Many users who’ve installed Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 have set up a Microsoft account that’s accessible through a web browser as well as through their local machine. In many cases, users of Windows 8.1 are selecting a connected account solely because they think there’s no other choice. In truth, going private with a local Windows account is a simple task anyone can complete in five minutes or less.
Microsoft doesn’t require that users set up an account with the company during the installation of Windows 8.1, but the installer does everything possible to make it appear that an account is required. As a result, many users end up with a Microsoft account that they don’t want and won’t use.
While the services provide by linking to a Microsoft account can be useful, they’re by no means critical. Windows 8.1 will continue to receive updates and run desktop applications no matter how you sign in to Windows. Switching to a local, private account is appealing to many users because it’s what they wanted in the first place.
Others want to get rid of their Microsoft account for privacy reasons. Having an account open with Microsoft means uploading another set of private data that must be guarded and monitored. Some users won’t find the risk work the reward. Getting rid of your account means you have one less aspect of your digital life to manage. Disabling and deleting is the sensible choice for users who don’t need or want the account’s benefits.
And what are the benefits, exactly? There are several. First, your settings will be synchronized between all Windows 8.1 PCs you use with your Microsoft account. That means your wallpaper, your network preferences, language settings and much more will be automatically configured for you. You’ll be able to use certain apps across multiple Microsoft platforms, like Windows Phone and even Xbox One. And you’ll be able to utilize sync features in Calendar, Explorer, People and other default apps. Finally, you need a Microsoft account to buy apps from the Windows Store.
You may not want to go local if you rely on these features, though I’ll address a few ways to emulate disabled features later in this article.
Enabling A Local Account
Switching from a Microsoft to a Local account isn’t difficult. You can do it within minutes if you follow these simple steps. Save any work you have open before starting. This process requires that you log out of your account, which means all open applications will be closed.
First, open up the Charms bar by hovering your cursor in the upper right hand corner or swiping in from the right of the screen (if using a touch device). Tap “Settings” then “Change PC Settings” at the bottom of the Charms bar, then hit “Accounts” in the menu that opens; click “Disconnect” to remove your account from the device. Alternatively, you can find this menu by doing a Windows Search for “Accounts” and then selecting “Add, delete and manage other accounts.” You should see a screen that looks like the one below.
You’ll be prompted to re-enter your Microsoft Account password, then you’ll be taken to a screen where you set up your local account. You’ll see fields for your username, password and password hint, but only the username must be filled out. Not entering anything in the password field means you won’t need to enter one to log in. A password can be added later if you don’t add one immediately.
Once you’re done with this you’ll see a final screen reminding you of what you’re doing and asking if you’d like to proceed. If you confirm you’ll automatically sign out of your Microsoft account. From this point forward the new, local account will be used as the default when booting your PC. However, remember that you are only disconnecting your account, not deleting it. Any information you already synced will remain in your account. You must log into your account via your browser and follow Microsoft’s instructions in order to completely get rid of the account and everything inside it.
If you have second thoughts after going local you can reverse the process by again opening the Accounts menu. You’ll see a “Connect to a Microsoft account” option where “Disconnect” was before. You can re-link to your Microsoft account at any time so long as you remember your password. Of course, you won’t be able to do this if you decided to also delete your account entirely.
Replacing Lost Features
As mentioned earlier, disconnecting your Microsoft account results in the loss of several features. Some, like the Windows Store and the use of cross-platform applications, can’t be emulated with third party tools, but other features are fully or partially replaced.
Perhaps the most important feature lost buy going local is easy use of Microsoft OneDrive. You can mimic this, however, by downloading a free third party utility called syncDriver. This acts as a OneDrive client and lets you synchronize folders with the service while retaining a local account. The app does ask for your Microsoft account username and password, however, which may make security-savvy users nervous.
The obvious alternative is to simply not use OneDrive at all. You can instead use Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud or another service. Our latest round-up of cloud storage providers should help you choose. Of the services available, Google and Apple provide the most complete answers. Both of these companies can sync not just your files, but also your browser data, calendars, email and more. With that said, both come with downsides of their own. Those who go with Google have to deal with that company’s many privacy woes, while those who go with Apple must purchase an Apple device to use many features.
You can partially replicate the Microsoft account’s Windows settings synchronization feature with a utility like Laplink PCMover. This won’t actually sync your settings, of course, but it will let you move settings from one PC to the next, which for many users is the entire point. Unfortuantly the software is not free, so you’ll have to spend at least $40 to move your settings over. Users who remember Windows Easy Transfer may think to use that instead, but you can’t. You can only use it to import data from older Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs. It’s useless for transferring settings between Windows 8.1 machines.
Another option is to cheat the system by signing in with a Microsoft account, syncing your settings from an old computer, and then removing the account from both computers. This works, but make sure you login with your older PC (the one you want to transfer settings from) first. There’s no way to know when a computer has fully synchronized its settings with others using the account, either, so this can require trial and error.
The decision to use a connected account or take Windows 8.1 private isn’t critical for most users, but it’s sure to be important to anyone who prefers complete control over their computer and the information on it. Logging in with a connected account can result in accidental over-sharing and creates a privacy concern for people who’d rather not have another account to keep tabs on. There’s no reason to use a connected account if you don’t care about the features it enables.
What do you think of Windows 8.1’s user account system? Do you like the benefits a Microsoft account provides, or do you feel a local account is the better way to go? Let us know in the comments!
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