Among the many important and positive changes to Windows 10 is one that hasn’t gotten enough attention: unlike Windows 8, which virtually demanded a Microsoft account sign-in, Windows 10 has broken that particular bond and elevated the local account, again, to its rightful place. This is great news for those many users who didn’t want to be so beholden to Microsoft’s online account.
To understand what I mean, first consider Windows 8. As I wrote in Windows 8.1 Field Guide, this system’s integration with Microsoft account, or MSA, was so pervasive that I simply assumed that virtually everyone would use such an account. “You are going to use a Microsoft account,” I wrote flatly. The reason being that so many of the apps and experiences in Windows 8 required this integration. Even those who signed in with domain accounts at work would need to connect that account to an MSA so that they could experience all that Windows 8 had to offer.
In Windows 10, MSA is once again truly optional. Yes, you’re still directed to sign-in this way when you first install Windows 10, and the local account option is a bit hard to find unless you know what you’re looking for. But overall, Windows 10 has struck what I see as a nice balance between an MSA requirement—which does have certain advantages, still—and users’ expectations, something that is clearly a theme of this release. As a result, you can effectively use far more Windows 10 apps and experiences without first signing in with, or connecting to, a Microsoft account.
This is good news no matter where you fall on the MSA debate.
So let me give you a few examples.
The first and most obvious is Setup, your first experience with the OS. Windows 8.1 really wants you to use a Microsoft account, and it hides the local account option behind two screens: first, you select “Create a new account” on the Sign in to your Microsoft account screen, and then you select “Sign in without a Microsoft account” on the next screen. Both links are really hard to see.
So how does Windows 10 handle this? Better, that’s how. Yes, the link to skip out on the Microsoft account is still tiny and hard to read. But you only have to skip one screen, not two: If you choose “skip this step,” you’re simply free to create a local account and get on with your life.
Now you’re up and running and you want to try the Mail app. It doesn’t matter what type of account you intend to use it with, the Mail app in Windows 8.x will prompt you to switch your local account with your Microsoft account. It does give you the option to “sign into each app separately instead (not recommended),” but if you prefer not to do so—maybe you only want to use Mail with your Gmail account—you’re told you can’t do so. You cannot use the Mail app in Windows 8.x without signing in to a Microsoft account.
OK, how about Windows 10 Mail? Same thing: you signed-in to Windows with a local account and want to use the Mail app. The new version of the app is prettier and has a nicer welcome, but it also lets you simply sign-in to any accounts you wish to use with it: a Microsoft account, a Gmail account, whatever. So you can go right to Gmail (which it calls a Google account), sign-in and be on your way. There is no attempt to sell you on Microsoft account at all, let alone that any forcing of using such an account just to use the app.
Long story short, if the Microsoft account tie-ins in Windows 8 had you all bunched up, take heart: Windows 10 takes a much more measured approach to Microsoft account, and lets you use Windows the way you want to. This change is well done, and is very much appreciated.