First Steps: Use Your Microsoft Account with Window 10

First Steps: Use Your Microsoft Account with Window 10

Like its predecessor, Windows 10 lets you sign-in using your Microsoft account. But you don’t need to do so to integrate with many of the services associated with that account.

Why sign-in with a Microsoft account?

I’ve gone back and forth on whether it makes sense to sign-in to Windows 10 with a Microsoft account or a local account. These days, I sign-in to Windows 10 a local account and then just sign-in with my Microsoft account to the apps and services I need.

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So why might you want to sign-in to Windows 10 with a Microsoft account? After all, Microsoft very much wants you to do so.

Long story short, signing-in with a Microsoft account provides two major advantages, and both are related to making it a more seamless experience. Whether these features are relevant to you can help you determine whether you should use this functionality.

First, all of the apps and services in Windows 10 that require or can use a Microsoft account are now automatic. That is, you don’t need to sign-in again to each app, they will just work.

Second, if you do choose to use a Microsoft account to sign-in, you can sync settings—like passwords, themes, language preferences, and more—between different PCs, and configure which settings sync on a PC-by-PC basis.

Both of these things are conveniences. And in my experience—and I write this having used dozens and dozens of different PCs over the past few years—they’re just not necessary: You can still sign-in to and use those Microsoft apps and services that you really need. And settings sync just isn’t very interesting to me.

But … that’s me. If you see value in signing-in with a Microsoft account, please do so. But the next time you configure a new Windows 10 PC (or reset your current PC), be sure to do the following.

Note: If you are going to sign-in to your PC with your Microsoft, make sure it’s protected properly as described in First Steps: The Proper Care and Feeding of Your Microsoft Account. This means configuring two-step verification and reviewing and configuring various other security options.

The first time you sign-in to Windows 10, use a local account

Even if you intend to sign-in to Windows 10 with your Microsoft account, do not use that Microsoft account when you initially configure a new PC (or reset your current PC). Instead, sign-in with a local account (like “Paul”) first (and don’t configure a password, yet).  To do so, choose “Skip this step” on the “Make It Yours” screen during Setup.

There are some good reasons to do this.

First, for the OCD crowd (myself included), it creates a clean user name (“Paul”) with a clean file system location (“C:\Users\Paul”), whereas using your Microsoft account can create a strange-looking name and user folder. Changing the local account to a Microsoft later, should you choose to do so, will not alter any of this.

Second, when you are first configuring a PC, it makes sense to keep things simple. After you’re sure that the install is fine (Windows Updates and drivers are all properly installed, all major applications are installed, and so on), you can add add a password (and/or PIN) or switch the account to a Microsoft account (which has its own password, of course, and can be configured to use a PIN).

Third, because Microsoft had streamlined Windows 10 Setup to make it less tedious for typical users, it has left out some options that need to be configured. Key among these is your PC name, which is used by OneDrive (and other services). So rename your PC—WINKEY + X > System > “Advanced system settings” > Computer Name > Change—reboot, and then configure OneDrive and/or sign-in to your Microsoft account. If you forget to do this, your PC will be named something like DESKTOP-DA8NRK6, instead of a name you chose and understand (NUC, perhaps, or Paul’s PC).

Sign-in to apps and services with your Microsoft account only as needed

Even if you don’t sign-in to Windows 10 with your Microsoft account, you can still sign-in to various Microsoft services (like OneDrive) and mobile apps (Groove, Movies & TV, Mail, Calendar, Store, and many more). You just have to be careful, however, because Microsoft really wants you to sign-in to Windows 10 with a Microsoft account.

To understand the steps required, consider the following example, in which I sign-in to Windows 10 with a local account, but wish to sign-in to the Groove app with my Microsoft account because that’s how I can access my Groove Music Pass subscription.

When I launch the app, there is a “Sign In” link in the lower-left corner of the app. Clicking this, I’m presented with a Choose an account dialog. Here, I can configure a Microsoft account or, if one is already configured on the PC, choose it from the list. Choosing the former, I am now prompted to sign-in to my Microsoft account.

