Log into Windows 8 without having to type a strong password

0213 principle
Lincoln Spector

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Papa John created a strong, complex password for his Microsoft account--as he should. But he wants a simpler password for logging into Windows 8.1.

Microsoft built Windows 8 on the assumption that your local user account and your online Microsoft account would be one and the same. While this provides certain conveniences (and Microsoft profits), it also causes problems.

One big problem: Everything is set up so that you use one password for both logging into your computer and accessing Microsoft’s cloud-based services. But online passwords need to be strong (see Learn to use strong passwords), and local logon passwords should be easy to remember and type. You can’t have both.

Here are three Windows 8.1 password workarounds:

[Email your tech questions to answer@pcworld.com.]

Use a photo and a pattern lock

Identifying the right photo isn’t really the key to Windows 8’s Picture Password feature. Anyone who turns on your computer will see the photo that unlocks Windows.  But to get past that photo, that person would have to know the three gestures you created for it.

To set up Picture Password, go to the Settings charm and select Change PC settings in the lower-right-corner. In the PC Settings screen’s left pane, select Users (Windows 8) or Accounts, then Sign-In options (Windows 8.1). Under ‘Picture password’, select Add.

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Then follow the prompts. You’ll have to enter your Microsoft password, after which you’ll have an opportunity to select a photo, then record three touchscreen gestures.

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Look for gestures that aren’t obvious--don’t follow a line that stands out in the photo. And don’t worry; when you repeat the gestures, they don’t have to be exact.

Use a four-digit pin

If you’ve got a smartphone or tablet, and are not using pattern lock, you probably already have a four-digit PIN. You can use one with Windows 8.1, as well.

You set this up from the same screen as the Picture Password. Under PIN, select Add and follow the prompts.

Go local

Finally, you don’t have to stay connected to Microsoft’s cloud services. You can create a local user account on your PC and use an easy-to-type password to log into that.

You won’t automatically be connected to Microsoft’s cloud. I’ll let you decide if that’s a problem. There will be some annoyances: For instance, you’ll have to enter your email address and Microsoft password before you can install an app from the Store.

To set this up, go to that same PC Settings screen described above, except that in Windows 8.1, select Other accounts instead of Sign-In options. Click or tap Add an account. (8.1) or Add a user (8).

On the ‘How will this person sign in?’ screen, select Sign in without a Microsoft account.

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On the next page, select Local account.

Microsoft should have given you an option to use a separate password for logging in locally. But since it didn’t, you’ll have to pick one of these options, or get really good at typing your long and complex online password.

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