How Microsoft Overhauled User Accounts In Windows 8

Justin Pot 27-04-2013

microsoft user accountWhat’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:

microsoft user account

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:


microsoft user account windows 8

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.

microsoft user account windows 8

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.


SkyDrive Space

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 Accessing The Cloud With Windows 8 Consumer Preview One of the key aspects in which Windows 8 differs from previous releases is its provision of access to cloud storage, particularly SkyDrive. While earlier versions of Windows require you to access SkyDrive via your... Read More , 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:

microsoft user account

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.

If you want to learn more about Windows 8, check out our Windows 8 manual The Windows 8 Guide This Windows 8 guide outlines everything new about Windows 8, from the tablet-like start screen to the new "app" concept to the familiar desktop mode. Read More  and our list of Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts Windows Keyboard Shortcuts 101: The Ultimate Guide Keyboard shortcuts can save you hours of time. Master the universal Windows keyboard shortcuts, keyboard tricks for specific programs, and a few other tips to speed up your work. Read More . You’ll learn a lot, I promise.

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  4. Dwayne Johnson
    April 9, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    I went from windows 8 to 8.1. then 10 and everything went south! lost all my pics too.
    Now i have Norton popping up all the time. He is a virus!
    I've forgot my admin password long ago and cannot change anything without it.
    I'm hooped!

  5. bill
    January 27, 2017 at 7:09 pm has really big hidden to try2tell you that you HAVE2set up an online account...out of their minds...i think its a great idea for an online whatever computer you use you have you the computer is bought it...its in your of course you want a user account..especially admin account because its your computer...then you set up a standard for internet surfing..and then...if YOU.want you can do the online deal....if you want...thats what microsoft doesnt get...they are a service...not a emperorship....they dont tell us what we have2do...they need2listen2what WE want...period

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  7. geezer
    May 1, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    As per usual Microsoft would like to abrogate our freedom of choice. In addition to use of the App Store and syncing, one can't help noticing that "Refresh your PC" fails to restore installed apps not from the App store. The only excuse for using Windows 8 is that it is visibly faster and in the non-Metro mode it still looks and feels like Windows 7.

  8. Reinis Vesers
    May 1, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    I use windows 8 but with an offline profile for one simple reason -- no necessity to write my password every time i login. I'm not a particularly paranoid person and i'm the only one who uses my computer. What if it gets stolen you ask? I'll just nuke it with Prey. It's installed on all of my devices for if someone steals them.

  9. Onaje Asheber
    April 29, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Great points, i still use Windows 7 and Linux.

  10. Roy Holland
    April 29, 2013 at 8:09 am

    It is very inconvenient to have all your important data, mail, photos on email, etc. and not be able to get to them!
    I had Cox email prior to buying my new computer which has windows 8. I no longer can access Cox. I understand that MS doesn't support the type of server etc. that is used.
    Now have Outlook but still need to get to my data to retrieve what is valid. Is there a way to access Cox email that I can use?
    Roy Holland

    • dragonmouth
      April 29, 2013 at 12:35 pm

      Can you get at your Cox account with your old computer, or is it dead?

      • Dragabooby
        May 22, 2017 at 4:40 am

        MIcrosoft wants to keep you using only microsoft products.They want to be a monopoly. "They work better" M$ whines. If they did, I might use them. But it's getting to where the giants are competing. Now, since M$ owns Skype, we can only use skype with an M$ account. soon, Bing will be compulsory, and Edge. Google has all it's stuff, OS, browser, google+, youtube, gmail. They want you, too, and don't want you going elsewhere.

        stick with Linux and the open-source community.

    • Skippy Handleman
      May 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm

      Cox has a web interface for e-mail:

      Or you could always install a "desktop" e-mail client, such as Thunderbird.

    • Justin Pot
      May 13, 2013 at 8:50 pm

      So long as Cox uses IMAP/POP you should be least that's what I thought...

  11. Chubonga
    April 28, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    I tried making an offline account but everytime I try and login from the offline account, all I get is a black screen. Did this happen to anyone else?

  12. Woody
    April 28, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    To me the biggest problem with Microsoft requiring a user account to access the app store and other features is the simple fact that one day out of the blue they may decide your account violated some obscure policy and just simply ban it, leaving you high and dry. What happens to your account on your computer if it gets banned? Can you log in?

    • Justin Pot
      April 28, 2013 at 9:21 pm

      Probably a good idea to have at least one offline account, just in case...

    • Lin
      December 19, 2014 at 8:15 pm

      While this is older I would have to disagree to some extent Justin. If the Windows account is registered with the activation key provided with the OS I could easily see a total lockout happening. I mean everything is so tied together now and Windows 10 is going to be doing this same nonsense of Live ID's so I can only imagine it getting worse further into the future. (If they don't ban a product ID yet. Similar to how they block a whole Xbox console).

  13. null
    April 28, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    How does any of this work for businesses with accounts already setup?

    I live in the Caribbean and the internet does not exist everywhere nor at your fingertip. So how do I log in when I want to chill in car or under a tree?

    And why cant I use apps if I am not using the offline account?
    That's what Apple is there for.
    If anyone from Microsoft is reading this then I dare say if you continue to push out things like Vista and Win 8 without thinking things through then your business plan is sure to fail.