After supplying my user name and password—and a security code, because of course this account is protected with two-step verification—this very important dialog appears.

Please pay attention here.

What this dialog is asking you with faux innocence is whether you would like to sign-in to this PC using your Microsoft account. That is, the default is to change your local account to a Microsoft account, not to just sign-in to the app. It’s a bit sneaky, in my opinion, not because the language isn’t clear, but because most people simply don’t pay attention to this kind of warning.

Click “Sign in to just this app instead”. This will do what the link says—give you access to the app and its underlying services, like Groove Music Pass—without changing your local account to a Microsoft account.

You will see this interface throughout Windows when you need to sign-in to a Microsoft account. So be careful. (Though if you screw up, you can always convert your Microsoft account back to a local account in Settings > Accounts > Your Info.)

Note: When you do sign-in to any app with your Microsoft account, that account will appear in Settings under Accounts > Email & App Accounts. (Mail, Calendar, and People accounts are separate but also available here.) You can remove that account from all apps and services right from Settings or click the Manage button to visit the Microsoft account website.

Want settings sync? Then switch your local account to a Microsoft account

If you really do want/need settings sync, or just prefer the convenience of automatically signing-in to your Microsoft account as you open apps in Windows 10, you can make the switch at any time. Just open Settings and navigate to Accounts (Settings > Accounts > Your Info) and click “Sign in with a Microsoft account instead.” You can visit this same interface later if you wish to revert to a local account too.

Want to use Microsoft Edge? You will need to switch to a Microsoft account for the best experience

Microsoft Edge is, I believe, the only UWP app that requires you to switch your local account to a Microsoft account. That is, all of the other apps in Windows 10, including OneDrive (which is not a UWP app) can be signed into individually. But if you want to take advantage of Edge’s favorites and settings sync capabilities, you have to sign-in to Windows with your MSA. Obviously, this is tied to the fact that Edge is deeply integrated with the OS, and that Edge sync is thus considered an OS feature.

Manage sync settings

If you do sign-in to Windows 10 with a Microsoft account, you can manage which settings sync in Settings as well. Navigate to Settings > Accounts > Sync Your Settings to see the list. It’s not particularly granular, but there are several major categories of settings you can toggle.


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Conversation 11 comments

  • 670

    16 January, 2017 - 9:04 am

    <p>Maybe I’m just dumb, but if you have a local account on your office network, and you set up and sign in with a Microsoft Account, all h#!! breaks loose with your network logins and security setups – including losing access to network shares, etc. I’ve been told there are work-arounds, but that’s about as much fun as learning to use Linux…</p>

  • 2371

    16 January, 2017 - 9:35 am

    <p>I use my Microsoft Account to login, have my family do the same.&nbsp; I can track my kids usage (they know I do).&nbsp; It helps me educate them on internet safety when I see what they are doing online.&nbsp; I wish xbox was added to the family site so I can see my sons usage on that along with PC and phone (W10M).&nbsp; We never have problems with logging in with the Microsoft Account.</p>

  • 5592

    16 January, 2017 - 10:02 am

    <p>Seems to me that the advantages of using a Microsoft account really outweigh what seem like trivial costs.</p>

  • 442

    16 January, 2017 - 10:33 am

    <p>"whereas using your Microsoft account can create a strange-looking name and user folder. Changing the local account to a Microsoft later, should you choose to do so, will not alter any of this."</p>
    <p>I’ve never experienced a "strange-looking name and user folder" as the new systems I setup from the start with only a Microsoft Account for login placed my first name on the user folder.&nbsp; Odd.&nbsp; I recommend a Microsoft Account highly to keep things as smooth and easy as possible.&nbsp; While some folks can handle the oddities of account changes, this blows away the average user and their limited abilities.</p>
    <p>Aren’t all Apple products getting to where they require an Apple ID to use at all?&nbsp; I’ve not seen any complaints about that, so why is MS different in this sense?&nbsp; No, I get why they are different, but trying to provide a good opposition viewpoint.&nbsp; And, I like this change that Microsoft is taking.&nbsp; For one thing, it provides a more secure path and more options to help folks get into PCs they’ve locked and can’t remember logins.&nbsp; (I’d love to retire my hacking disc for forgotten logins…)</p>

