Should you use a local or a Microsoft account in Windows 10?

Since the launch of Windows 10 is just around the corner, we have decided to take a closer look at this operating system's usage of Microsoft accounts. As we all know, starting with Windows 8, users had to choose, when logging into the operating system, between using a local account or a Microsoft account. The idea behind this situation was that if one wanted to take advantage of new Windows features and modern apps you were required to use a Microsoft account. This created a huge rift between the two types of user experiences and an ever more growing frustration on the part of people who liked using local accounts and didn't want to be beholden to an online account. It seems that Microsoft is not at all that deaf to user needs and expectations, hence Windows 10 comes with a more relaxed policy on user accounts. Let's try to understand what the differences are between these two type of accounts in Windows 10 and what has changed from Windows 8.1.

What Is A Local Account?

A local account is a username and password combination that you have used to log into any of the legacy Windows operating systems. It grants you access to the system's resources and allows you to customize it with your own settings and preferences. A local user account in Windows 10 will allow you to install Desktop apps, personalize settings and use the operating system the old fashioned way.

Of course, local accounts can be created for a single system, so if you have multiple devices, you will need to use a different account for each one of them. Also, even if it is not necessarily recommended, this type of account allows you to remove password protection if you don't want it. You can access the Windows Store but, unfortunately, you cannot download and install apps without a Microsoft account. Lastly, your settings will not be synchronized across all of the devices you normally use.

What Is A Microsoft Account?

As most of you already know, a Microsoft account is basically a rebranding of any of a number of previous accounts for Microsoft products. As such, if you have ever used services like Hotmail, Windows Live and Outlook or devices like an Xbox or a Windows Phone, then you are sure to already have a Microsoft account. By rebranding and combining all these different accounts, Microsoft allows for complete integration of all their services into a single account. This means that you can use it to get access to everything connected with the Microsoft ecosystem. For more help on how to create an account and why you should do it, read this article: Simple Questions: What is a Windows Live ID or a Microsoft Account.

The big difference from a local account is that you use an email address instead of a username to log into the operating system. This means that you can use either a Microsoft bound email address (hotmail.com, live.com or outlook.com) or Yahoo!, Gmail and even an ISP specific email address to create your Microsoft account. Unfortunately, this type of sign in process means that you cannot remove, if that is what you want, the password protection. You can only change it.
Also, a Microsoft account allows you to have a two step verification system of your identity each time you sign in. This requires you to enter a security code each time you sign into a device that is not on your trusted list. More about how to use this two step verification process can be found in this article: How To Create & Login With A PIN Or A Picture Password In Windows 10.

Why Would You Use A Microsoft Account?

When you use a Microsoft account in Windows 10, you can synchronize a part of your settings between your devices. The idea is that when you first set up a computer you have to finely tweak system settings so that it would be personalized to your liking. This means choosing a background, changing update settings, setting up the Homegroup and networking options, configuring devices and even selecting your time and language settings. Getting everything set up the way you like takes a lot of time and it cannot be bypassed. Plus, it's a hassle to do this every time you either buy a new computer or device or when you need to reinstall the operating system.

As we said, a valid Microsoft account will help you go through this elaborate process only once. After having configured a Windows 10 computer or device that is linked to your Microsoft account, you can log into any Windows 8.1/10 powered computer or device that is connected to the internet and your settings will be automatically synced between them. You can even synchronize passwords for websites, apps and networks between devices, as long as they are on your trusted list.

The most obvious of the benefits in using a Microsoft account is the ability to download, install and restore modern apps from the Windows Store. If you have used Windows 8 and 8.1, you already know that these are different from traditional Desktop applications and they are more related to those you would download from Apple's App Store or Google's Play Store. Still, it seems that many of the apps that come with Windows 10 will be "universal", meaning that these successors of the "Metro apps" can actually run on the Windows desktop.

