Ask Paul: Should I Sign-In to Windows 10 with an MSA?

Posted on July 31, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 46 Comments

Related to my series on Windows 10 S, I've received a few questions about using a Microsoft Account (MSA) to sign-in to Windows 10.

Related to my series on Windows 10 S, I’ve received a few questions about using a Microsoft Account (MSA) to sign-in to Windows 10.

As a bit of background, you may know that Microsoft prefers for individuals to sign-in to Windows 10 using an MSA, rather than use an old-school local account sign-in. There are a variety of good reasons to do so, including cross-PC settings sync and a seamless “pass through” sign-in when you use Store apps.

But I’ve been advising readers to sign-in to Windows 10 with a local account the first time they use any given PC. Then, they can configure it properly—with a readable machine name, for example, which is important if you use OneDrive—and decide later if they want to sign-in to Windows 10 with their MSA or, alternatively, just sign-in to individual apps (and experiences like Cortana and OneDrive) as needed.

No one way of doing this will please everyone. But I don’t care about settings sync, and I use few enough Store apps that I don’t see the benefit of signing in to Windows 10 with an MSA. So I just sign-in to a few things as needed: OneDrive, Cortana, and the Store.

There’s a bit more nuance to this, but the following questions, and my answers to them, should help clear this up.

Zack writes.

In the “Windows S Basics” article you write “If you’ve read the Windows 10 Field Guide, you know that I generally recommend that users of Windows 10 Home or Pro not sign-in to the system with a Microsoft account (MSA)…” In the User Accounts section [of the book] I read that you strongly recommend not creating an MSA at setup, but I don’t see why not to use MSA.

The “why” of this is subjective: I don’t want to be seamlessly signed into something just because I opened an app. Instead, I’d like to be prompted for that usage, or explicitly choose to sign-in (or not). If you’re comfortable with the Microsoft ecosystem and use apps like Groove, Movies & TV, and so on, this may not be an issue. And you can just sign-in to Windows 10 with your MSA.

Derek writes.

What I wanted to know from your guide is how to do a fresh install of Windows 10 and try to use a local account as much as possible, and minimize the use of a Microsoft account, which the users don’t really want.

I understand that I can install Win10, initially log in with a local account, and then Store will require a MS account, but Store can use the MS account independently of the Windows login.

This is correct.

What about everything else, including OneDrive, Cortana, etc.?

The short answer goes like this:

You can sign-in to any app (or experience, like OneDrive) that requires/recommends an MSA on an app by app basis. With one exception: Microsoft Edge. If you want to sync your Edge settings between PCs, you must sign-in to Windows itself with an MSA. Not sure why that’s the case, but it is. Everything else will work fine.

You do need to be careful when you sign-in to an app using your MSA because Microsoft uses that as an opportunity to try and get you to just sign-in to Windows. But it’s easy enough to spot if you’re paying attention at that one moment.

Ultimately, this just boils down to individual choice and need. And I’m happy that Microsoft makes this choice possible: You can use Windows 10 very effectively without needing to sign-in to an MSA. And those that do choose to use MSA will have a seamless experience across PCs.

I’m revising the Windows 10 Field Guide this summer and thanks to the Fall Creators Update and Windows 10 S, I will again be reevaluating my advice and my own way to doing things. But I suspect I’ll need to be more explicit the book about both the “why” and the “how.” Either way, I’ll accommodate both ways of doing things.

 

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Comments (48)

48 responses to “Ask Paul: Should I Sign-In to Windows 10 with an MSA?”

  1. wunderbar

    If Microsoft would just give people the ability to choose/change the PC hostname after the fact and actually have those changes be reflected on the online services like OneDrive, life would be so much easier.


    I have like 5 different desktop-asdl;fiasdf or laptop-aldsjflsdjf names in the web interfaces and I can't stand it.

  2. gregsedwards

    I absolutely get using a local account during the initial setup and on first login of each user's account. I'm very fastidious when it comes to naming things, and I don't like the way Windows 10 just randomly names the PC when you log in using the MSA. By using a local account, I can better control the names of my devices. Same goes for user accounts; my local user folder can be "Greg" instead of "gregs".


    But once I've named the PC and user accounts for each member of my family, I absolutely connect their MSAs to their Windows accounts, because it just makes everything else work so seamlessly and it reduces the chances that something is going to get misconfigured down the road.


    However, I don't think most users are quite the same sticklers that we are. They just want something that works, and this is all plumbing to them. In the long run, a simpler initial setup with fewer pain points is going to give them the best experience.


    But I will say that using MSAs, especially for family, makes the entire ecosystem work. It deeply understands what's appropriate for your kids based on their ages across all of your devices. For instance, when my 7-year-old comes into the living room, Kinect recognizes him and Groove automatically switches off showing music videos and playing songs that may not be appropriate for him, based on his age and content restrictions. That's pretty magical, and it's all made possible through using properly-configured MSAs across our entire suite of devices and services.

