The previous two blogs have walked through some of the basic structure and background of Microsoft’s complex, cloud-based account platform, and we’ve touched somewhat on the reasons why you might have one or more Microsoft accounts. You will definitely have one if you’ve ever had a Hotmail.com or Outlook.com email address, and less common a Live.com or Passport.com email address. You will also have a Microsoft account if you have or had an Xbox Live gaming subscription or used Skype on a mobile device, if you owned a Zune, their personal music player or the short-lived Windows phone. If you have some form of 365 service, whether it be email services, desktop Office applications, OneDrive, Teams or any various combination of those services, you will also have one or more Microsoft accounts that anchor those services.
The compelling argument for the Microsoft account
Marketing opportunities and conspiracy theories aside, there is a compelling and intentional use case for the Microsoft account, one that you might already be “enjoying” with a competing set of devices: Apple’s iCloud. In case you are unfamiliar with Apple’s similarly nebulous cloud-based account platform, the intent, just like Microsoft is for you to have one account that grants access to all your services, settings and data across all devices you own. In today’s implementation Microsoft is definitely chasing Apple’s service in this regard, even though the Microsoft account concept predates iCloud by a number of years. When iCloud evolved into it’s current iteration in 2011, Windows had already been using roaming profiles in Windows since 1993!
Regardless of who was first, the primary reason for using the Microsoft account is to (ostensibly) provide the ultimate portable, roaming profile. In essence, Microsoft (and Apple) would like you to store all your data, settings, passwords, browsing history – everything – in your cloud account which would allow you to use any compatible device and service, anywhere in the internet-connected world in conjunction with your account, providing you with a consistent, familiar and convenient digital environment. When done right, both platforms offer a surprising (and sometimes unsettling) experience whereby logging into a brand-new device almost instantly transforms it into a device that knows who you are and how you work without any tweaking of settings, looking up of passwords, or laborious transfer of documents and pictures. It’s the digital equivalent of buying a new pair of jeans having them instantly fit just like your old, tattered but perfectly-fitting old pair. Note the emphasis on “when done right,” as the Windows account implementation can be difficult to navigate, primarily because many Windows users have multiple accounts on top of having different services attached to the various accounts, which leads to the exact opposite of what the Microsoft account was supposed to do. Also note that if you intend to keep work and personal life separate on separate devices, it’s definitely possible to mix them all together if you aren’t very careful about which Microsoft account is logged into the various services, and disentangling them can be a confusing and frustrating experience.