Microsoft Really Doesn’t Want You to Use a Local Windows Account
Ever since it launched Windows 10, Microsoft has been pushing hard for end-users to create and use a Microsoft account rather than a local account. Apparently last year, with the October 2018 update, the company went so far as to hide the option to create a local account altogether. The Windows 1903 update, released in May, rolls things back a little bit and restores an option that should never have been removed in the first place.
The situation ironically illustrates why I didn’t write about this at the time. I did some testing on Windows 1809 last year, but I didn’t allow it to connect to the internet to finish setup. Good thing I didn’t. If you do, you can’t configure a local account.
If you allow the system to connect to the internet using Windows 10 1809 to get updates out of the way, the option to create a local account is removed. When Microsoft launched Windows 10, it offered the local option as a straightforward alternative, even if it passive-aggressively shoved you towards the online option (the screenshot below dates to the Windows 10 original launch).
All of this was removed in 1809 if you connected to your Wi-Fi network first. The only reason I didn’t detect it at the time is that I don’t allow Windows to connect to Wi-Fi to finish installing itself. Even the previous practice of entering a garbage email to nudge Windows into offering a local account didn’t work. The only way to force 1809 into allowing a local account after connecting to Wi-Fi is to disable your router. You can also reboot the system and restart the installation process but since Microsoft doesn’t actually tell you that refusing to allow it to update via Wi-Fi will still allow you to create a local account, this option isn’t obvious to users. I had no idea that when I refused this step, I was actually safeguarding my ability to create a local account.
The situation has improved somewhat with 1903. Microsoft still shoves you hard towards a non-local account, but if you click the “I don’t have Internet” option followed by “Continue with limited setup,” you will eventually be allowed to access your computer without setting up an online Microsoft account.
Microsoft Has Learned Nothing From Its ‘Get Windows 10’ Disaster
What does this demonstrate? Mostly, that Microsoft has learned absolutely nothing. The “Get Windows 10” campaign was cautiously well-received at unveil and loathed at its conclusion, thanks solely to Microsoft’s repeated decision to transform it from an upgrade offer into a deceiving malware-like application that scheduled users for upgrades they did not wish to take and ignored their attempts to cancel the process. Microsoft changed the method of canceling a Windows 10 upgrade and didn’t communicate that to end-users as part of a deliberately created dark pattern. A slideshow of the various Get Windows 10 options that Microsoft cycled through (and the malware-like behavior some engaged in) is shown below:
A dark pattern in UI is when a developer changes the behavior of the application to change the behavior of expected elements. In advertising, a company might move the “X” to dismiss a message to the upper-left-hand side of the screen, while the upper-right corner has a “Replay” option that repeats the ad. (I’ve seen mobile ads use this tactic). Sometimes companies will switch between requiring checkboxes for opt-in versus opt-out in the same form, or change the location of “No” and “Yes” boxes in a similar fashion.
While we’re glad to see Microsoft changed this behavior in 1903, it’s unacceptable regardless. Users who do not want a local account are already forced to select prompts that deliberately guide them against this policy. Whether a Microsoft account represents a value-add is a matter of personal preference I don’t personally believe it does and have never used one in the three years I’ve used Windows 10. But even if one disagrees, Microsoft has no business hiding the option this way. Either have the guts to remove it and deal with the blowback or stop trying to hide it in the first place. Stop turning your operating system into a competitive event in which your own user base has to jump through hoops to find functionality that was more readily exposed in previous editions.