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

Since Windows 10 is now the most used operating system in the world, we thought it would be useful and informative to take a closer look at how it uses Microsoft accounts. As we all know, when you add a user account to Windows 10, you get to choose between using a local offline account or a Microsoft online account. The idea behind this setup is that if you want to take advantage of all the new Windows 10 features and modern apps, you are required to use a Microsoft online account. This creates a rift between the two types of user experiences and it’s frustrating for the people who like and want to use local offline accounts and don’t want to be beholden to an online account. It seems however that Microsoft is not that deaf to users’ needs and expectations. Hence the latest versions of Windows 10, including Creators Update, come with a more relaxed policy on user accounts. Let's try to understand what the differences are between these two types of accounts in Windows.

What is a local offline account in Windows 10?

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 to your settings and preferences. A local user account in Windows 10 will allow you to install traditional desktop apps, personalize settings and use the operating system the old fashioned way. Of course, local offline accounts can be created for a single system, so if you have multiple devices, you will need to use a different local account for each of them. And although it is not necessarily recommended, this type of offline account allows you to remove password protection if you don't want it.

You can access the Windows Store but, if you use Windows 10 Home, you cannot download and install apps without a Microsoft account. If, however, you use Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise or Education, you can download and install apps from the Windows Store, but only if they’re free. If they’re paid, you must sign in using a Microsoft account so that their licenses are associated with you. Lastly, if you use a local offline account in Windows 10, your settings will not be synchronized across all of the computers and devices you typically use.

What is a Microsoft account?

A Microsoft account is a rebranding of any of previous accounts for Microsoft products. As such, if you have ever used services like Hotmail, Outlook.com, Skype, or devices like Xbox game consoles or Windows smartphones, then you are sure to have a Microsoft account already. By rebranding and combining all these different accounts, Microsoft allows for complete integration of all their services into a single online account. This means that you can use it to get access to everything connected to the Microsoft ecosystem. For more help on how to create a Microsoft account and why you should do it, read this article: Simple questions: What is a Microsoft account (Outlook, Xbox, Skype)?.

The big difference from a local account is that you use an email address instead of a username to log into the operating system. So you can use either a Microsoft bound email address (hotmail.com, live.com or outlook.com) or Gmail and even an ISP specific email address to create your Microsoft account. This type of sign in the process means that you cannot remove the password protection. You can only change it.

Also, a Microsoft account also allows you to configure 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 set up two-step verification for your Microsoft account with Google Authenticator.

Why would you use a Microsoft account?

When you use a Microsoft account in Windows 10, you can synchronize your settings between your various computers and devices. The idea is that when you first set up a computer, you tweak system settings so that it’s customized exactly how you like it. It means choosing a background, setting the Homegroup and networking options, configuring devices and even selecting your time and language settings. Getting everything set up the way you want it takes a lot of time and cannot be bypassed. Plus, it's a hassle to do it 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 configuring a Windows 10 computer or device that is linked to your Microsoft account, you can log into any Windows 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 benefits of using a Microsoft account include the ability to download, install and restore modern UWP apps from the Windows Store.

If you have other Microsoft devices, like a Windows smartphone or an Xbox, then a Microsoft account would help you access unified apps and games. It means that if you purchase an app once, on any Microsoft device, it will be available for all your devices because it uses the same license. Obviously, your settings and data will also be synced across devices. It also means that you’ll save you a lot of money when purchasing applications because you will not have to buy the same app for each computer or device you own.

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 Windows 10 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 use to its fullest if you access it with a Microsoft account is Cortana. Cortana is a great program developed by Microsoft that acts 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 to respond to your needs. So, if you want her to help you schedule appointments, set a reminder or even find a good place to eat you need to sign in with your Microsoft account. Otherwise, she’ll only be able to do basic web searches for you.

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 a part of your Microsoft account’s perks, and it’s a service that contains options for managing the online life of your family and kids, all from a single place. With it, you can control the settings of each of your children's devices separately; you can monitor their activity, the time they spend online, the apps and games they use. If you’d like to know more about how to create a Windows 10 user account for your child, read this concise guide: How to add a child account to your Windows 10 PC, in 3 steps.

Also, if you want to create a new Microsoft account, on your Windows 10 computer or device, read this guide: How to add a Microsoft account to your Windows 10 PC.

Why would you use a local offline account?

In Windows 10, the apps that come bundled with the operating system, like the Mail and Calendar app, can work without a Microsoft Account. If you own a Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise, or Education edition, you can even download and install apps from the Windows Store without having to use a Microsoft account. A local offline account will suffice. However, that works only for free apps and games. If you want to download paid apps, you must use a Microsoft account, as their licenses are tied to your online account.

Microsoft's policy about local accounts in Windows 10 changed in a positive way lately, especially in Creators Update. Windows 10 tries to find a balance between Microsoft accounts and regular users' expectations, and attempts to offer as many features as possible to users who prefer using local accounts. This policy is aimed at users who, for example, have a single computer and synchronization services are useless for them. Local accounts are also an option to consider for those of you who like the idea of having separate accounts on different computers.

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. Plus you always have the option of the middle ground, which is to use a local offline account on your Windows 10 PC, but use a Microsoft account to sign into Windows Store to download and install the apps you want. In the end, the local offline user accounts are the choice that appeals the most to legacy users.

Conclusion

Microsoft accounts aren't something everybody wants. In Windows 10, a Microsoft account gives you the ability to sync things like personalization options, passwords or settings. On the other hand, Windows 10 allows you to have more options when it comes to choosing between a Microsoft account and a local offline user account, so it remains for you to decide which one of the two is right for you. If you have questions or opinions you’d like to share on this matter, feel free to leave a comment below.