First Steps: Use Your Microsoft Account with Window 10

Posted on January 16, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Microsoft Consumer Services, Windows 10 with 11 Comments

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.

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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