Bring clarity to your Microsoft work and personal accounts

(2020/10/12 – click here for an updated, shorter version of this article.)

“I read your article about personal Microsoft accounts and business Office 365 accounts,” my wife said last week. “Well, I read parts of it. It was . . . dense.”

Dense? My article was a model of clarity. It was a light in the darkness. It was the map showing the way out of the maze. It was the end of the pilgrim’s search for enlightenment. Microsoft has never – never – explained its accounts so eloquently. I have read Microsoft press releases and knowledge base articles and MSDN tech notes and help files and websites and blog posts for the last few years searching in vain for clear explanations, a little consistency, some understanding that people are confused.

I feel your frustration. I hear it every day.

There is no way to eliminate the confusion but there is a step that can make it easier to keep your place. This tip is for people in small businesses in this position:

•  You have a business Office 365 mailbox. Your email address logs you into your Microsoft work account. You call it an “Office 365 account.”

•  You use the same address to log into a personal Microsoft account. For example, if you see your work email address when you log into your computer, it might be a personal Microsoft account as well as a business Office 365 account.

When you use the same email address to log into Microsoft’s overlapping personal and business services, it is almost impossible to understand where you are in the maze. Trying to use OneDrive will make you feel weak and disoriented – roughly like being dehydrated but not as much fun.

My advice, then, if you’re using the same email address for both Microsoft work and personal accounts: get an email address and use it as your Microsoft personal account. If you’re lucky you can do it without too much disruption by “renaming” your personal Microsoft account.

Microsoft is not completely blind to this problem. It published a page of instructions about how to rename your personal account. I’m going to repeat the instructions from Microsoft with one adjustment that I’ll describe below.

How to rename your Microsoft personal account

Microsoft’s instructions for people using their business Office 365 email address for both Microsoft work and personal accounts

“When you try to sign in to a Microsoft app or website with an email address that is associated with two accounts, we ask you which account you want to use. If you’re tired of seeing this prompt, you can rename your personal account, which means using a different email address to sign in to it.

“Doing this is safe. You’ll change the way you sign in to your account, but you won’t lose any of your data.

“Follow these steps to add a new email address and then remove your work or school email address.

  1. “Sign in to the Your Info page of your Microsoft account.
  2. “Select Manage your sign-in email or phone number.
  3. “Under Account aliases, select Add email.
  4. “Get a new email address from Microsoft, and click Add alias.
  5. “Select Make primary next to the email address you just added in order to make it your primary alias.
  6. “Select Remove next to your work or school email address to remove this alias from your account.

“Going forward, you’ll sign in to your personal Microsoft account with the email address you just added. You might need to sign in again to some apps and devices. “

Here are some notes about what that means.

•  An email address is free. You’re going to use it as a login name. You may have to update a number of places with the new email address for Microsoft personal services: for example, logging into your Windows 10 computer; logging into the personal side of OneDrive; and confirming your license for the Office programs if you bought Office 365 Home.

•  You don’t have to use the email address for email. It’s a nice email system and you might want to use it as a personal address but it’s not required.

•  I took out the suggestion in Microsoft’s article that you could use another email address (like a Gmail or Yahoo address) instead of getting a new address. Nothing wrong with that suggestion. It works. But there’s at least a bit of clarity in thinking, “I’m going to sign into my personal Microsoft account with an email address.” Subconsciously, you’ll be thinking: Microsoft=Outlook. Trying to remember that your Gmail address is how you log into your Microsoft account – well, this is weird enough without adding that to your life.

•  If you already have two personal Microsoft accounts – one attached to your business Office 365 email address, and another separate one – there’s no good way to moosh them together. (I hate to use technical lingo but “moosh them together” is the only phrase that works.) I was in that position and looked hard for an answer. In the end, I had to close the personal Microsoft account associated with my business Office 365 email address and start over. I lost some OneDrive space and had to be careful to move files around so they weren’t lost.

For the last six months, my Microsoft personal account has been bruceb, and my Microsoft work account has been bruceb It has been remarkably relaxing! Try it. If you’re a client, send me the updated info for my records. There are pitfalls and you may run into some reason this doesn’t work smoothly for you – let me know if I can help!

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