Posey's Tips & Tricks

Microsoft Adds Multi-Account Support to Office Apps

For power users of Microsoft's various Office services, life just got a little bit easier.

Microsoft has added a very welcome new feature to its Office applications: support for multiple accounts. Not only is this sure to be a useful feature, I think it may signal that an even more welcome improvement is coming.

If you use Office as a part of an Office 365 subscription, then the Office applications are directly tied to your subscription, even if those applications are installed locally. Right now, for example, I am writing this column from my Surface Book 2 device. Normally, I only use this particular device when I am on the road; when I am at home, I work from a desktop computer. My travel schedule has been lighter than usual in recent weeks, and so it has been a while since I have used Office on my Surface Book 2. That being the case, I was not immediately able to use Word. When I opened Word to write this column, I had to reactivate Office, then restart Word before I could start writing.

The point is that Word and other Office applications such as Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook are directly tied to your Office 365 account. In fact, if you look in the upper-right corner of the Office applications, you can see your user name and perhaps a profile picture.

Microsoft doesn't just tie the Office applications to your Office 365 account for the sake of verifying your subscription. There are plenty of other ways that a subscription could be validated without the need to link individual user accounts to Office 365. The main reason why Microsoft requires you to sign in to the Office applications is because doing so gives you (and the application) access to online resources such as SharePoint Online or OneDrive.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that it can make life difficult for those who have multiple accounts. In my case, for example, I have a Microsoft account (actually, a Hotmail account) that I set up over 20 years ago but still use on a regular basis. I also have my primary Office 365 account and a secondary Office 365 account that I use for dev/test purposes. Switching between those accounts can be a real pain, and I have occasionally even resorted to using virtual machines on days when I know that I am going to be heavily using more than one account.

Thankfully, Microsoft has made it a lot easier to juggle multiple accounts -- at least from within the Office applications. If you are working in an Office application and need to switch to a different account, all you have to do is click on your name, then click on the account that you want to use. If that account isn't listed, you can easily add it by clicking on the Sign In With a Different Account option.

As great as this feature is, I am actually hoping that Microsoft will take things one step further by adding similar capabilities to its online services. Let me give you an example.

Most of the time, I stay logged in to my primary Office 365 account. About once a week, however, I need to download something from MSDN. My MSDN account is tied to my Hotmail account. When I access the MSDN Web site, I am automatically logged in using my Office 365 account -- which, of course, lacks access to any of the MSDN subscriber benefits. I therefore have to log out of Office 365 (which affects any Office 365 browser windows that I have open) and then log in to my Hotmail account so I can access MSDN. When I get done, I have to log out of my Hotmail account and back into my Office 365 account.

Life would be so much simpler if Microsoft provided an option to simply select which account you wanted to use when accessing various online resources. It would be great to be able to access my MSDN subscription, for example, without being signed out of Office 365 in the process. Hopefully the multi-account support that Microsoft has added to Office is a sign of things to come.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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