Also, an important aspect related to these applications is that you cannot download an installation kit for them, which you can then transfer to another computer or device. Most of them have a small size and use minimal resources. Even though it could take some time for you to understand them, some of them are really useful.

As we have already stated, if you use a local account you can only browse the Windows Store, so you will have to use a Microsoft account to install apps.

If you have other Microsoft devices, like a Windows Phone or an Xbox, then a Microsoft account would help you access unified apps and games. This is a concept that was introduced with Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 and it means that one app is made available on all of Microsoft's platforms. If you purchase an app once, from any Microsoft device, it will be available for all your devices with the same license. Evidently, your settings and data will be synced across devices. It will save you a lot of money when purchasing applications, because you will not have to buy the same app for each computer or device.

A Microsoft account would help you with using for example OneDrive, because you can access, save, share and synchronize all of your music, videos, documents and photos on all of your computers or devices. Nevertheless, this is just one of the ways you will be able to take advantage of Microsoft's cloud services.

Another feature of Windows 10 that you can only access with a Microsoft account is Cortana. Cortana is a great program developed by Microsoft that will act as your personal digital assistant. It is deeply integrated with your Microsoft account and it needs access to your calendar, email, contacts and even browsing history in order to respond to your needs. So, if you want her to help you schedule appointments, set reminder or even find a good place to eat you need to sign in with your Microsoft account.

For more information about how you can start using Cortana, you can read these articles:

Finally, in Windows 10, you can allow family members to sign into the computer with the help of a child or adult account that is linked to your Microsoft family. This is an enhanced version of Family Safety that is now a part of your Microsoft account. It contains all the options that can help you manage everything related to online life of your family and kids, in a single place. You will be able to separately manage their settings for each of their devices and monitor activity, time spent online, apps or games they use.

Why Would You Use A Local Account?

In Windows 8.1, local accounts were extremely limited and you could not access many of the operating system's new features. Windows 10 will loosen these restrictions and elevate the status of local accounts to a level unseen since Windows 7. Luckily for us, in Windows 10, the apps that come bundled with the operating system will work without a Microsoft Account.

In Windows 8.1, useful apps like Calendar, Mail and People required you to enter Microsoft account information before you could start using them. In Windows 10, you can sign in with a local account and use any of these bundled apps without restrictions. For example, Windows 10 Mail lets you sign in to any account you would like to use (Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo! and others) and it will not force you to use your Microsoft account just to start the app.

Microsoft's policy about local accounts in Windows 10 seems to have changed in a very positive way. You no longer have to choose between limited capabilities and cross-platform integration. Windows 10 tries to find a balance between Microsoft accounts and regular users' expectations.

This policy change seems to be oriented at users who, for example, have a single computer and synchronization services are useless for them. Also, it is now easier for those of you who like the idea of having separate accounts on separate computers to create usable local accounts.

The inability to install apps from the Windows Store when you are using a local account doesn't seem such a serious problem, especially for users who are not interested in them. Still, you have to remember that there is a middle ground, meaning that you can log into a local account and then use a Microsoft account to sign into Windows Store and separately into any apps you would like to use.

All in all, Windows 10 takes it down a notch when it comes to Microsoft accounts and will allow you to use this operating system in a more personalized manner. It may well be an attempt on Microsoft's part to make this operating system more appealing to legacy users.

Conclusion

As we have seen with Windows 8.1, Microsoft accounts aren't something everybody wants. In Windows 10, a Microsoft account is accompanied by the ability to sync passwords or settings and the possibility to use Windows Store. Even though Apple and Google have a higher number of apps, Windows Store can also offer great applications that will keep you interested and willing to wait for developers to create more.

Still, we think that Windows 10 will allow you to have a more personal opinion when it comes to user accounts and it remains up to you to decide which one of the two is good for you.
How do you feel about logging into Windows 10 with a Microsoft account? Or do you think Microsoft has improved local accounts enough for you to easily use them? Leave your comments below.