The Difference between Local and Microsoft Accounts in Windows

The difference between a local account v. microsoft account in Windows

Microsoft or Local account

Robert Kingsley/Microsoft

When you install Windows 10 for the first time, you’ll have to make a choice that you’ve never had before. Do you want to use a local or Microsoft Account?

Microsoft Accounts are a new feature, and Microsoft really doesn't want you to use a local account in Windows 10. The wrong choice here may force you to miss out on a lot of great features offered by your new OS.

Choosing a local account doesn't ensure your login will stay that way. If you log into the Microsoft store or install any app with your Microsoft account, the login can convert back to using your Microsoft account.

What is a Local Account?

If you've ever signed-in to a home computer running Windows XP or Windows 7 then you’ve used a local account.

The name may throw off novice users, but it’s nothing more than an account to access the computer as a default administrator. A local account works on that specific computer and no others.

Benefits of using a local account:

  • More secure: You can up a complex password that only works on one computer and nowhere else.
  • Private: Your settings and computer usage aren't transmitted to remote servers. Everything is stored locally within just one computer.
  • Internet-independent: A Microsoft login requires a connection to the internet to retrieve user settings and preferences.
  • Custom login name: You don't need to use your email address as a login name, so it won't be displayed on the login screen when your screen locks.

Choose a local account if you want to keep your experience like it was on previous versions of Windows. You’ll be able to log in, change your settings, install software, and keep your user area separate from others on the system.

However, you'll also miss out on a bunch of features made possible by Microsoft Accounts. 

One major drawback of using a local account is whenever you use Microsoft products like the Microsoft Store or Skype, you'll need to manually sign in every time.

What is a Microsoft Account?

Screenshot of Microsoft Account login screen

A Microsoft Account is just a new name for what used to be called the Windows Live ID.

If you've ever used services such as Xbox Live, Hotmail, Outlook.com, OneDrive or Windows Messenger, you already have a Microsoft Account. Microsoft has simply combined all of these services together, allowing you to access them with a single account. You just need to use one email address and password.

Obviously, having a Microsoft Account means you’ll have easier access to all of Microsoft’s various services, but using it with Windows 10 provides a few more perks.

Access to the Windows Store

Signing in to Windows 10 gives you access to the new Windows Store where you can download modern apps to your Windows 8 computer. These modern apps are similar to the apps you see in the Google Play Store or the iTunes App Store. The difference is Windows Store apps can be used on your PC — Windows 10 users can even treat them like regular desktop apps.

You’ll find thousands of free apps in categories including games, sports, social, entertainment, photo, music, and news. Some are paid apps, but many more are free of charge, and they’re all easy to use.

Free Cloud Storage

Screenshot of OneDrive account

Setting up a Microsoft Account automatically awards you 5GB of storage space in the cloud free of charge. This service, known as OneDrive, allows you to store your files online so you can access them from your other devices.

Not only is your data easier to get to, but it’s also easier to share. OneDrive makes it easy to give your friends and family access to anything stored in the cloud. They can log in to view it or even download a copy for themselves.

OneDrive also provides tools for editing your files using Office Online: a suite of simplified Microsoft Office programs for editing or creating documents stored in OneDrive.

If you decide not to use a Microsoft Account with your PC, you can still get 5GB of free storage with OneDrive. Chances are you've already got it even if you don't realize it.

Sync Your Account Settings

Perhaps the most exciting feature of a Microsoft Account is that it allows you the freedom to store your Windows 10 account settings in the cloud. This means that you can log in to an account on one modern Windows computer, set it up the way you like it, and the changes you make there are stored in the cloud through a process that syncs your desktop with OneDrive.

Windows 10 account makes sync even better by allowing you to sync network profiles, passwords, and even Windows store app settings between accounts. Windows 10 also allows you to share Wi-Fi passwords seamlessly in the background with your friends and colleagues.

Benefits of logging into your computer with your Windows account includes:

Cons of Logging in with a Windows Account

Some of the downsides of using a Microsoft account to log into your Windows computer include:

  • Hackable: Since your Microsoft account is stored on the internet, if it ever gets hacked it would give the hacker not only access to your computer but also every single Microsoft service you use.
  • Internet needed: It is possible to log into your computer if you don't have internet access, but it'll require an extra step where you need to confirm you're willing to use the latest saved settings.
  • Shared password: If you share a Microsoft login with anyone so they can access the computer, they'll also have access to all of your Microsoft services and any sensitive information stored there.
  • Less privacy: Not only your computer settings are stored on Microsoft servers, but so is your computer usage, sites you visit, and apps you use.
  • Synced settings: If you don't want your settings synced across all of your Windows devices, you're out of luck if you use the same Microsoft account on all of them.

Getting locked out of your Microsoft account also means you'll get locked out of all the devices you use with that account. Thankfully, unlocking your Microsoft password is easy.

Which Account Type Should You Choose?

While it’s obvious that the Microsoft Account offers a lot of features that a local account does not, that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.

If you don’t care about Windows Store apps, only have one computer and don’t need access to your data anywhere but your home, then a local account will work just fine. It’ll get you into Windows and provide you with personal space to call your own.

If you’re interested in the new features that Windows 10 has to offer, though, then you’ll need a Microsoft Account to take full advantage of them.