    PS why did you not call Windows RT something different like Windows Tablet OS instead of having people buy things only to come to technician to find out that the OS is different from actual windows?

    • Scott M
      April 29, 2013 at 9:54 am

      That really puzzled me in the release of the tablet and the new OS.The distinction between the two wasn't clearly advertised and I still can't see the reason for them being so different.

      • dragonmouth
        April 29, 2013 at 12:31 pm

        Did you ever think it might be intentional? Confuse the suck..... customers so they turn to MS for assistance.

        • Scott M
          April 29, 2013 at 2:21 pm

          Sounds about right!

  14. Dave Parrack
    April 28, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Oh Clippy, how I miss you so.

    • Madmonkey
      April 29, 2013 at 11:11 am
    • dragonmouth
      April 29, 2013 at 12:28 pm

      Don't get maudlin, Dave. Next thing you know, you'll be crying.

      • Dave Parrack
        April 29, 2013 at 4:07 pm

        I've already shed a tear or two over the death of Clippy. He was quite a guy, with his bulging eyes and wide smile. Microsoft should be brought to justice over the way they killed him off and then poked fun at his untimely demise.

        • dragonmouth
          April 29, 2013 at 7:04 pm

          Are you going to get misty-eyed over Bob, too?

        • Justin Pot
          May 2, 2013 at 12:56 am

          Siri would be way cooler if she was a cartoon dog and/or paperclip. Just saying...

  15. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    April 28, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Funnily, we can replicate every feature mentioned without having online account. Just get any USB drive and fill it with portable apps of your choice, and you're ready to go. Like someone here said before, Win8 is trying a Chrome-like approach, but it's a full fledged desktop unlike Chromebook. It's annoying to have an online account to test applications, because I like having a totally offline machine (for various reasons). This means I can't download the program's installer to test on such machine.

    • Justin Pot
      April 28, 2013 at 9:17 pm

      Windows 8 has a long way to go until it's Chrome-like. Most apps most people use don't sync, and I had trouble even getting the ones that are supposed to work working.

  16. Scott M
    April 28, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Apple Chrome and Microsoft are all doing it.If you want the sync features and the other benefits that go along with it it is a great idea.I don't enjoy being registered everywhere as I feel There is enough of my information on the web already but if you want the services you don't really have a choice.I guess what I find offensive is it appears in the grey area,a little underhanded.

    • dragonmouth
      April 28, 2013 at 1:29 pm

      "if you want the services you don’t really have a choice"
      Convenience has its price. The question is who is willing to make the Faustian bargain?!

      • Justin Pot
        April 28, 2013 at 9:16 pm

        Apparently, pretty much everyone.

        • Scott M
          April 29, 2013 at 9:50 am

          You are correct.If you want the service you put up with the intrusion and do your best to limit it through extensions and other tools.

  17. Nevzat A
    April 28, 2013 at 6:25 am

    Great and very detailed article, many thanks.

  18. null
    April 28, 2013 at 4:10 am

    I would like to thank the author for an objective, balanced approach. When he wrote: "Microsoft really, really, really wants you to use one..", I thought, "OK, this is an author who tells us what we need to know, not what Microsoft wants us to hear.

    That said, I think what Microsoft is trying to do is nothing short of disgusting. I cannot wait until we finish showing Microsoft how we feel about their attempt to herd us like cattle.

    Windows 8 will fail.

  19. dragonmouth
    April 27, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    As you said, M$ wants to create a walled garden. I don't appreciate anybody trying to wall me in. I do not want to be locked into an Apple, Google or a Microsoft universe.

    • Scott M
      April 29, 2013 at 9:49 am

      They are all trying to wall us in.It looks great in an annual repost and when they are charging for ads or selling likes and potential buying habits.

    • Lin
      December 19, 2014 at 8:18 pm

      This is an older post I know.

      Scott this is why there is GNU/Linux. Pick your flavor and you get to choose how walled in you feel or how bloated you are.

  20. Javier Sánchez
    April 27, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    Well I have to say I just love windows 8. Though I consider myself impartial. I think it's always concerning the way MS tries to keep track of users. I don't think any of us enjoy being controlled in anyway. In the other hand, I want to mention Chrome does exactly the same. When you run the first time Chrome, everything in it pushes you to use your google account on it. It is quite useful, since you sync tons of stuff. You can bring with you all your data wherever you go. So it's not less useful using your microsoft account on windows for me.

  21. Steve
    April 27, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    Dammit - I did format the post!

  22. Steve
    April 27, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    Maybe the point of having to sign up on line is so they can track the number of installs, locations etc. Not to mention they will then be spamming your inbox with how wonderful Bing is (in the same way it keeps appearing as a desktop add on among the optional updates to Windows 7).

    Microsoft seems determined to build a walled garden the same as apple and I for 1 do not wish to have the rigamarole of needing an email address to use an OS or access.

    I have 3 email addresses with MS already, each for a specific purpose, as well as other email addresses for other purposes (nothing shady!) and frankly dont need another and at the same time have no wish to associate my current hotmail/outlook with my OS.

    I agree that in business this is going to be a headache not withstanding the fun of Metro/Windows confusion with applications, permissions etc for company software (and heaven knows about bespoke!)

    MS8 - another fail (nail?) - and yes I have tried it. It adds nothing to my use of computers even at the cheap upgrade price