How to Use Your Windows 8 PC Anywhere – Without Taking It With You!

Chris Hoffman 23-05-2014

Windows 8 is supposed to be the first version of Windows that’s not just tied to a PC. Some of the broad outlines were visible with Windows 8 How To Sync Your Windows 8 Settings Via The Cloud Logging into your Windows 8 computers with a Microsoft account enables access to the Windows Store and other Modern apps, but it's also used to sync Windows 8 settings with the Cloud. Your settings will... Read More , but Microsoft took it even further with Windows 8.1 How To Keep Your Files Synced With SkyDrive In Windows 8.1 Storing data remotely and syncing them across devices has never been so easy, especially if you're using Windows 8.1. SkyDrive received a significant update, improving its integration with Windows and adding interesting new features. Read More . The end vision is that you’ll be able to log into any PC and have your files, settings, and applications there for you. You’ll use the same account to log into every Windows PC and it won’t just be for authentication — your stuff will follow you everywhere.


Use A Microsoft Account

The key to Microsoft’s plan is getting people to log into their PCs with a Microsoft account How Microsoft Overhauled User Accounts In Windows 8 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... Read More . Microsoft encourages you to do this by default — you have to click a few extra links to log in with a local account. When you set up your PC or create a new account, just log in with your existing Microsoft account or create a new one. You can convert a local account to a Microsoft account in the PC Settings app on the Accounts > Your account screen.


When you want to log into another PC, open the PC settings app, navigate to Accounts > Other accounts, select Add an account, and add your Microsoft account. You can’t just sit down at any PC and log in with your Microsoft account — you need the PC’s owner to add you to the system, giving you permission to use their hardware.


Desktop Settings

Windows 8 and 8.1 will move many desktop settings between your PCs by default. This includes cosmetic settings like your desktop background, lock screen image, account pictures, colors, the tiles on your Start screen, and their layout. It also works for desktop settings for the File Explorer, mouse, keyboards, printers, input methods, languages, and ease-of-access tools. These settings are synced between the computers you log in with — so when you change one on one PC, it will also be changed on your other PCs.


To adjust these settings, open the Change PC settings app — press Windows Key + C or swipe in from the right to access the charms bar, tap or click Settings, and select. Change PC settings. Navigate to OneDrive > Sync settings to check and configure these settings.



Microsoft also wants your files to follow you across your PCs, which is why OneDrive is integrated into Windows 8.1’s desktop. OneDrive provides a special folder you can access in the File Explorer and use from any desktop application. Drop your files in here and they’ll be uploaded to your online OneDrive storage. You can then sign in on any other Windows PC and all your files will be right there under OneDrive. You can also access them via the OneDrive website or mobile apps, of course.

It’s like Dropbox or Google Drive, but integrated into the operating system. It’s actually even more intelligent — rather than downloading all your files to your current PC, OneDrive will download files on-demand as you open them. This means you can store a huge amount of files in your OneDrive without worrying about syncing them to each PC you use.


Microsoft provides a 7 GB of free space, although you may have more free OneDrive space How To Get The Most Free Space On Dropbox, Box, SkyDrive & More - The Complete Guide Cloud storage services offer a minimum amount of free space to everyone who signs up, but you can often get more. You can upgrade your cloud drive with gigabytes and gigabytes of free space in... Read More if you used SkyDrive in the past. You can view your free space from OneDrive > File storage in PC settings or access them under OneDrive in File Explorer. Save files to OneDrive and they’ll be there on any PC you log into with your account.


Photos and Videos

Photos and videos are also synced to OneDrive, although this works a bit differently. Photos under your Pictures > Camera Roll folder will be synced automatically. You can adjust the upload settings under OneDrive > Camera roll in PC settings.

The reason for using a different folder with different settings is so OneDrive can automatically adjust the quality, if you like. You could dump all the photos you take in your Camera Roll folder and have OneDrive automatically compress them to a good size and upload them for backing up without fiddling with any of this on your own.




Microsoft’s vision is coming together more slowly around applications. For now, applications you install from the Windows Store What Are The Best Apps To Get Started With Windows 8? Read More will be synced between your Windows devices. These settings are controlled under OneDrive > Sync settings in Change PC settings, too.

The problem is you probably don’t use those “Store apps” on your PC. Because of the way desktop applications work, they can’t be synced between your devices. (However, you could get around this a little bit by using portable desktop applications The Best Portable Apps That Require No Installation Portable apps don't need installation. You can run them from even a flash drive. Here are the best portable apps around. Read More and placing them in your OneDrive folder.)

