What is a Power User?

S.A. Keel

A power user, a term often used in computing, is a user of a computer system who tends to work with more of the advanced features and functionality of a computer. This can apply to both the computer's hardware, the operating system, and software running on the system. There are specific instances, too, where the term is applied to certain software makers, or system privileges. In a more general sense, though, the term could be used in any instance to represent someone with the interest and skills to make use of some apparatus beyond what would otherwise be considered standard usage.

An email power user might implement encryption and digital signing for their messages to ensure greater privacy.
An email power user might implement encryption and digital signing for their messages to ensure greater privacy.

In what's considered the regular use of a computer system, the majority of users tend to stick to certain tasks and seldom dig deeper into the additional possibilities and functions available on the system or some piece of software. As a result, there can be a number of levels of power user. In one instance, a software program running on a computer, such as email, is typically used for checking messages and responding or generating messages to be sent. In this case, a email power user might go further by implementing encryption and digital signing for their messages to ensure greater privacy and establish additional spam filtering technologies as well as other filtering methods for organizing messages automatically.

Taking it a step further, power users may also fall in at the system software level. Some may install multiple operating systems on their computers, creating custom partitions of their hard drives for running these operating systems. Such a power user may also customize his operating system to look or behave somewhat differently beyond the standard release from the developer or company. He'll make use of emulators for loading operating systems and software within an already running system. He'd further be skilled in writing scripts for various aspects of the system to get programs to work together more efficiently.

At the hardware level, a power user spends a good deal of time involved with the technical aspects of how the computer is performing. If he's involved in gaming or graphic design and rendering, he'll also work with the higher-end selection of video cards and displays. Things like floating point operations per second (FLOPS) and chip architectures that reduce die size, bus speeds and width, pixel fill and rasterization rates are closely monitored by this type of power user.

Beyond these generalizations, though, a few specific software manufacturers use the term as well. Companies who produce very complex software systems, such as the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system by SAP®, or the database software from Oracle®, will give the power user moniker to users who have been trained in the more complex operations of the software. Microsoft® operating systems, from Windows® 2000 through Windows® XP offer a special user group for administration, called Power Users, that allows members of the group a few privileges beyond a regular user, such as installing software and other system components. The Power Users group was removed with the release of Windows® Vista® due to the security implications of a power user's privileges being escalated to that of administrator.

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