If you have an iPhone or any other Apple device, you have an Apple account. Your Apple ID is your email address. You must sign in with your Apple ID to setup and use your iPhone or iPad and to use iCloud. You have the option to create a free email account on icloud.com if you wish, but this is optional.
If you have an Android phone, then you must have a Google account. It works much the same as an Apple account. While it is possible to create a Google account using your existing email account, Google hides that option and so most people end up creating a Gmail account to use for their Google account.
Years ago, Microsoft started doing a similar thing and calls them Microsoft Accounts. Your Microsoft account can be created using your existing email account, or you can create an email account on one of Microsoft’s free email services like outlook.com or Hotmail.com.
Starting with Windows 8, Microsoft gave you the option to login to Windows using a Microsoft account instead of a simple local (offline) account. There are pros and cons to using a Microsoft Account to login to Windows. One good thing is that if you forget your password or can’t login to Windows, you can reset your password online either on your computer or using another computer or device (cell phone, tablet, etc.). With a local account, you would probably have to call us.
Another good thing about logging into Windows with a Microsoft Account is that you can synchronize settings and apps across multiple Windows devices if you login to all of them using the same Microsoft Account. This sync is not the same as iCloud. It will sync a lot of your Windows settings so that the settings are the same on all of your Windows devices. If you use Microsoft Edge for browsing the web (not recommended), it will sync saved passwords too. In case you are wondering, you can sync your Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox data across devices too using either a Google account or Firefox account.
You’ll have to have a Microsoft Account if you want to use OneDrive. By the way, a Microsoft Account has been required (in most cases) to install Microsoft Office for some time now. If you have a recent copy of Microsoft Office, you probably have a Microsoft account.
There are also cons to using a Microsoft Account to login to Windows. The first concern is privacy. Microsoft can track everything you do, much like Google and Apple do. I’m not convinced Microsoft doesn’t track everything you do even if you don’t use a Microsoft Account to login to Windows. But that’s another article.
Another con is that you MUST enter a password to login to Windows. Local accounts don’t have to have passwords, but Microsoft Accounts do. It is possible to set it up so that when Windows boots up, it will automatically enter your password for you. But the drawback to this is that most people forget they have a password and then don’t remember what it is. Then something happens and it asks for the password and they don’t know what it is.
I bring all of this up because Microsoft is now requiring Microsoft Accounts when setting up a new computer. Thankfully, there are ways around it. One way is to keep your computer disconnected from the Internet the first time you turn on the computer and go through initial setup. Don’t connect it to the internet until you are completely done with first time setup and get to the desktop. Then you can connect it.
Another way is to create a new Microsoft Account, or login to an existing one while setting up a new computer. Then once you have gone through the initial setup, you can go into settings, set up a new local account with administrative privileges, log out, login as new local account, and delete the Microsoft Account from Windows. A bit of a pain.
Something else you should be aware of concerning Microsoft Accounts. When you try to get an app from the Microsoft store and you are using a local account, it’s going to encourage you to login with your Microsoft account. You don’t have to, but if you do, it will show a window similar to what you see on the left. If you simply click next, Microsoft will convert your local account into a Microsoft account without asking you. Sneaky, huh? Do yourself a favor and click “Microsoft apps only”. We have had many calls where Microsoft tricked them into converting their local account into a Microsoft Account without them realizing it. Then, the next time they turn their computer on or reboot, it asks for a password and they are baffled because they didn’t have a password before and they don’t know what the password is. However, it’s asking for the Microsoft Account password. But because Microsoft didn’t say, “we are going to convert your account into a Microsoft account and from now on you’ll have to login using your Microsoft Account password”, most people don’t realize what password it’s asking for.
If this happens to you, you’ll have to login to your computer using your Microsoft Account password once in order to switch it back to a local account. If you don’t know the password, it’s easy to reset online. Then you can go into settings and convert your account back to a local account.