It’s no coincidence that Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone 8 were launched within days of each other. They were designed to work in concert. And the secret sauce that links them is the cloud, enabled by your Microsoft account.
The Microsoft account, also known as Windows Live ID, is the e-mail address you use to sign on to Microsoft services such as Messenger, Hotmail or Xbox Live. In the context of Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone, it provides the glue that hooks them all together. If you log on to Windows 8 or RT with a Microsoft account, it automatically connects to the e-mail, contacts and calendar belonging to that ID. It logs you on to free storage space on Microsoft’s SkyDrive (7 GB worth). If you happen to have a gamer ID on Xbox Live linked to that account, that hook-up is available with a single click, giving you access to your gaming account, scores and virtually everything else you’d see on the Xbox.
Once you’ve connected and set up your PC, you can make the connections even more useful. Tell Microsoft you trust the PC you’re logged on to (through PC Settings), and you will be able to sync your settings to other Windows 8 or RT devices you log on to with the same Microsoft account. Everything from desktop theme and lock screen image to saved passwords and browser favourites and history can seamlessly move from machine to machine, depending on how you’ve configured the Sync settings.
When you open the Store app on any computer connected to the Microsoft account, the My Apps tab shows you every single app you’ve installed on any of your Windows 8 (or RT) machines, and indicates whether each is installed on the current machine. If you feel the urge, you can install some or all of those apps, both free and paid, on a new machine with a few clicks. You can use apps you’ve purchased on up to five devices.
And what does all this have to do with Windows Phone? Plenty, actually. Windows Phone 8 uses the same underlying code as Windows 8, making it easier for developers to generate apps for both platforms in the future. It shares a similar user interface; the Live Tile model you see on Windows 8 and RT originated on Windows Phone. And, most importantly, as long as you log on to the phone with the same Microsoft account, you have access to the e-mail, calendar and contacts you’d see on your PC or tablet. You can access your Xbox Live account, retrieve and store files on the same SkyDrive, and use the integrated Office apps on the phone to perform limited editing, or even create new documents. All of your photos will sync to SkyDrive if you so desire, just as those taken with your PC or tablet’s camera do.
It really is that automagic, too. In the course of testing, I’ve let Windows 8 sync all settings among several PCs and tablets to check for glitches, and each time, after a few minutes the wallpaper and lock screen changed to my preferred images, and Favourites appeared in Internet Explorer. It does not sync the actual Start screen layout, however, so I had to rearrange tiles, but any favourites I’d pinned to the Start screen appeared.
Moving files around is easy too – just drop them onto your SkyDrive, and you can get at them from anywhere (even a non-Windows 8 machine, using the downloadable SkyDrive program or the SkyDrive Web interface). It saves e-mailing things to yourself, or sticking them on a USB drive, or trying to slurp them onto your phone over a cable.
The result: no matter which Windows 8, Windows RT or Windows Phone 8 device you have in your pocket or bag, you have access to the information that matters to you.