To access all the features of Windows 10, you'll need to be signed in to a Microsoft account. This will get you access to service such as OneDrive and the Windows Store, as well as easy restoring of backups from other devices.
However, in return you're handing over a lot of personal data to Microsoft, and we can understand why you might not feel entirely comfortable doing that. A local account means the information will only be stored on that device, instead of through any device in the cloud.
While Microsoft provided an easy option for a local account until recently, a May 2019 Windows update removed that option when you boot up Windows for the first time.
Fortunately, there is a workaround, although it's more hassle than you might be used to.
There are a couple of ways to log in with a local account. You can either create a separate user, meaning you can swap between the two, or you can replace your existing Microsoft user account with a local one. This isn’t a permanent or destructive path, as you can reinstate the MS user account by reversing the process, but it’s worth noting that our test machine encountered problems after using this technique, which may or may not have been caused by the change. So be sure to perform a full system backup before you begin.
How to set up Windows 10 without a Microsoft account: Creating a new user account
Creating a new user account is the easiest way to use Windows 10 without a user account.
Open the Start Menu and navigate to Settings>Accounts>Your Account>Other users. In the Other Users section you’ll see the option to Add someone else to this PC.
Click this and then when you're prompted for an email address select the I don’t have this person’s sign-in information option, and on the next page click Add a user without a Microsoft account. Now just enter the username and password you want for the account and it will be created.
The new account will be a standard user, but if you want to upgrade it to an Administrator then when you’re in the Family & other users section click on the account and select Change account type, and select Administrator.
Once you've done that, you will be free to log in to your device without a Microsoft account.
How to set up Windows 10 without a Microsoft account: Replacing your Microsoft account with a local account
Note: This information is accurate as of December 2019.
To replace the account, you’ll need to ensure that you are logged in as an Administrator. Now open the Start Menu and go to Settings>Accounts>Email and accounts. In the main pane you should see your current Microsoft account details, below which will be two lines of blue text reading Manage my Microsoft account and Sign in with a local account instead. Click on the latter to create a new local user account.
The first screen you’ll encounter will ask you to confirm your current password. Once you’ve done this you’ll be asked to enter the details for the local account you want to create. Complete the various fields and click Next. Now just click through the confirmations and your account will be unlinked from the automatic sync features that a Microsoft account uses. This doesn’t mean that OneDrive and Outlook will stop working, as the login details are retained for the individual apps that need them, but now your system will behave in a similar way to the kind of accounts that we used to have on Windows 7 machines.
How to set up Windows 10 without a Microsoft account: Creating a local account when you set up Windows
Annoyingly, a May 2019 update removed the ability to set up Windows 10 without signing in or creating a Microsoft account. The 'Sign in with Microsoft' screen will show like below, with no option to create a local account instead.
However, there is a workaround, and it involved disabling your PC or laptop's internet connection. Unplug your ethernet and disconnect your Wi-Fi, so when you try to create a Microsoft account is says 'Something went wrong'. Crucially, the option to skip this process now appears.
Once you click this, the regular option of creating a local account will appear.