Windows 8 is more integrated with Microsoft’s services than ever. When you create a user account on your computer, you’ll be prompted to use a Microsoft account. Microsoft accounts are different from local user accounts, which are still available.
Microsoft accounts offer useful synchronization features, even for desktop users. However, a Microsoft account isn’t mandatory if you stick to the Windows desktop – you can continue using a local user account on the desktop without any problems.
What is a Microsoft Account?
There’s a good chance you already have a Microsoft account. A “Microsoft account” is a new name for Microsoft’s online account system, which was previously known as Windows Live ID, Microsoft Passport, and Microsoft Wallet, among other names.
If you’ve ever registered for a Hotmail account or Windows Live ID; that’s a Microsoft account. Microsoft accounts are now also used for other Microsoft services, including Xbox Live, Windows Phone, and Zune.
While most Microsoft accounts will probably be associated with an @hotmail.com, @outlook.com, or @live.com email address, you can create a Microsoft account linked to any email address. For example, you could have a Microsoft account linked to your @gmail.com email address.
Benefits of Using a Microsoft Account
While using a Microsoft account, you’ll be able to synchronize some of your PC’s settings between your computers. You’ll find options for controlling these settings in the PC Settings application – move your mouse to the bottom or top right corners of the screen, select the Settings charm, and click More PC Settings at the bottom of the Settings pane to open it.
Many settings here, such as “App settings,” only apply to modern-style apps (formerly known as Metro-style apps). Other sync options, such as your account picture, desktop background, and taskbar configuration are useful to Windows desktop users that use Windows on multiple computers. After you set up Windows once, your settings will be synchronized between every computer you log into with your Microsoft account.
Passwords can only be synced after you trust your computer.
You can browse the Windows Store with a local user accoutn, but you’ll have to sign up for a Microsoft account if you want to download an app. The Windows Store only allows you to download Modern-style apps, though – if you only use desktop apps, this limitation won’t bother you.
Many modern-style apps won’t work until you log in with a Microsoft account. If you’re using a local user account, you’ll have to sign up for a Microsoft account if you want to use included apps like the Mail, Calendar, People, Messaging, and SkyDrive apps.
Selecting a Microsoft Account or Local Account
You can switch between a local account and Microsoft account from the PC Settings app – use the Switch to a local account or Switch to a Microsoft account button under your username.
You can also add additional users using the Add a user button – each additional user account can be either a Microsoft account or local account.
Click the More account settings online link here to manage your Microsoft account’s security settings in a web browser – you can also access your Microsoft account summary page here.
To create a local user account, you’ll have to use the Sign in without a Microsoft account link hidden near the bottom of the Add a user dialog.
After clicking this link, you’ll have to click the Local account button again. Even after clicking Sign in without a Microsoft account, the Microsoft account button remains highlighted — Microsoft clearly wants you to create a Microsoft account for use with Windows 8.
Local user accounts can be used normally after creation. You’ll only run into limitations if you attempt to sync your settings, download modern-style apps from the Windows Store, or use certain modern-style apps that require a Microsoft account.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 08/18/12