Tip: Choose Whether to Sign in to Windows 10 with Your Microsoft Account

Posted on February 20, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Microsoft Consumer Services, Windows 10 with 37 Comments

Tip: Choose Whether to Sign in to Windows 10 with Your Microsoft Account

I’ve spent a lot of time investigating how the role of your Microsoft account is changing as Windows 10 evolves. And I think I’m ready to offer some advice about when you should—and shouldn’t—sign-in to Windows 10 with your Microsoft account.

As I noted in First Steps: Use Your Microsoft Account with Window 10 recently, 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. And to be clear, this is a topic I sort of obsess over. The reason is that I want theWindows 10 Field Guide to be as useful as possible, of course. But as a public face for the community of people who use Microsoft technologies, I also feel a deep responsibility to accurately portray how these things work together. And whether it makes sense to even use them together.

(This is why I cannot recommend Windows phone, for example. This platform is a mess today and it is not the best mobile solution for any user, even those who prefer Microsoft technologies. This puts me at odds with those who blindly just choose Microsoft solutions, of course, but my responsibility is to you, Microsoft’s users, and not to Microsoft.)

When you sign-in to a new Windows 10 PC for the first time, you are prompted to sign-in with a Microsoft account (MSA). My advice here is unchanged: The first time you sign-in to Windows 10, use a local account. Do this even if you wish to sign-in with a Microsoft account later. Once the PC is up and running properly—your applications are all installed, your cloud data is all synced, and so on—you can change from a local account to your MSA.

So why would you want—or need—to sign-in to Windows 10 with an MSA? There are a few primary reasons, which I’m listing here in order of importance, plus a third topic that bears a bit more discussion.

Settings sync. If you use Windows 10 on multiple PCs, you can sync a variety of settings—like your desktop theme (desktop wallpaper, color scheme and so on), your saved passwords, your language preferences, and more—between those PCs by signing-in with your MSA. Frankly, your ability to configure what syncs on a PC-by-PC basis is very limited, and I don’t see a great value in doing this. Even though I use a great many different PCs.

Convenience. When you sign-in to Windows 10 with your MSA, this authentication is passed through to all of the apps that come bundled with Windows 10. So that same MSA will be used with Groove, News, whatever, and you won’t need to manually sign-in each time you run one of those apps for the first time. Frankly, this isn’t particularly motivating for me, and I don’t mind manually signing-in to the few UWP apps I do actually use. In fact, once you’ve done so once, that MSA is stored in your “accounts used by other apps” list and can easily be selected.

(If you are using Microsoft’s parental controls functionality, called Microsoft Family, the kids in your family will need to sign-in with an MSA as well. But you, the parent, do not.)

Put simply, neither one of these reasons is particularly compelling to me. One or both may be to you, however, and if so, please do feel free to sign-in to Windows with your MSA.

But there is a third reason. Microsoft Edge.

If you want to use Microsoft Edge to its fullest extent, you can do so most easily by signing in to Windows with your MSA. Why is that, you ask? It’s because Edge, unique among the apps bundled with Windows 10, does not let you sign-in to the app with your MSA.

As noted above, Groove, News, and many other apps let you sign-in to your MSA with just the app, so you retain your local account sign-in for Windows 10. But if you want to use Edge’s PC-to-PC sync functionality—its ability to sync passwords, Favorites, and other personal information between PCs—you must sign-in to Windows 10 with your MSA.

That said, you can get around this.

You can achieve PC-to-PC password sync by using a compatible password manager like LastPass of course.

Favorites sync is a bit trickier, but you can also achieve this by ensuring that your favorites (called bookmarks in most other browsers) are also tied to another browser. Then, you can use Edge’s ability to sync those favorites to Edge using Internet Explorer (which is available vestigially in Windows 10) or Google Chrome (which you will need to install and sync separately).

In other words, Edge is a weird combination of the two reasons cited above. Microsoft Edge features are synced from PC to PC when you sign-in to Windows 10 with an MSA, even though Edge is not called out in “Sync your settings” in the Windows 10 Settings app at all. And its about convenience too: You can overcome the sync limits through other means, but they are not automatic.

Which route you choose is of course up to you. But I will continue to forego using a Microsoft account to sign-in to Windows 10. I just don’t see the advantage.


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