What’s the difference between a Microsoft account vs. local account in Windows 8

Windows 8 different account types

Windows 8 can be considered one of the most Internet powered operating system today. The OS and apps almost cannot live without being connected to the cloud. Now you even need to be connected online to sign-in to your desktop. You’ll first notice this if you are installing the OS or you are just configuring your new PC and you are prompted to create a Microsoft account, which is different to what we are used to, but don’t worry the local user account didn’t go away, the option is just a little buried in the options page.

What’s a Microsoft account anyway?

This is nothing new, do you have a @Hotmail, @Live, @MSN, or now an @Outlook account? If you do, you already have a Microsoft account. A “Microsoft account” is just a new name to what was known as: Microsoft Passport, Windows Live ID, .NET Passport, Microsoft Passport Network and Microsoft Wallet. It’s basically a method that enables users to move between Microsoft sites and services (email, Xbox Live, Zune, Windows Phone, etc.) using a single master log-in.

What’s the advantages of making use of a Microsoft account?

A Microsoft account offers many advantages in comparison with a traditional local account, for example, users will find useful to be able to synchronize and roam many aspects of their Windows PC settings. However, a Microsoft account is not the only way users have to sign-in to the desktop. You can always choose to use the option “Sign in without a Microsoft account” (local account) to sign-in to your computer.

Using the cloud connected account you can sync PC settings such as: Windows personalization (wallpapers and account picture) and themes; passwords and account information for certain apps (if you configure your computer as a “trusted PC”), websites and networks; Language preferences, App settings, only for “modern” design apps (also formerly known as Metro style apps), taskbar configuration, and much more. Once Windows is configured, your settings will always travel with you to any Windows 8 PC that you sing-in with your Microsoft account.

PC Settings - Sync - Windows 8

Moreover, you’ll be granted access to browse, download and install modern style apps from the new Windows Store, but the MS account is not necessary if you are installing normal desktop applications.

Windows Store - Front page

If you opt to use a local account be aware that many modern style apps like Calendar, Mail, SkyDrive, and Messaging will not work until you add a Microsoft account information. 

App authentication Windows 8

The breakdown

Microsoft Account

Signing in to PCs using your email address allows you:

  • Download and install modern style apps from the Windows Store.
  • Get your online content in Microsoft apps automatically.
  • Easily share content with Facebook, SkyDrive, Flickr and others.
  • Sync PC settings online.

Local account

Signing in with a traditional account allows you to:

  • Create an account to access and use your Windows 8 PC.
  • You’ll still need a Microsoft account to download and install apps — this can be configured at any time.
  • Computer’s settings will stay locally private and they won’t move with you between other PCs that you sign in to.

How to switch between a local account to a Microsoft account

1. Use the keyboard shortcut Windows 8 Key - Small Monochrome + I, click the Change PC settings option.

2. Navigate to the Users section and click the “Switch to a Microsoft account”.

3. Enter your email address (from a Microsoft service) and click Next.

4. Type your password and click Next. Add the security information, if you haven’t done it already, then click Close to finish.

Quick Tip: By clicking the More account settings link you can control additional settings of your Microsoft account online.

From a Microsoft account to a local account 

Is the same process, but you would use the “Switch to a local account” button.

Creating a new account

To create new user accounts, scroll down, under Other users, click Add a user.

Users modern settings

By default the software giant is pushing people to use the online account (if you want to do that just enter the information and you are good to go), but if you look at the bottom you’ll find the option “Sign in without a Microsoft account” link to add a new user locally — the same option is available when you are installing Windows.

Quick Tip: Everything that gets synced online can be controlled. Just go to your Sync your settings section in the PC settings and tap or swipe what you want sync to your private Microsoft cloud — Refer to the image above.

Add a new user account

Then once again click the Local account button.

Local user account in Windows 8

After the new account is created, you can sign-in to the Windows Desktop like you normally do. However you won’t be able to sync settings, access the Windows Store or use specific apps until you add a Microsoft account.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows expert and the Editor-in-Chief who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He is also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 12 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows, software, and related technologies, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and About.me.