I’ve seen and tried the solutions listed here. In this case a simple one-trick pony worked best for me: try LockTight (free). LockTight give a system preferences pane where you can set a hotkey for locking the desktop. Yes, you can do similar with Sizzling, QuickSilver, etc, but it’s nice to have a dedicated icon for this in prefs so I don’t have to track down what tool I used to set it.

    Here’s a link:
    http://www.freemacware.com/locktight

  17. Rob James Chaning Record says:

    I’m looking for a way to cover over or lock a desktop space in Leopard Spaces. Examples of use: keep someone out of your work. Stop productivity-eating visits to social applications.

  18. Dusty says:

    I don’t know why anything more than hot corners is needed…. What could be easier or quicker than moving your mouse to the corner of the screen. I have been doing this for 5 years without any problems.

    • Michael Aye says:

      Simple: That way will ALWAYS activate the password, whenever the screensaver activates. And I don’t want that in a meeting, where I will talk or not use the computer for a while but then use it to find some material.

  19. developing purposes says:

    ++ inaminit ; fast user switching is my saviour

  20. BeSweeet says:

    I enabled the password thing in System Preferences/Security, yet that didn’t work when I came out of the screen saver.

    Doing the whole Keychain thing didn’t work either.

    The only thing that worked is the Apple Script download as stated in the original post :).

  21. Wes says:

    With the others on hot corners in the screensaver. Keep in mind the easiest corner to hit with a mouse is bottom-left if you’re right handed. You may want to avoid the easy ones, the hardest to hit for right-handed is bottom right, try it. Reverse the two for left-handed mouse users.

  22. Wes says:

    With the others on hot corners in the screensaver. Keep in mind the easiest corner to hit with a mouse is bottom-left if you’re right handed. You may want to avoid the easy ones, the hardest to hit for right-handed is bottom right, try it. Reverse the two for left-handed mouse users.

  23. Shayne says:

    google locktight for a keycombo pref pane solution

  24. Åsmund says:

    Logging out is not the same as locking. Seriously, what?

    The original tip is as helpful as saying “to save power, turn off the computer.”

  25. […] access. The uses for this are many, but I am still surprised Apple does not provide a simple way to lock your Mac outside of either a screensaver or fast user logout with Shift-Command-Option-Q. Anyway, check out […]

  26. PAN says:

    I’m using a app from the apple website, works pretty well.
    http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/automator/lockdesktop.html

  27. Alex says:

    Mehh…. the closest to windows ctrl-alt-del when you are coming from windows is CTRL-SHIFT-EJECT : works as a charm.

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