Types of Accounts for a Surface Tablet

So, you got your new Surface Pro and you’re eager to use it. You go to set it up and you’re asked questions about using a local account vs. a Microsoft account; or maybe someone tells you that you should set up a local admin account or a child account.

And you’re thinking: “Microsoft, local, admin, child account – say what?

Yep, it’s confusing. And since the Surface tablet, especially the Pro line, is essentially a fully functioning Windows 8 machine, you want to make sure that you set it up right because you don’t want to compromise its security and expose yourself to problems in the future.

So, let me tell you about the accounts you can use on your Surface tablet.

In this post you will find:

  • Microsoft account
  • Local account
  • Account Roles:
    • Administrator (admin)
    • Standard
    • Child
  • How to check what account you’re using
  • My recommendation on how to set up your Surface accounts

On your Surface tablet (this is true of all Surface versions), you can essentially set up two kinds of accounts: Microsoft account or a local account. Each one of these accounts can be assigned a role (type) of administrator, standard user, or child account. The very first user set up on a Surface tablet is always created as an administrator.

Let’s break this all down and take them one at a time.

Microsoft Account on Surface Tablet:

Microsoft account is a global email account that allows you to login into your Surface tablet. If you’ve ever used other Microsoft services such as Skype, Hotmail, Office.com, Xbox, OneDrive, or Windows Phone, you already have a Microsoft account. It is essentially one account that Microsoft uses for everything.

The advantage of using this type of account on the Surface is that your settings follow you from device to device (if, for example, you have Windows 8 desktop, laptop, and Surface tablet) and it auto-signs you into OneDrive by default. It also does things like auto-sign in to Windows store and keeps your contacts up to date.

The disadvantage of this type of account is that (like any other roaming profile) if corruption occurs on one device, it can get duplicated to all your other devices.

The Surface tablets however, were designed to work with Microsoft accounts, so you get the best functionality and the best experience if you use one. To see more on Microsoft accounts and other email accounts, see our post Email Account Options for Surface Tablet Owners.

Local Account on Surface Tablet:

A local account resides on your device. Which means, that it has its own settings that are stored on the Surface and does not auto-connect to all the other Microsoft services you have used.

If you decide to use a local account, you will need to log into each service manually, each time. This can be a bit of a pain but it does protect your privacy better.

One major disadvantage of a local account is that there is no way to retrieve a lost password, unless you have another account on the device with admin permissions. So, unlike a Microsoft account, you can’t say you forgot a password and ask for a reset.

The advantage of a local account is that the settings don’t follow you from device to device, and hence if there is a problem you will not be replicating it to multiple devices. I recommend that you have at least on local account (admin) set up on your Surface tablet.

Now that you understand the difference between the two different kinds of accounts for your Surface tablet, let me tell you about the roles that you can assign to them. A role is essentially a set of permissions to either allow or disallow the account from performing certain functions on your device. To learn to create a local account see our post How to Create a Local Account on Surface Tablet.

Surface Tablet Account Roles:

Administrator (or just admin) – an administrator role is the highest level of account permission you can assign to a Surface account. It means that, just like it sounds, if you’re using an administrator account (be it local or Microsoft), you can administer the device fully. So, you can create and remove other accounts, change their access permissions, and install any and all apps, drivers, and plugins on your Surface Pro.

Note: on Surface RT and Surface 2 tablets you are limited to installing applications only from the Windows Apps Store.

Standard – this type of user is someone that can use the device but is not allowed to administer other accounts and may be limited in what apps he\she can install. A standard account can still create and edit files, personalize its own settings, and perform most normal functions on the device, like surfing the web, checking email, or playing games, it simply isn’t allowed to make device-wide changes.

Child – regardless of what the name suggests, this type of account is not just for children. It simply is an account that is controlled by the Family Safety settings, as they were set up by the administrator. It is the most limited of the three types of accounts but it allows you, as the device owner, to decide how your device will be used by others, like your children, friends, coworkers, etc. To learn more about setting up these controls, see our post Parental Control on Your Surface.

Check Which Account Type You Are Using On Your Surface Tablet:

Ok, so let’s say that you received the Surface as a gift or you don’t remember how you set up your Surface tablet when you first got it or it is a work device, but you want to know which account role you’re using. You can check what type of account you are assigned by following these steps:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Tap Change PC Settings
  3. Tap Accounts:

a. If Other accounts is visible, as in picture above, than you have an administrator account

b. If Other accounts doesn’t appear than you have a standard or child account

c. If you briefly see “This account is monitored by Family Safety” when you first sign in, then you have a child account.

My Recommendation On How to Set Up Your Surface Tablet:

I highly recommend this setup for your Surface tablet:

1. Create a local account with administrator role but only use it for administering your device and not for day-to-day use. This will allow you to easily change things on your device, while maintaining the needed security. Caution: DO NOT LOSE THIS ACCOUNT’S PASSWORD!

2. Your primary account should be a Microsoft account with a standard user role. It will help keep your device protected from accidental installs and deletions and it will allow you to use it in most day-to-day scenarios without any hassles. It will also give you seamless access to your OneDrive and other Microsoft services you may be using.

3. Create child account(s) and restrict access for anyone else using your device. This is especially true if you allow you children, dog, cat or friends to use of your device. 🙂

Hope you find this helpful.

You may also like our posts on Surface Security.

Joanna –

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