May 18, 2022

Confusing Windows Hello Setting Prevents File Sharing between Windows 11 to Windows 10

Filed under: Software Blog, Windows 11 — marcstober @ 11:38 pm

I recently bought a new Windows 11 laptop. Yay! I need to keep up with the latest and greatest.

In the process of setting up my new laptop, I needed to transfer files from my old laptop. I ran into a problem, and eventually fixed it, but didn’t find any solution online, even though the solution ultimately made sense after interpreting the meaning of a confusing setting. I’m sharing my solution here for the benefit of anyone else searching for this.

File Sharing between Windows computers (at home, not involving any professional or server version of the operating system) is always a bit wonky. In addition to sharing the folder, you have to ensure you’re in a private network and turn on Network Discover and File Sharing. You can find explanations of that on the Internet; none of that is new.

However, I kept getting messages that “The user name or password is incorrect” when I tried to connect from the Windows 10 computer to a folder shared on the Windows 11 computer. (I had previously had a share working the other way—with the Windows 11 computer accessing files on the Windows 10 computer.)

Not wanting to overthink this, I thought, maybe I am putting in the wrong user name and password. Recent versions of Windows like to tie the user name and password for logging on to the computer to an online Microsoft account, which makes for some confusing because there’s not simply a user name and password that you set on the computer that is sharing the files. I thought I should at least try to log in to the computer with my user name and password to ensure that, at least, that user name and password I was trying really did work for local logins.

But, it turns out, you can’t just log in to a Windows 11 computer with a user name and password! At least not how it’s configured “out of the box.” Once the computer is connected to your Microsoft account, you can only sign in with Windows Hello, which is Microsoft’s brand-name for the ability to use face recognition or a fingerprint reader (depending on your hardware) or a PIN to sign in. I thought I’d try disabling the face recognition and PIN, but discovered I couldn’t. Searching for solutions to that issue online, I found that this issue was a setting called “For improved security, only allow Windows Hello sign-in for Microsoft Accounts on this device (Recommended).”
I’d seen this setting before in my troubleshooting, and in addition to not wanting to mess with something that was “For improved security,” I misunderstood what that mean. I read is as: IF the account is NOT a Microsoft account, THEN do NOT allow Windows Hello. The correct reading is: IF the account is a Microsoft account, THEN allow Windows Hello ONLY—i.e., do not allow logging in with a password.

Well, now, this kind of makes sense. If using a password isn’t allowed, then it makes sense that connections with my password were being rejected. However, I don’t see any way to share files between two home versions of Windows on a home network without passwords; maybe this is something Microsoft will implement in the future. Indeed, changing this setting allowed the file sharing to work!

I couldn’t find a lot of information on this setting online, in particular I couldn’t any official Microsoft documentation, but I did find one article from bruceb consulting about it. After reading that, I do see that searching for “passwordless” brings up Microsoft’s passwordless strategy and even a redditor running into a related problem.

Hope this information helps someone!