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Windows Live accounts and Windows 8

Published by marco on

tl;dr: If your Windows 8 is mysteriously moving your Windows and taskbar around, it might be because of your Windows Live account synchronizing settings from one machine to another.

Starting with Windows 8, you can connect your local user account to your Windows Live account, sharing your preferences and some Windows-App-Store application settings and logins.

I had this enabled for a while but recently discovered that it was responsible for mysterious issues I’d been experiencing on my desktop at work and my laptop at home.

The advantage of using a synchronized account is that, once you log in to Windows 8 with these settings—no matter where —you’ll get a familiar user interface. Two of the more visible, if mundane, settings are the lock-screen wallpaper and the desktop wallpaper.

Synchronizing wallpaper makes sense because, if you took the time to change the desktop on one machine, there’s a good chance you want to have the same desktop on another.

On the other hand, I wonder how many people will be surprised to see the racy and dubiously work-friendly desktop wallpaper that they chose for their home computer automatically show up when they log in at work on Monday morning. Especially if they updated the lock screen as well as the desktop wallpaper. While this type of synchronizing might endanger one’s employment status, it’s also exactly the kind of synchronizing that I would expect from Windows because it’s not hardware-specific.

For the last several months, I’ve been smoke-testing Windows 8 for general use at Encodo and it’s mostly been a quite pleasant upgrade from Windows 7. I don’t really make much use of features from Windows 8, but it’s very stable and noticeably faster on startup and coming back from hibernate than its predecessor.

Though there are some minor quibbles[1], it was generally a no-brainer upgrade—except that Windows could not seem to remember the taskbar location on either my laptop at home or the desktop at work.

Maybe you see where this is going.

In hindsight, it’s bloody obvious that the taskbar location was also being synced over the Windows Live account cloud but, in my defense, Windows moves my application windows around a lot. I have two monitors and if one of them is turned off or goes into a deep sleep, Windows will oblige by moving all windows onto the remaining monitor.[2] When you restore the missing monitor back to life, Windows does nothing to help you and you have to move everything back manually. At any rate, the taskbar being moved around coincided enough with other windows being moved around that I figured it was just Windows 8 being flaky.

That the issue also happened on the laptop at home was decidedly odd, though.

Now that I know what was causing the problem, I’ve turned off the synchronization and each copy of Windows 8 now remembers where it’s taskbar was. I guess that, in the trivial situation, where the hardware is the same on both ends, it would make sense to synchronize this setting. But in my situation, where one side has a 15.4" laptop screen and the other has two monitors—one 24" and the other 27"—it makes no sense at all.

It’s a bit of a shame that I had to resort to the rather heavy-handed solution of simply turning of synchronization entirely but I couldn’t find a more fine-grained setting. The Windows 8 UI is pretty dumbed down, so there are only controls for ON and OFF.

[1] The Windows-App-store UI for wireless networks and settings is poorly made. There is no consistency to whether you use a right or left click and you can only choose to “forget” a network rather than just disconnect from it temporarily.
[2] And resizing them to fit! Yay! Thanks for your help, Windows!