In the long run, Microsoft wants to encourage us all to use these Store apps. That’s why they’re adding the ability to run these apps in windows on a desktop. Your applications will then follow you from PC to tablet to PC.



Microsoft’s Vision

You can still use Windows 8.1 like old versions of Windows. You could log in with a local account, disable access to OneDrive, and use only desktop applications. In this case, none of your settings, files, or applications would follow you from PC to PC. This only works if you’re willing to buy into Microsoft’s vision of the future.

It’s similar to what Chrome offers with browser sync and Chrome apps, or what every online service offers with the ability to access your data on the web from any PC or with an app on any mobile device. Microsoft is catching up to the times — it’s a shame desktop applications still seem stuck in the past.

Image Credit: K.G.23 on Flickr

Related topics: Cloud Storage, Microsoft OneDrive, Microsoft SkyDrive, Windows 8.

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  1. Dan Shelby
    June 2, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    I have both a Windows 7 and 8.1 computer. On advice, I downloaded the onedrive app to the Windows 7 computer, signed in using my Microsoft login and password and files recently updated on the 8.1 computer were available. I then updated one file and shut down the W7 computer. I then went to the W8.1 computer and signed on. The file I updated on W7 was not changed. I think I know the answer but need help with it. While I have a Microsoft account and password on the W8.1, my normal sign-on is with the same login name but a different password. I believe if I had signed in with the MicroSoft password then the file would have been updated on W8.1. Should I create a new account on W8.1, make it the administrator, then delete the old administrator account, then make a new account using the MicroSoft onedrive login and password? Or, is there an easier way? Thanks to Tina S for the earlier advice!

  2. dxraygirl
    May 28, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    This is a great concept, if we wern't restricted to the use of One Drive and Windows outdated software

    • Tina S
      May 28, 2014 at 6:34 pm

      What software do you think is outdated and why?

  3. Dan Shelby
    May 27, 2014 at 1:27 am

    I have 2 computers, Windows 8.1 and Windows 7. On the 8.1 computer most of my files are stored in the onedrive folder or section. I have been going to the W7 computer and going to onedrive, signing in with my Microsoft E-Mail Name and password, and then downloading all recently updated files -- then moving the downloaded files to the W7 computer. Since this is cumbersome, it would be nice to sync the 2 computers. So, using what I derived from the above, I went to the W7 computer, added an account (let's call it Charlie which is not my microsoft e-mail name) and I gave the new account my microsoft password which it accepted. It then took a short while and established files for the new account. I then changed users to the newly added account and could not locate onedrive folder or section in the file explorer. Did I do anything right? What went wrong?

    • Tina S
      May 28, 2014 at 6:47 pm

      Windows 7 doesn't support logins using your Microsoft account; mimicking your Microsoft account name and password for your local Windows user account does nothing. Also, OneDrive isn't integrated into Windows 7, so it won't automatically be set up.

      What you can do to sync files to your Windows 7 computer, is download the OneDrive desktop app. Microsoft compiled some information about it in its OneDrive desktop app FAQ.

      Good luck!

  4. walkergw
    May 24, 2014 at 6:34 am

    This is one of the reasons I love W8. I have used this function on multiple computers. Everytime I hear people refusing to use an MS account to log onto Windows 8 and refuse to do it anyway but the old way with a local account, I shake my head. No wonder these people hate windows 8. They refuse to use the best parts.

    • np
      May 27, 2014 at 5:07 am

      There is very good reason to refuse to use a MS account to login to your own machine, because it ceases to become your machine anymore. It pisses me off that MS tried very hard to hide the local login functionality with Win 8.1, even resorting to trickery.

  5. likefunbutno
    May 24, 2014 at 5:51 am

    The amount of space offered by OneDrive is very small unless you have a paid subscription. It's true that Store Apps and desktop settings follow you around in some but not all cases, but most people who engage in normal use of Windows 8.x just won't have many Modern-Style apps/ Furthermore, most modern-style apps have practically no internal configuration or preferences, so the time savings vs. manually downloading them from the store is usually pretty minimal.
    You can get all the benefits of OneDrive with any cloud storage service.

    I prefer to use a VPN (try LogMeIn Hamachi if you don't know what you're doing) plus an RDP client to provide full access to my personal machines, and I share music, photos and videos through Plex, which is particularly handy since anyone viewing my shared content cannot copy it out of my library.

  6. jen
    May 23, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    If you have enterprise you can use Windows To Go.

  7. Antonio N
    May 23, 2014 at 3:08 pm


  8. Carolyn B
    May 23, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    This is a new one on me.I never imagined you could do that!