Are you using a laptop with Windows 10 or a gaming PC with Windows 11? Are you editing documents with Microsoft 365 or synchronizing your files with OneDrive? Do you own an Xbox Series X console? Are you still video conferencing on Skype? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, there’s a high chance that you already have a Microsoft account. If you want to know what a Microsoft account is, what it looks like, understand whether you can use Gmail with a Microsoft account, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of using a Microsoft account, read this article:
A Microsoft account is what you use to access Microsoft’s devices, websites, and services. It is an ID composed of an e-mail address and password that you use to log in to your Windows 10 or Windows 11 computer, Xbox Series X console, Microsoft 365 subscription, Skype, OneDrive, Microsoft Edge, Bing, and so on. The picture below shows you the most popular products and services that require a Microsoft account.
A Microsoft account is free, and you can create it from just about anywhere: Windows 10 or Windows 11, your Xbox console, Skype, or this webpage: Create a Microsoft account. Nowadays, you can also create a Microsoft account using a phone number and a password instead of an e-mail address.
If you’re using an e-mail address and password to sign in to Microsoft devices and services like those discussed earlier, you already have a Microsoft account. If you have an Xbox account, that one’s a Microsoft account too, and you can use it to access all Microsoft services. Microsoft accounts usually have a Microsoft-related e-mail address like: [email protected], [email protected], or [email protected]. However, a Microsoft e-mail address is not mandatory for a Microsoft account.
A feature that’s both cool and confusing at the same time is that you can create a Microsoft account without a Microsoft e-mail address (outlook.com, hotmail.com, or live.com). When you access the create Microsoft account page, you can type a Gmail address, Yahoo! e-mail address, or any other e-mail. Then, you create the password, enter additional information, and your Microsoft account is created WITHOUT a Microsoft e-mail address. For more information, here are three ways to create a Microsoft account.
If you have a Microsoft account associated with a Gmail address, you could be under the impression that your Google account is the same as your Microsoft account. This is especially true if you’re making the mistake of using the same password for both. First of all, they’re different accounts. Your original Gmail address is your Google account, and it gives you access to Google’s services and devices. Even if it’s associated with a Gmail address, your Microsoft account is a different account that gives you access only to Microsoft’s devices and services. Also, you should not be using the same password for both.
IMPORTANT: If you’re using the same password for your Microsoft and Google accounts, we strongly suggest that you change it right now. For help, here’s how to change the password for your Microsoft account. Additionally, for added security, you should also enable two-step authentication. We have guides to help in both cases:
- How to enable 2-step verification for your Microsoft account
- How to enable 2-step verification for your Google account
There are many benefits to having a Microsoft account, and their number grows proportionally to how many of Microsoft's products and services you’re using. Here are some of the most obvious:
- You can sign in to your Windows 10 and Windows 11 laptops, tablets, and computers using the same Microsoft account. Then, your settings and files (if you’re using OneDrive) automatically get synchronized across all your devices through your account.
- You can sign in with a Microsoft account on your Xbox console, purchase games and other digital content, an Xbox Live Gold subscription, or an Xbox Game Pass.
- You can purchase and use a Microsoft 365 subscription (formerly known as Office 365).
- You can purchase, download, and install apps, games, and other content from the Microsoft Store in Windows 10 and Windows 11.
- You can sign in and use Skype for free.
- You get free online storage with OneDrive. You can also buy a OneDrive storage plan (if you want) and synchronize your files across all your devices, including Android smartphones and tablets or iPhones and iPads.
- You can sign into Bing, Bing Maps, and other web services and get access to personalized data.
- You can use Cortana with a Microsoft account in Windows 10 and Windows 11.
- You get an easy-to-use dashboard from which you can manage all your Microsoft devices, services, subscriptions, etc. To access it, go to this page and sign in with your Microsoft account: account.microsoft.com. There, you’ll also see what data Microsoft stores about you.
There are also downsides to using a Microsoft account, not only benefits:
- You give personal information to Microsoft. The company will have your e-mail address (and potential access to your e-mails, if you’re using a Microsoft e-mail address), your purchase history, your settings, and so on. If you’re using Bing or Cortana, Microsoft will also know quite a lot about your browsing history and speech/search activity. If you’re using OneDrive, your files will be stored on Microsoft’s servers. If you want to see all the data Microsoft has about you, go to this Privacy Dashboard and sign in with your Microsoft account.
- Your Microsoft account is hackable, especially if you don’t set a strong and unique password for it and you don’t activate two-step authentication.
- If you forget your password or your account is hacked, you are locked out of all Microsoft devices, services, and websites. However, you can reset your password using the instructions from this guide: How do I reset my Microsoft account password?
- You need an internet connection to log in with a Microsoft account to all Microsoft services. However, this is not the case when you log in to Windows or Xbox, except for the first sign-in when an internet connection is mandatory. After the first login, you can use a Microsoft account even when offline.
If you have created a Microsoft account only for accessing Windows, and you’re not happy with the downsides we mentioned earlier, you can use a local offline account following the steps shared in these guides:
- 6 ways to add a local (non-Microsoft) user to Windows 10
- How to install and use Windows 11 with a local account
Now you know what a Microsoft account is, what a Microsoft account looks like, and how you can create a Microsoft account using a Gmail address or some other e-mail. You also know the main benefits and drawbacks of using a Microsoft account. Before closing this article, tell us whether you have a Microsoft account, whether it’s associated with a Microsoft e-mail address, a phone number, or a Gmail address, and what you’re using it for. Is it only for Windows, or for Xbox too? Are you still using Skype with your Microsoft account? Tell us in a comment below.