Introducing Windows 8: Should You Use a Local or a Microsoft Account?

Windows 8 offers users a choice that most will have never had to make before. Right from the start, before you even log in and see the new interface, you'll have to choose whether you want to log in using a local account or a Microsoft account. Users who don't plan on taking advantage of new Windows 8 apps and don't want to learn any new features will be more comfortable using a local account, which works just like any account you've ever had on a previous version of Windows. But is there any value in using a Microsoft account? Let’s look at the differences between these two account types and when it is best to choose what.

What is a Local Account?

A local account is the same as any account you’ve ever used to log in to a Windows system. It grants you access to the system’s resources in your own user space. You can install desktop applications, change settings and work as usual. While you won’t miss out on any features that you’re used to, you won’t have access to some exciting new features that Windows 8 has to offer.

Local accounts work on a single system only, so if you do have multiple devices, you’ll have to create a separate account for each.

What is a Microsoft Account

Microsoft account is a rebranding of any of a number of previous accounts for Microsoft products. If you've ever had an Xbox Live account, a Windows Live ID, a Hotmail account, a Microsoft Passport or any other Microsoft related account, then you've already got a Microsoft account. By rebranding and combining all of these separate accounts, Microsoft allows for complete integration of all of their services into a single password. This way, when you log in once, you get access to everything you need. If you want more information, read this article: Simple Questions: What is a Windows Live ID or a Microsoft account?.

A Microsoft account uses an email address rather than a username to log in. While most accounts will be made using Microsoft email addresses including hotmail.com, live.com or outlook.com, you can use any email address to create yours. Whether you prefer Yahoo!, Gmail or even an ISP specific email address, it makes no difference.

Three Reasons to Use a Microsoft Account

1. Synchronizing Windows 8 Settings and Data

When you first set up your new Windows 8 computer there are a lot of details you have to see to. You have to personalize your background, change update settings, change homegroup and networking settings, configure devices and even select your time and language settings. Getting everything set up the way you like can take time and there is no way around that.

Windows 8 - PC Settings

However, with a Microsoft account you only have to go through that process once. After configuring a computer that is linked to your Microsoft account, you can log in to any Windows 8 computer or device that’s connected to the Internet and your basic settings will automatically sync. No need to make the same choices twice. You can even sync passwords for websites, apps and networks between devices, but you’ll have to trust your PC first.

Windows 8 - PC Settings

2. Download Windows 8 Apps from the Windows Store

You may be wondering why you need a fancy account to download apps onto a computer or device. After all, there are plenty of free programs available to anyone online. While this is true, there is an important difference between Windows 8 apps, which are a new feature and traditional Desktop applications, which are what you’re used to.

Windows 8 - Start Screen

Windows 8 apps are small programs that are just like anything you’ve ever downloaded from the Apple’s App Store or the Android Market. Most of them are small, so they take up minimal resources and they run in full-screen mode. They can take a bit of time to figure out, but they can be a lot of fun and really useful.

Windows 8 Modern UI apps

You can browse the Windows Store with a local account, but if you want to download and install something, you’ll need to upgrade.

Windows 8 Modern UI apps

3. Full Access to Bundled Windows 8 Apps & Features

While we’ve already discussed that you’ll need a Microsoft account to download new Windows 8 apps from the store, you’ll also be interested to know that even some the apps that come bundled with the operating system, won’t work either.

Windows 8 - User accounts

Most of the useful apps including Calendar, Mail, People and Messaging will require you to enter Microsoft account information before you can begin to use them. Even Music has more to offer Microsoft account users.

Windows 8 - User accounts

While you do need an account for these apps to function fully, it does bear mentioning that you can simply enter your account information into the apps and still log in with a local account.

While the three previously mentioned features are great for all users, parents may also be interested in the enhanced Family Safety features that you can access with a Microsoft account. With a local account you can create still utilize many of the local features for parental controls, but with a Microsoft account you can take it to the next level. You can remotely manage your parental control settings as well a receive reports about your children’s usage in your inbox.

Who Would Want a Local Account?

Now that you’ve seen what a Microsoft account can do for you, you may wonder why Microsoft even includes an option to use a local account. Who, when given the option, would choose limited functionality over cross-platform integration? The answer is likely a lot of people.

Many users only have or want a single computer. For them, the exciting synchronization feature will be useless. Some users may even like the idea of having separate accounts in separate computers. If the laptop is for work and the desktop is for play, syncing settings wouldn’t been much use at all.

Windows 8 apps are a very new feature that will take getting used to. On a desktop computer their functions aren’t as intuitive and they may not entice all users. To folks uninterested in them, the inability to download apps from the Store won’t be an issue.

Also, there are a lot of users who won’t like Windows 8 because it’s not what they’re used to. For those users, who want this new operating system to work and feel as much as possible like Windows 7 and earlier, a local account will work just fine.

Conclusion

While the Microsoft account may not be for everyone, it is something that should at least be considered. The ability to sync passwords, settings and even wallpapers between computers and devices is extremely useful and a great time saver. Though the Windows Store may not yet have anything near the quality and quantity of offerings that Apple or Android have, there are plenty of great apps available now that will keep you interested until it begins to grow.

How do you feel about logging in with a Microsoft account? Do you find the new features to be useful or more trouble than they’re worth? Check in below with your comments or questions.