Microsoft virtually requires you to own a Microsoft account to tap into the best features of the Windows ecosystem, and now it's official: To upgrade to the latest Windows 10 preview builds--as well as the final version on July 29--you'll need a Microsoft account.
If you're not part of the Windows Insider program--in other words, you own a Windows 7 or Windows 8 PC, and will upgrade to Windows 10 after it's released--you're off the hook. You won't need a Microsoft account to buy a Windows 10 PC, upgrade to it from a Windows 10 disc or other media, or simply upgrade a Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 PC to Windows 10.
Microsoft's Gabe Aul, who oversees the Insider program, said in a blog post that the changes were being made to route new builds of Windows 10 to those who have registered and opted in to the Insider program. A Microsoft account will be needed to provide feedback to the Insider app, as well.
And in case you're wondering, Insiders will need a Microsoft account to access the final release version of Windows 10 that goes live on July 29. At that point, users will have the option to discontinue the Insider program. They will also be given the option to continue and download new builds as Microsoft releases them.
"As long as you are running an Insider Preview build and connected with the [Microsoft Account] you used to register, you will receive the Windows 10 final release build and remain activated," Aul wrote. "Once you have successfully installed this build and activated, you will also be able to clean install on that PC from final media if you want to start over fresh."
Aul also said that in the next build, Microsoft's "Project Spartan" browser will automatically be renamed Microsoft Edge, as Microsoft has said previously. Microsoft also plans to strip out the Windows Insider Hub app, although users can manually reinstall it with each build.
Why this matters: If you own a Hotmail, Outlook.com, or Xbox Live account, you already own a Microsoft account. Ditto for Windows Phone. All you need to do is enter the account and password if Windows 10 asks for it. But don't be fooled--Microsoft may say that you don't need a Microsoft account to upgrade to Windows 10, and that's true. But if you want to download apps from the Windows Store, you'll need a Microsoft account. To store files in OneDrive, you'll need a Microsoft account, please. Sure, you can refuse to enter the Microsoft ecosystem, but it's probably more trouble than it's worth if you want Windows 10.