    • 165

      Premium Member
      16 January, 2017 - 10:48 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#36730">In reply to </a><a href="../../../users/Narg">Narg</a><a href="#36730">:</a></em></blockquote>
      <p>I see what Paul sees here. I signed in with my windows account so my user path is ..\users\ronha</p>

      • 191

        Premium Member
        16 January, 2017 - 12:59 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#36740">In reply to </a><a href="../../../users/RonH">RonH</a><a href="#36740">:</a></em></blockquote>
        <p>Yes, it truncates the name of the folder to the first five characters of your MA account name.&nbsp; It’s been going on since the beginning of Windows 10, I think.&nbsp; Doesn’t really matter though, it’s just a folder name and doesn’t impact your account in any way.</p>

  • 10046

    16 January, 2017 - 1:22 pm

    <blockquote><em><a href="#36730">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/Narg">Narg</a><a href="#36730">:</a></em></blockquote>
    <p>There can be times when the user’s home folder name looks fine after using a Microsoft account. This seems to be what you have experienced. For those with middle names assigned to their Microsoft account,i believe the home folder uses the following language: firstnamemiddleinitiallastinitial.</p>

  • 514

    16 January, 2017 - 4:04 pm

    <p>Signing in with a local account just seems way too complicated for the few (ephemeral to me) benefits.</p>
    <p>When I worked for MS and had a personal account, and MS domain-joined account there were a few advantages with using a local account, but I always felt that keeping everything straight was way more involved than I really wanted to put up with.</p>
    <p>These days I still have my MS personal account (which actually my personal user account from when I worked for MS), and an O365 E3 account which is tied to my custom domain.&nbsp; Even here there are occasionally MS account confusions.&nbsp; Adding a local account to that mix just seems like a recipe for disaster (:grin).</p>
    <p>I do use 2FA with these accounts.</p>

  • 5428

    Premium Member
    16 January, 2017 - 6:52 pm

    <p>If you are going change the PC Name, do so BEFORE you configure Office 365 Home on the machine (and presumably other versions of O365).&nbsp; If you change the PC name later O365 loses it’s connection to your account and some fiddling about was needed last time I did this to get things to settle down correctly.</p>

  • 5485

    16 January, 2017 - 7:17 pm

    <p>Just to report a thing that happen just a few hours ago. I opened up my SP2 tried to login with the my regular MS account, put the email and password … and&nbsp;the dot circles rotated, rotated, rotated, rotated and eventually I was thrown back to the windows splash&nbsp;screen to try again. No user / password error, nothing. Reboot, tried, reboot, tried … About an hour and a half trying to solve this. The only way I could solve this was by reseting the system.</p>
    <p>Gladly about a month and a half ago I moved systems for my work … device &amp; OS (the all package). Don’t have to put up with this stuff at least at a personal level. The SP2 and SP3 are still being used by my wife and eldest son until they end up non functioning or trade them for something else when the opportunity comes. If I could I would just replace them, but such move would not make financial sense for what they use it for (browsing and office).</p>
    <p>I can only imagine what a non tech person would do. Probably send to a tech support place, pay tenths of dollars for the service to have its system completely wiped out over a Windows 10 bug. A surplus over having a non functioning system for a day or two. It’s the f* login for mind sake, the stupid, basic …. &nbsp;login …</p>
    <p>MS devices are no more for me for a very long time.</p>
    <p>Have fun doing more with that!</p>

  • dustinsherrill

    23 March, 2020 - 2:32 pm

    <p>I remember reading this article years ago and today I needed it so I looked for it and found it. Thanks for this advice.</p>

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