After much trial and error I found that if I made an account that was only part of the user group 'users' the applications worked fine. But the moment that I add that account to the user group 'administers' applications no longer run. This can be performed after I login into the account as well as using the 'Run as...' option. Removing the 'admin' user group restores the ability to launch programs.
This is consistent across multiple programs...so I can only assume it is related to the 'administrator' user group.
Is there some way to rebuild the 'admin' user group??? Has anyone ever heard of anything like this?
Sounds like the place you got the laptop from has done some poor tweaking of the rights of user's. The local built-in administrators group is undeletable, and you don't want to mess with it. However a system admin can change enough rights using group policy or changing rights on folders that what you see can happen. Say if he removed the Administrators group from rights to the Program Files directory. Check with work and see who did what to the laptop.
If anything, the applications should be acting the opposite of what you are seeing, not running under a regular user and running under an admin account.