Yes, I do know what you're raving about - ranted and raved about it a couple times myself. No, you do not need to have a Microsoft account. You can also sign on with a local account. However, you will not be able to download any apps from the App Store without a Microsoft account.
You can select what kind of an account you will use by going into your PC Settings. There are a couple of ways to get there. In the Start Screen with the tiles, just hover your mouse down in the the lower right of the screen until the Charms menu shows up. Click on the "gear" and that will take you to some settings. Click on PC Settings and from there you can do what you need to do. This link has some pictures that might help. Local Accounts Vs. Microsoft Account
Fireplace, yarn, knitting needles, books, wine... check. Yup, I'm ready for winter.