How To Understand the Difference Between a Local and Microsoft Account

Written by the Lenovo Companion App Content Team

From the moment you first set up your Windows 8.1 system, you have to choose how you’d like to sign in:

You can set up a local account, which is just like any typical Windows PC account that lets you install desktop apps and customize your workspace. Or you can use a Microsoft account, which offers access to exclusive Windows 8.1 features.

While the latest iteration of Windows does provide the option of using your Lenovo system without a Microsoft account, it’s “not recommended.” Here’s why:

Your Microsoft account follows you from PC to PC

When you use a Microsoft account, your settings are the same every time you sign in to a Windows 8.1 device—whether it’s your desktop, laptop, tablet or phone. Your Start screen and desktop will look the same on every system, and all your apps will follow you. Browser settings and language preferences are synced, and even recognition of devices like wireless printers and Bluetooth speakers carries over from one system to another. Any files and photos you store in OneDrive will be there, too.

Microsoft accounts offer greater security

This is where a Microsoft account is really valuable. Unlike local accounts, your Microsoft password not only protects your personal data, but lets you track PC activity as well. (If you haven’t gotten into the habit of password-protecting all your devices, now's the time.) You can view recent activity to see where and when your account’s been used and if any unsuccessful login attempts have taken place. This makes it easy to change your password if you notice suspicious activity. There is also a series of extra steps you can take to make it harder for hackers to access your Microsoft account.

Multiple accounts let you control different digital environments

Microsoft accounts don’t have to be a one-and-done setup. You can create multiple accounts and switch between them on any Windows 8.1 system—a real convenience for parents, PC-sharing families and people juggling different work settings. Child accounts let parents monitor their kids’ PC use, limit apps and set curfews. Struggling with work-life balance? Customize one account for work and another for play, then choose which one to use based on the time of day. 

There are a lot of other benefits to using a Microsoft account. For example, you can:

  • Capture a moment of thoughtfulness or inspiration with a Sticky Note or OneNote while working on your desktop PC. The next time you sign in to your mobile device, the reminder will be waiting for you.
  • When you log in to your laptop, sign in to OneDrive with the same Microsoft account to see and share photos you took on your phone
  • Build an Xbox music collection and playlists you can listen to wherever you are, be it in the kitchen with your tablet or at a hotel with a laptop.

How to Get a Microsoft Account

Signing in with a local account won’t give you access to any of these features and functionalities. You’ll have access to the files, settings and apps on your local PC only. If you’re currently using a local account, you can easily switch to a Microsoft one. Here’s how:

  • Go to Settings > Change PC Settings
  • Select Accounts > Your account
  • Tap or click Connect to a Microsoft account
  • Follow the instructions on your screen to replace your local account with a new or existing Microsoft account

If you use Skype, Office 365, Xbox Live, OneDrive, or a Windows Phone, you already have a Microsoft account you can use to sign in to your other systems. Need to get one? You can get a free account using any email address you own, including Gmail or your work address.

How to Secure Your Microsoft Account

While the benefits of Microsoft accounts are many, it’s important to lock down the personal information and files you store within it. (Not convinced you need measures like two-factor authentication? Read this cautionary tale.) 

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to secure and protect your Microsoft account—and you should absolutely take advantage of them all. Choose a hard-to-crack password (and don't share it with anyone), learn how to set up two-factor authentication and take advantage of anti-virus software

Then start exploring and enjoying the many advantages of your Microsoft account, stress-free!

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