Confusion over accounts used to access Microsoft’s online services

I recently bought a new computer, for family use (the Lenovo Flex 15 that I was whinging about the other week finally turned up). As it’s a new PC, it runs Windows 8 (since upgraded to 8.1) and I log in with my “Microsoft account”. All good so far.

I set up local accounts for the kids, with parental controls (if you don’t use Windows Family Safety, then I recommend you do! No need for meddling government firewalls at ISP level – all of the major operating systems have parental controls built in – we just need to be taught to use them…), then I decided that my wife also needed a “Microsoft account” so she could be registered as a parent to view the reports and over-ride settings as required.

Because my wife has an Office 365 mailbox, I thought she had a “Microsoft account” and I tried to use her Office 365 credentials. Nope… authentication error. It was only some time later (after quite a bit of frustration) that I realised that the “Organization account” used to access a Microsoft service like Office 365 is not the same as a “Microsoft account”. Mine had only worked because I have two accounts with the same username and password (naughty…) but they are actually two entirely separate identities. As far as I can make out, “organization accounts” use the Windows Azure Active Directory service whilst “Microsoft accounts” have their heritage in Microsoft Passport/Windows Live ID.

Tweeting my frustrations I heard back from a number of online contacts – including journalists and MVPs – and it seems to be widely accepted that Microsoft’s online authentication is a mess.

As Jamie Thomson (@JamieT) commented to Alex Simons (@Alex_A_Simons – the Programme Director for Windows Azure Active Directory), if only every “organization account” could have a corresponding “Microsoft account” auto-provisioned, life would be a lot, lot simpler.