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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, but Microsoft took it even further with Windows 8.1. 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. 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.
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 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 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 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.
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