Our world is connected more and more these days so being „always on“ is a well-accepted standard. But does this also need to count for Windows 11-accounts at home?
Admittedly, Windows 11 still looks like an adventurous drawing board in the world of UI and UX and while its predecessor, Windows 10, is still a rock-solid operating system, user voices what Windows 11 does better or not rise more and more. When announcing Windows 11 Insider Preview Build 22557 these days, Microsoft added a lot of features but one nearly perished in the masses of changes: While moving away from, for example, old and insecure WiFi-standards like TKIP and WEP, going all in (aka. „online“) even with personal accounts may be quite a doubtful decision.
Similar to Windows 11 Home edition, Windows 11 Pro edition now requires internet connectivity during the initial device setup (OOBE) only. If you choose to setup device for personal use, MSA will be required for setup as well. You can expect Microsoft Account to be required in subsequent WIP flights.
This was once also a certain topic in Windows 10 with the May 2019-update and now gets fueled again by this latest announcement, tying the login process even more to an online-based Microsoft account for the private user. Personally, I don’t see any problem with that in the Enterprise as we knew that company-devices habe been authenticated against, for example, Windows NT-servers or Active Direcory-based successors for the last 20 years. These days, hybrid environments and, in the Microsoft-world, mostly Azure AD is the directory of choice when you’re fully integrated into Microsoft’s microcosm of the M365-services and I’m fine with that - for businesses!
Your Microsoft-account is your digital identity and universal key
In times where Microsoft-accounts are locked for whatever reason in violation of Microsoft’s Service Agreement, the dependance of these accounts being your digital identity and losing the access to them is tragically enough. Files stored in OneDrive, E-Mails, contacts, calendars or (which would be my personal disaster) games bought for my Xbox Series X would be gone, respectively unavailable, unless my account would have been unlocked again. Reasons why a block can happen are various and often the AI behind the online service is scanning, for example, for forbidden pictures in your OneDrive or certain phrases in your E-Mails with the imminent threat to create a possible false positive.
Thus spoken, a coincidence happening could not only lock you out of your digital identity based on Microsoft-services at home. Additionally, it may also prevent you from logging into your Windows 11 in case Microsoft decided to suspend your account. While this online-enforcement could be (more or less) bypassed by especially opting in for an „inconvenient“ local account with „less user experience“ or switching off WiFi to delude Windows 10 thinking that no internet connection is available, it is doubtful if there will be similar workarounds in the future of Windows 11.
Granted, but it’s not Microsoft alone
This step from Microsoft may appear oddly but it’s more or less a standard of our times. To fully use any operating system or device from the scratch, it somehow needs to be connected to certain services to unveil the full comfort: Either on Android with the Google-services or macOS / iOS on Apple’s devices the vendor-connection is something you can omit unless you want to enter the official App Store or use any modern feature of the units. While Android also allows customs ROMs these days more or less, you can use Apple-devices without iCloud (and local accounts on macOS) but - in one way or the other - lose the comfort in terms of syncing photos or using iCloud-based services. The same counts for Android-based devices where you can even remove the Google-services but this is associated with less features once again. Either way, a local account is the key and you may use the online capabilities - but you don’t need to.
Hence, Microsoft isn’t alone here but takes a completely different approach, seemingly (and once again) going all in to tie the online accounts to the user which isn’t that local anymore. Looking a the discussion of „Linux-on-the-desktop“-discussion lasting for more than 20 years now, there may be options for home users that just wants to surf, check their E-Mail and do some messaging stuff: Linux has drastically improved the desktop experience over the last years and especially distributions like Linux Mint or ElementaryOS could be your alternative to Microsoft’s enforcement of online services depending on your personal needs and your will to ditch a well-off operating system in exchange for a personal learning curve.
Even if you already live in the Microsoft-bubble and enjoy the valuable services there, using the Edge-browser or Microsoft Teams isn’t a no-go anymore thanks to Redmond’s support and turning towards Linux!
By the way of trial?
Last but not least, we may be quite curious if Microsoft is just going to test how far Redmond can go with this kind of online-compulsion, waiting for the reaction of Windows-users or if this is the first step to completely ditch the on-premises accounts with a final blow. Preparing this kind of authenticating in Windows 11 to be the mere standard could lead to people finally dropping the need to upgrade to Windows 11 by all means. Personally, I am always fond of software updates and upgrades and besides being a Mac-user at home, I haven’t found any good reason to get my working HP Elite x2 upgraded to Windows 11 besides the fact that „it is new“.
Windows 10 has grown to be rock-solid over the years, being a worthy successor of Windows 7 and despite it wasn’t the „last Windows ever“ as Microsoft once stated, there is no real reason to act hastily. The switch may come when Windows 11 has been shaped to advance to an OS with a solid and consistent lookalike in terms of usability and UI - especially if online accounts are possibly mandatory even in private. Personally I hope that Microsoft is just playing around with a possible option of integrating Microsoft-accounts to be your only key to the gates of Windows 11 even in the Professional-edition at home. This field-test, especially when cloaked in those many feature additions of the latest Insider-build, could possibly turn into an immense blowback otherwise and it may be questioned if Redmond just wants to risk this…