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

Posted on July 31, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 47 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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