What’s the difference between a Microsoft “Personal” and a “Work or School” account?

If you’ve ever wondered what’s the difference between the Microsoft account types “Personal” and “Work or School” this article is for you.

At first glance it sounds like you have a single Microsoft account with your email address and it has two sub accounts which exist to isolate your Personal data from company or educational institution data. This is not true though, the two accounts are completely separate and there is no connection between them at all. They just happen to have the same login email address, like you’d use the same email address to sign up for an Amazon and a Google account.

Reasons for you having a Personal account: you signed up with your email address at a Microsoft B2C offering.

Reasons for having a Work or School account: someone created the account as part of an Azure Active Directory tenant (most probably your employer or your educational institution). However, if you only have a Personal account yet and sign up for a Microsoft B2B offering (e.g., Microsoft Partner Center), then a Work or School account with the same login email address is automatically created (and a corresponding Azure Active Directory tenant is created in the background as well, but more on that later on).

You can change the login email address for both account types, and if you choose the same email address for both, Microsoft is going to ask you on each login which account you want to use – which can become very annoying, and is probably also why users get the presumption that the accounts are somehow connected. Note: you can only assign one Work or School account to a single login email address, so it’s never possible to have multiple Work or School accounts to select from when you login.

So why did Microsoft go for two different account types? While Personal accounts work much like every other B2C account you experience on the web, Work or School accounts are different. They belong to a Microsoft-managed domain which is connected to an Azure Active Directory tenant for that domain. Global administrators for that Azure Active Directory tenant can use the AD to assign Microsoft licenses, products and access rights to all users under the same tenant. Those users may be allowed to share data (e.g., an Exchange calendar) or manage company resources (e.g., Azure resources).

Note: If Microsoft is not managing the actual domain name, they also create a shadow domain “<yourdomaincom>.onmicrosoft.com” which is used instead.

If you want to get rid of the selection box on each login, the best idea is to change the login email address for either account to a different address.

If you’re not a company and didn’t deliberately create the “Work or School” account, and you want to get rid of the account (as well as the automatically created Azure Active Directory tenant and the shadow domain), you can follow my step-by-step instructions.

So long story short: while Work or School accounts within the same Active Directory tenant can share data and are not managed by you, but your Active Directory administrator, Personal accounts do not share any data with other accounts and are managed only by yourself.

Why Microsoft chose to allow login email addresses of Personal accounts to be used for Work or School accounts and vice versa is a puzzler. They can’t easily switch back though and we’re all stuck with the resulting confusion.

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