  3. Roger Ramjet

    Paul, Hey say Hi to BoltmanLives when you complete your move to Amish country

  4. James Wilson

    Isn't it just easier to sign in with a MSA account? If you use Android / Google, then, you've signed away most of your life to one provider already. Why not Microsoft?

  5. Win74ever

    Why would I ever sign in with a Microsoft account? All I need is an OS to install my Win32 programs and get the fuck out of my way. I do log in Chrome with my Google account since Chrome is actually useful and will sync between my computers and phone. I also remove all UWP apps possible and ignore the ones I can't remove.

  6. Stooks

    If you use enough services then MSA is just easier. I use the store for a few apps, outlook.com is my primary email account, Xbox is my gaming platform of choice and I subscribe to Office 365 Home and store all of my documents on Onedrive.


    I log into Chrome with my Google account and when I use my Mac I login with my iCloud account.

  7. JustMe

    I suspect much depends on what you use. I can see a situation in which you would want to use an MSA because you heavily used Microsoft's services and did not want to bother logging in/out for whatever you needed.


    Personally, I hardly use any of Microsoft's services, and honestly wish there was either a stripped down version of the OS I could better control, or Windows 8.1 was supported on the latest hardware. I end up uninstalling virtually every bundled app that comes with the OS. On the (extremely) rare chance I need something from the Store, I log in, take care of what I need, and log out again. Even if I did use Microsoft's services more, I would still log in only when I needed to.

  8. Daekar

    I setup all my family members with a non-MSA admin account, and then have them actively use a MSA account to sign in as a standard user. So far the experience has been excellent, both for them and for me.

  9. lordbaal1

    There's nothing wrong with signing in using your MSA account.

  10. Allen

    So this whole thing comes down to: Do what you're comfortable with, both at initial setup and beyond. I good with that, it's what I usually do anyway.

  11. epguy40

    Hi Paul.


    Downloading & installing addons/extensions for Microsoft Edge from the MS Store also requires signing in with an MSA as I have experienced myself on Windows 10 with at least the anniversary update.

  12. BigM72

    Paul, is this a change in your policy and when did it happen?


    I'm pretty sure you used to advocate using an MSA to sign in to Windows.

  13. Kevin

    Sooo... I'll be the first to admit that I (and my family) live in the Microsoft world. I don't use anything google when I can avoid it and while I have an iPhone for work, I still prefer my Windows Phone for business and personal. What I'd like to ask of those that uses google and apple devices is "Do you have to use an account for access to those ecosystem's services?" This is an honest question and I'm truly seeking answers as I don't normally use those devices. Just looking for information as I will have to make a choice for my next mobile device once my 950XL gets long in the tooth or I need to upgrade.

    • Breaker119

      In reply to drewidian:

      I'm am in the exact same boat! My kids have had MSA for years and though they're not old enough for a real phone it allows me to fully control their online experiences on their Lumia 520s and any of the myriad of machines they log into at home through Microsoft Family Settings. Something tells me that the other account platforms don't have anything that can match.

    • jt5

      In reply to drewidian:

      I am very similar to you. I do use an iPhone for work as well. I setup my iPhone with my Microsoft email as it's username. This allows me to take advantage of their ecosystem. I do have other accounts- but I find it gets confusing to remember- I am on this device and which account I am using. Hence the reason to try and use one account as much as possible. Hope this helps a little.

    • Jaxidian

      In reply to drewidian:

      For both iOS and Android, you pretty much do have to have your Apple account or Google account connected in order to use the devices.

    • Boo

      In reply to drewidian:

      Yes to iPhone no to Android but YES to use any of the Stores.

  14. plibken

    The big question is: "have you logged in to your Android phone with your Google Account, Paul?" And if yes, why not?

    • Waethorn

      In reply to plibken:

      If you're using an Google Play certified Android device, you're going to be using a Google Account if you want your Internet-connected apps to work. Once an app is too outdated to connect to its respective online service, it'll prompt you to update them.


      If you have a Chinese OEM device that doesn't use Google Play services (Play Store and Play Update Service), then you wouldn't have to sign in with a Google Account because then you'd be using that OEM's app store in place of Google Play.


      These things are only designed to work as intended if you sign in.

    • bsd107

      In reply to plibken:


      And you sure as hell are not using an iPhone without an AppleID account....

  15. BoItmanLives

    I'll never use MSA, or the Store, or cortana, or any of their poorly executed me-too marketing features.


    Local accounts 4 life.

  16. Alexp

    The only advantage I have found about signing in with the MSA is the cloud storage that comes free with Windows 10. And it becomes easy to sync your works that you have created in another PC. Other than that, signing in with a local account is better.

    click this link here now

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