Windows 10 - how to set up a new PC with a local account

There are good reasons to set up a new Windows 10 PC without a Microsoft account, even if you intend to link it to a Microsoft account eventually.

The bad news is that Microsoft is pushing its own agenda and using deception to hide the option of setting up a local account instead of a Microsoft account.

The good news is that it’s possible to take control of the process.


Why set up a new PC with a local account instead of linking it to a personal Microsoft account?

There’s no right or wrong answer. Three reasons you might prefer to use a local account: some people feel that a local account is more secure; a local account allows you to bypass the confusion between Microsoft’s personal accounts and “work or school” accounts; or maybe you just don’t like Microsoft. It ought to be your decision to make.

What is Microsoft doing to hide that option?

Microsoft has repeatedly changed the wording and location of the option to create a local account during setup. Most recently, it has either removed it entirely from the setup screens, or it has disguised it with the words “Domain join instead” – a deliberately deceptive use of a dark pattern to confuse and misdirect you.

How to set up a new PC without a Microsoft account

Do not connect a new computer to the network during setup! Don’t plug in the network cable. Do not connect to wi-fi when prompted. You’ll get an inscrutable error message; then you’ll be able to set up a local account.

After you’re at a desktop, connect to the network or wi-fi. Plan to restart a couple of times to take care of last-minute updates and device setup.

Why set up a new PC with a local account?

In Windows 10, Microsoft introduced the idea of connecting your individual login to a personal Microsoft account. You don’t log in with your name, you log in with the email address and password of your Microsoft account. In Microsoft’s dreams, you are then connected to a vast array of Microsoft services, and settings are synced so that they match what you’ve done on other devices logged into the same Microsoft account. In principle, it’s similar to what happens when you log into an iPhone with your Apple account, or an Android phone or Chromebook with your Google account.

Microsoft hopes you will value your Microsoft account as much as your Google or Apple accounts. The difference is that our Apple accounts and especially our Google accounts are becoming more important all the time and tying together services that we use constantly. 

Windows 10 setup - Microsoft account vs local account

Most of the things that Microsoft syncs involve products and services that we don’t use. It is literally meaningless that Microsoft is syncing our bookmarks and browsing history in the Edge browser, or our search requests with Cortana. We don’t use those things. It just doesn’t matter. Logging into a PC with a Microsoft account is overrated.

The most important problem for many people is the confusion between Microsoft’s personal and business accounts. If you have a business Office 365 account, you think of it as your “Microsoft account,” what with it being, well, an account with Microsoft and all – yet that account won’t work to set up a new PC. I cannot overstate how confusing it is for everyone that Microsoft has two different accounts used for different things. People put in their business Office 365 credentials to set up a new computer and get an incomprehensible error message, or the password doesn’t work because it’s for the “other” account people don’t know they have. Ooooh, it makes me so mad!

Microsoft’s insistent push to connect a PC to a Microsoft account is meant to advance Microsoft’s corporate interests, but it does very little for you. It doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t take much to tip the scales if you believe a local account is more secure or you don’t like Microsoft.

When you’re setting up a new PC, log in with a local account. You can connect it to a Microsoft account later. (Click on Start / Settings / Accounts / Your Info / Sign in with a Microsoft account.)

What is Microsoft doing to hide the local account option?

Windows 10 setup - prior "offline account" option, before version 1903

The wording and location of the local account option have changed over the years. The screenshot above shows the way it looked until recently, with “Offline account” in small print in the lower left. You’re not done when you choose that option – there are insistent prompts to change your mind, with nag screens about how swell it is to use a Microsoft account – but at least the option is there.

In the most recent version of Windows, now shipping with new computers, the screen has changed.

Windows 10 Home - no offline account option

Windows 10 Home simply doesn’t have any option to set up a local account. It appears to be impossible. (If you fill in a bogus phone number two or three times, it eventually gives up and offers a local account.)

Windows 10 Professional - "domain join" option

Windows 10 Professional expects you to sign in with a business Office 365 account. A personal account won’t work. Non-tech people don’t know the difference between Windows 10 Home and Pro, and either might ship on a new computer. Most people also don’t understand the difference between a personal and business Microsoft account. The result is that setting up a new computer is now confusing and frustrating for many people.

The option on the bottom left says “Domain join instead.” That phrase is literally meaningless in this context. Would you expect it to lead more or less directly to setting up a local account? Of course not. For non-tech people, it is a classic example of misdirection, a dark pattern that “purposefully focuses your attention on one thing in order to distract your attention from another.” The big letters say “SIGN IN WITH MICROSOFT.” The tiny small print says, “Nothing for you here.”

(I can cobble together a theory about a geeky way that “Domain join” makes sense. My guess is that Microsoft believes IT professionals are the only ones qualified to work around the sacred connection to a Microsoft account. They’ll spot that link and set up a local admin account, then join the computer to the company domain later. It’s a pretty weak explanation, frankly.)

Microsoft continues its deceptive high-pressure push if you click “Learn more.” Its only advice is to create an unnecessary and unwanted Microsoft account – another login name and password to remember (or forget) – then remove it from the computer later. “If you’d prefer not to have a Microsoft account associated with your device, you can remove it. Finish going through Windows setup, then select the Start button and go to Settings > Accounts > Your info and select Sign in with a local account instead.”

How to set up a new PC without a Microsoft account

Windows 10 setup - error screen when disconnected from Internet

When you’re setting up a new computer, do not connect it to the network. Disconnect the network cable. Don’t connect to wi-fi when prompted by setup.

You may see the above error message when the computer tries to figure out how to connect a Microsoft account without being able to go online. You can click “Skip” and create a local account – the option that was there all along.

Windows 10 setup - finally the local account setup screen!

Pro tip: after you choose a name and password, you will likely be asked to supply answers to three security questions, to be used in the future for password recovery. As always, if you’re interested in security, never supply accurate answers to security questions. That’s how accounts get hacked. Pick three questions randomly, and answer them with a word or two that you write down. The answers do not have to be related to the questions as long as you remember the answers!

Tricks like this are all the more frustrating because Microsoft has become more transparent and open in many areas under CEO Satya Nadella, yet here you have a deliberate attempt to deceive consumers and promote a Microsoft agenda at the expense of consumer understanding. Its agenda – a last-ditch attempt to convince consumers to value their Microsoft accounts – is likely to fail. Microsoft knows that. It makes this kind of deception an act of bad faith. Microsoft should be better than this.

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