How Microsoft's Windows 8 will sync users' settings and apps

Microsoft will be giving Windows 8 users the option to log into their PCs and tablets using their Windows Live ID. Here's what you'll get if you do so.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft officials shared more specifics around the coming ability of Windows 8 to sync user settings and app purchases in a September 26 post on the Building Windows 8 blog.

Microsoft revealed at the Build conference that users will be allowed to sign into their Windows 8 PCs using an existing or newly created Windows Live ID. (Signing in this way is not required; it is an option.)

According to today's post by Katie Frigon, the group program manager of the You-Centered Experience team (yes, that is her real title), there are advantages of going the Live ID route. By doing so, she blogged, users can:

  • Associate the most commonly used Windows settings with your user account. Saved settings are available when you sign in to your account on any Windows 8 PC.
  • Reacquire your Metro style apps on multiple Windows 8 PCs. ("The app’s settings and last-used state persist across all your Windows 8 PCs.")
  • Save sign-in credentials for the different apps and websites you use and easily get back into them without having to enter credentials every time.
  • Automatically sign in to apps and services that use Windows Live ID for authentication

I believe the sync mechanism here is the next version of Microsoft's Live Mesh PC-to-PC sync service. (I've asked the Softies just to be sure, but no word back yet and they're not commenting one way or the other.) Note that the new syncing seemingly works across multiple Windows 8 PCs, not PCs running any other version of Windows (and not with Windows Phone or other non-Windows-based PCs or phones).

In the Windows 8 Control Panel, there is a section called “Sync PC Settings" that will allow Windows 8 users to turn sync on or off. Users can turn off all syncing or vary it based on the type of setting. (Customizable settings groups include Personalize, Themes, Ease of access, Language preferences, Apps, Web browser, "Other stuff" and Some passwords.)

The syncrhonized settings data is stored in the Microsoft "cloud" separately from users' other Windows Live data, ("for example, what you store on SkyDrive," Frigon said.)

There are other ways that business users can take advantage of the roaming state/settings, as well. IT administrators can control what users can sync on their work PCs through group policy. In addition, Frigon said in her post:

"Using the new Restore/Refresh tools, it is possible to easily create an image that has your preferred desktop apps installed, and then use that as a refresh point.  If you do want to roam your settings for desktop apps then you can continue to use the mechanisms available for roaming profiles and client side caching of files available with Active Directory and Windows Server."

Potential Windows 8 users: Can you see yourselves using the new Windows 8 sync capabilities? Will this encourage you to log into Windows 8 with Windows Live ID?

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