Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
What’s up with user accounts in Windows 8? It’s not complicated – Microsoft wants everyone to use an online account to sign into their desktop operating system. Sure, they offer an offline equivalent, but they also made a few features available only to online accounts – the entire app store, for example. It’s clear Microsoft would rather you use an online account, regardless of what you yourself would prefer.
Traditionally, when setting up Windows, it’s one of the first things that you do – create a Microsoft user account. It’s still true with Windows 8, with one key difference – by default you’re asked to create an online account, or simply log into an online account you have. If you’ve got a Hotmail, MSN or even an XBox account you can sign in using that. The idea is that you’ll be able to log into any Windows 8 computer using your account – and bring your apps and settings with you.
Of course, not every computer is constantly connected to the Internet – something Microsoft realizes.And some people don’t want to register for an online account just to use a particular operating system. It’s why the latest version of Windows offers two distinct types of accounts – online and off.
Online & Local Accounts
Like I said, there are two different sorts of Microsoft user accounts. It’s hard to tell by default, however, because Microsoft seemingly goes far out of their way to hide the option for an offline account. You’ll find it buried at the bottom-left of the account creation screen:
Click that and you will, before you can actually get to creating the account, see an entire screen of reasons you should consider an online account:
They’ve even gone out of their way to make the “Microsoft Account” option stand out, just to increase the likelihood that you’ll click it. Whatever you think of Microsoft accounts, one thing is clear – Microsoft really, really, really wants you to use one.
That being said, offline accounts are still available – and if you plan on mostly using desktop apps (ie, apps not from the Microsoft Store) you probably won’t notice the difference.
Why You Want An Online Account
So, why would anyone want a Microsoft account? Some of the reasons – like having one user account for multiple computers, complete with synced browser history – obviously need an online account to work. Others – like exclusive access to the Microsoft Store – are required by Microsoft despite no technical reason for being so, perhaps in part to encourage people to use online accounts.
Let’s break down some of the reasons you should consider using a Microsoft account instead of a local one.
Access To The Microsoft Store
Want to try out one of the thousands of apps that populate Microsoft’s answer to the App Store? You’re going to need a Microsoft Account, then – even free apps require an account.
Was it necessary for Microsoft to do this? Not necessarily – they could have allowed anyone to download free apps, account or not. And even if your primary account is offline you can add an online account specifically for the store – but at that point you might as well sign in with it.
Sign up for a Microsoft account and get 7 GB of SkyDrive space. It’s that simple.
Sure, at this point cloud storage space is such a common commodity that 7 GB of online space doesn’t sound particularly special. But the cloud is key to what Microsoft perceives as new in Windows 8, and SkyDrive is a good example of that integration. It works well with Microsoft Office – and might work well with your workflow. It’s all made easier, however, if you sign into Windows using a Microsoft account. Your files will follow you, without the need for a lot of setup.
Take your browser bookmarks, apps, and all of your Windows settings with you, automatically. With a Microsoft account it doesn’t matter whether you’re on your Surface tablet or your desktop Dell – your settings stay the same everywhere. Even your browser bookmarks will follow you – assuming, of course, that you’re primarily using Internet Explorer.
It goes deeper than that, though – you can link your Microsoft account to other online accounts, and those links will also follow you. Sign into Facebook, for example, and all of your contacts will show up in the Windows contact manager. Add your email settings and they’ll show up in Microsoft’s default mail client – and follow you instantly from PC to PC. The idea is to simplify jumping from one machine to the other, and while it’s not incredibly useful now – too many people are jumping between Windows 8 and 7 machines, not to mention non-Microsoft tablets and phone – it could be a killer future if the platform continues to grow.
Of course, your desktop apps and their settings won’t sync – just the apps from the Microsoft store and a few Microsoft settings. So don’t expect miracles, but know that the syncing can be pretty nice.
Switch Account Type
Did you set up Windows without an offline account? Whether you didn’t have an active Internet connection at the time or were simply skeptical, Microsoft makes switching from one form of account to the other simple. Just head to the “Users” section of the PC settings and you’ll see a button for the job:
Click that button and you can switch from an online to an offline account in no time.
So, should you use an online Microsoft user account? Microsoft clearly thinks so – they’re pushing the feature pretty heavily. And despite the skepticism I’ve shown, I don’t think there’s a compelling reason to stick to an offline account for a personal user. Businesses, however, should perhaps think twice before setting up online accounts for their user base – there’s a potential security hole here without a lot of enterprise features in return.
But I want to know what you think. Do you use an online or an offline account with Windows 8? Why? I’ve said enough, so speak your mind below. I’m looking forward to it.