Nate, a member of the Gnomies community, brought up an interesting question. What do you do when you forget your administrator Windows password?

Forgetting your Windows 7 Administrator password can leave you without access to your system, or worse. This could happen out of honest forgetfulness, the result of idiotic roommates with nothing better to do, or any number of other situations that could result in a total loss of access to your system.

Thankfully, being locked out doesn’t mean you can’t regain control through one of several different tools available to you free of charge. In fact, all you really need is a USB thumb drive and/or another computer to install the recovery software on. In many cases, you can recover your Windows administrative password in just a few minutes.

Here are some methods to help you regain access to Windows.

Before You Lose the Password

Microsoft has actually built a solution for the forgetful directly in to Windows. Granted, it won’t be of much use after you’ve already forgotten your password, but it is a great step to take once you do have access to your machine to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

To set this up, you’ll need to access Control Panel by clicking Start and Control Panel in the menu. Once there, select User Accounts and Family Safety and Change Your Windows Password.

To the left of the screen, you should see an option to create a password reset disk in the sidebar. Here, you can create a password reset CD/DVD or USB thumb drive that you can use to reset your password should it ever be lost or forgotten. Just insert the reset disk when you need it, and select password reset at the login screen.

Voila! That’ll keep you safe from the unfortunate event that you lose and/or forget your administrative password. Of course, this is a preventative measure, so it does you little good once you’ve already locked yourself out.

Ubuntu

This solution is not for the faint of heart. It requires a little knowledge of how Ubuntu works, though it can certainly help you recover your lost passwords when you’re in a bind.

The first thing you’ll need to do is create a live CD of Ubuntu. This may require you to grab a DVD or a thumb drive and use a friend’s system to do this. Booting to a live CD/DVD and/or a USB key can be done fairly easily using BIOS settings. Every BIOS is a little different, though you should be able to access it using the instructions that appear on screen when you first power up your machine and find a boot order or option to select boot device. Holding DEL or F12 when rebooting can usually get you where you need to be. Some systems are different, however.

32-bit Windows Installations
Once you’ve loaded Ubuntu using the live CD/DVD/Thumb drive, you’ll need to access the Package Manager and load a repository called universe. This is essentially a repository for community-maintained software that maintains an open source license, but isn’t directly supported by Ubuntu. You can activate this repository by selecting Community-maintained Open Source Software in Settings > Repositories in the Synaptic Package Manager window.

Here, you’ll want to find a package called chntpw using the search field in Synaptic Package Manager. This is the software you’ll need to recover your Windows password.

64-bit Windows Installations
If you’re running 64-bit Windows, you’ll need a version of chntpw capable of working with it. Instead of going through the Synaptic Package Manager, you’ll want to go through this page to download the package, and install it using Terminal.

Once you’ve downloaded the package, you can install it using the sudo dpkg –i chntpw* command in Terminal once you’ve navigated to the download directory where you saved the package.

Using the software requires a little Linux know-how. Still, it could save you from losing your important data.

Ophcrack

Ophcrack is perhaps the simplest solution in the list beyond the built-in Windows precautionary method. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated since 2009 and doesn’t work on 64-bit Windows 7. It does, however, work on most 32-bit Windows versions.

Just download Ophcrack and create a live CD, boot from it, and the default automatic settings will usually get you back on track about 90% of the time. If you use especially long or complex passwords, this can take quite a while. Shorter passwords or those based on simple words can be cracked in minutes.

Other Preventative Measures

If you fail to recover your password, you may end up having to do a fresh reinstall of your OS. Some file recovery software will save your files from an almost certain doom, though this is something you should do at your own risk. I don’t have personal experience with these programs, so I can’t recommend one over any other for this purpose.

Writing down your password and storing it in a spot that no one else will find it may be the best preventative measure for any user to take when securing Windows with a password. I’ve used the space behind a picture frame and a slip of paper the size of a fortune cookie fortune to be a worthy safe place to keep passwords.

Alternatively, you might consider keeping an encrypted file somewhere in the cloud with no obvious identification indicating what this random series of letters and numbers is. Dropbox is a nifty place for this as you can view text files from a smartphone.

Password keepers I find are useful only if you can actually log in to to the system you need the password to access. Yes, they work just fine if you have a secondary machine at your disposal, though anything you can access via a smartphone or tablet computer may be a better bet. LastPass has a great app for this, so it may be your preferred solution.

Ideally, you want your passwords to be complex and difficult to guess, but you also want to be able to remember it. Using phrases that are familiar to you to help create a password might be worthwhile. For example: I love Linux because it’s really great! could become: IlLbirgr8!. To each their own. Find out what works best for you and go with it.

What about you? What are your tips and tricks for recovering Windows passwords?