Similar to Google which requires a Google account and iOS which requires an Apple ID, Windows Phone utilizes a Windows Live ID. Your Windows Live ID is the gateway to your online Microsoft identity and is used to sync information to and from your Windows Phone handset. Before you buy your Windows Phone handset, you should take some time to setup a Windows Live account if you don’t already have one. If are already a Windows Live user, then you should take some time to confirm that your account is setup properly.
Windows Phone is different than Android and iOS as it links together Windows Live, Hotmail, XBOX Live, and Zune on your phone. Windows Phone only uses one Windows Live ID as the primary account on the phone and will pull down content from all these services to your phone. You can add a second Windows Live ID to your handset to pull down email but that secondary account will not bring in your Xbox Live gamertag or Zune Tag information.
Here’s the kicker with Windows Phone and its XBOX Live and Zune integration: your XBOX Live gamertag and Zune Tag must be associated with your Windows Live ID in order to use them on your phone. This may sound like a no-brainer but not everyone uses all of these services, and if you do use these services, you may not have set them up under one Windows Live ID.
I have a Windows Live ID with an associated Hotmail account, a separate XBOX Live account, and a separate Zune Tag. I signed up for them at different times with three different sets of credentials. When I setup my Windows Phone, I could not link those three different accounts on my phone as they were setup with different Windows Live IDs. I found it difficult, if not impossible to relink my XBOX Live profile and Zune Tag to a single Windows Live ID. I abandoned this attempt and started from scratch with a new Windows Live ID that was linked to a new XBOX Live profile and a new Zune account.
Windows Phone 7 has yet to officially launch in the US, so we though we’d help you pass the time as you wait for your own Windows Phone by helping you prepare your Windows Live account for the “big day.” Below you will find a set of instructions to help you setup a new Windows Live ID, create your XBOX Live gamertag and a setup a Zune Pass. If you already have one or more Windows Live IDs, then skip down to the bottom for some information on getting these accounts in order.
Signing up for a Windows Live ID
You can sign up for a Windows Live ID here. The process is simple and requires you to give an email address (or create a Windows Live email), your name, a password, and some other personal information used to identify you if you need to retrieve sensitive account information. Fill in the obligatory captcha and you are ready to go. You get access to your Calendar, Messenger, SkyDrive, and more with the new Windows Live ID. It also sets up a Hotmail, XBOX Live and Zune account for you but you need to login to these accounts to customize and configure them.
Setting up a Hotmail account
Once your Windows Live ID is setup, you can travel over to Hotmail here and activate your Hotmail inbox using your Windows Live credentials. This step is optional as you can choose not to sync Email when you setup your Windows Live account on your handset. If you want the full experience, though, you should setup a Hotmail account with your new Windows Live ID.
Setting up XBOX Live
Once you have a Windows Live account, you should travel over to XBOX Live to setup your XBOX Live account here. You can select the free XBOX Live account for now and always add a Gold Membership in the future. Once you logged into your XBOX Live account with you Windows Live ID, you can change your gamertag from the default to one of your own choice, customize your avatar, upgrade to a Gold membership, and more.
Signing up for a Zune Tag, adding a Zune Pass
Once of the greatest assets of Windows Phone is the much overlooked Zune Pass. For $15 per month, you get unlimited music streaming and 10 free downloads of your favorite audio tracks. If you are just starting with Zune, you can sign up for a free 14-day pass to try the service. AT&T in the US is rumored to be offering a free month of Zune with the purchase of a Windows Phone handset. The Zune Marketplace also offers music for purchase and video for purchase or rental.
To get started with Zune, you will need to sign into your Zune account here and select “Sign In” at the top right of the screen. Just like XBOX Live, you should sign in with your credentials for your Windows Live ID. Once you sign in, you will be prompted to enter your personal account information and setup up your privacy settings. After you accept the terms of this service, you can add a free or paid Zune Pass, download the Zune software, and explore the content in the Zune Marketplace. The Zune Pass is optional and you can still access the Zune Marketplace on your phone without it. It is a value-added feature.
There are several options for a Zune Pass. You can choose a free 14-day pass, a monthly pass for $14.95, a three-month pass for $44.97, and a yearly subscription for $144.90. Quick warning: choosing the free Zune Pass requires you to enter your credit card information. It is done for age verification and is not for subscription purposes but this requirement may take some folks by surprise. Once your Zune account is setup and a Zune Pass is selected. You are ready to get your handset and jump into the full Windows Phone experience.
What to do if you already have a Windows Live ID, an XBOX Live account, and/or a Zune Tag
If you have a Hotmail address, an XBOX Live account, and a Zune Tag that are linked under the same Windows Live ID, then you are golden. Go get yourself a drink, put up your feet, and enjoy waiting for your Windows Phone to arrive. If you only have one or two of those accounts setup, then you will need to hit the topics above and make sure all the services are tied to your Windows Live ID.
If you have a jumble of Microsoft accounts and an electronic paper trail of forgotten usernames and obscure passwords, then you will want to point your browser to Microsoft’s Windows Phone website. Microsoft has tools to help you locate your Windows Live ID and find the associated XBOX Live gamertag and Zune Tag. It will also help you migrate services into one Windows Live ID and will let you know if all is lost and you need to start over again with a new Windows Live ID. This information is beyond the scope of this article but you can find all the details here.