The "I got a Windows 8.1 machine for Christmas, now what do I do?" guide

With the holidays upon us, we know that many of our readers will likely find new hardware under the Christmas tree and if you are diving into Windows 8.1 for the first time, here is your new user guide.

First things first, you will want to have created a Microsoft account prior to turning on your device. Sure, you can do this later and re-add it to your system but trust us, it will make things a lot easier if you have an account prior to booting. The good thing here though, is that if you use an Outlook.com email address or have a Hotmail or Skydrive account, you already have a Microsoft account. If not, go here, and setup an account and thank us later.

The reason it is important to have a Microsoft account is that this will allow you to easily sync your machine to your personal cloud (Skydrive) and maintain settings across any new hardware you may setup at a later time. Also, if you have to reinstall Windows 8.1 for any reason, by using a Microsoft account with your machine, you can be back up in running in a short amount of time.

After you run through the initial setup wizard, you will find yourself at the Start screen. If this is a new area for you, know that this is the touch-friendly side of Windows and if your device has a touchscreen, start tapping, swiping and scrolling around.

If you don’t have a touchscreen, find the live-tile that says ‘desktop’ as this will take you back to more familiar territory.

Fret not, if you don’t have a touchscreen, as you can use keyboard shortcuts (here is a handy list of all of them) and the mouse to make the most of the new layout.

Now that you are up and running, take a look at how to customize your Start screen. We have put together an extensive guide about how to get the most out of Windows 8.1 new Start screen and it’s worth a read. In short, it tells you how customize your Start screen to fit your personality. If you are using Windows Phone, then the Start screen will feel quite familiar but if you are coming from Windows 7 or any other smartphone OS, the live-tile layout will be a fresh take on app management and navigation.

Windows 8.1 does comes with a 'Start' button, but it does not act like the button you are likely used too. If you are wanting to regain the functionality of the classic Start button, there are quite a few third-party applications that will allow you to do this including Start8 (disclaimer), Pokki and others.

We do recommend that you give the Start screen a try and if you are using the desktop frequently, we would guess that you are likely using a keyboard too. If this is true, hit the Windows key and start typing the name of the application you want to open. This will be a much faster way to open an app than with the classic Start button and negates the need for a full Start menu.

One of the new features of Windows 8.1 is the Windows Store. If you are looking for some apps to help fill out your Start screen, you can check out a few of our recommendations with this guide, here. But, we know that list won't fill everyone's needs and the apps you are looking for, are only a quick search away.

To find your favorite (new) app, open the Windows Store by clicking the green shopping bag icon. With the app open, access the Charms bar by either sliding your right thumb in on the right bezel or by putting your mouse in the lower right corner and sliding it upward.

Once the Charms bar is open, click or tap the "Search" button and voila, you can now search the Windows Store (you can also search for any files on your PC here or even the web, too). 

If you are using Windows 8.1 on a laptop or desktop and want to boot directly to the desktop, you can toggle this option by going to the desktop, right mouse clicking on the taskbar and then selecting properties. From there, click the navigation tab and select the appropriate option from this window to suit your needs.

If you are looking for more help with your new Windows 8.1 machine, make sure to head in to our forums where you will find tons of users who are willing to help you get setup and make sure you get the most out of your brand new machine.

 

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54 Comments

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Ugh, these poor people suggesting some awful old-fashioned start menu replacement or even worse, install windows 7... It's like the people who were wedded to the Windows 3.1 Program Manager and DOS when Windows 95 came out.

Stop being grumpy old men and get with the program. I know, Microsoft moved your cheese. But they had good reason to. 8.1 has an excellent interface with some minor rough edges. Get with the program folks, with a small amount of open-mindedness and willingness to adapt you'll be a lot happier with your fast 8.1 machine.

If on a PC:

1) Don't create a Microsoft Account, (I wouldn't trust them with my data if they paid me), create an ordinary account.
2) Install Stardock Start8.
3) Disable all touch features, apps, charms, hot corners.
4) Enable boot to desktop.
5) Enjoy...

Of course if your on a Tablet you can do it either way, a) Leave it as it comes or set it up like above. If you're on WinRT then your stuck.

Since setting up a customers new Windows 8 machine, he has called me TEN TIMES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! FML!!!!!!

Edited by warwagon, Dec 16 2013, 4:37pm :

warwagon said,
Since setting up a customers new Windows 8 machine, he has called me TEN TIMES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! FML!!!!!!

And? Isn't that what your job entails?

Except for the fact they were all questions none of which I charged him for. Well after the 10th call I told him there will be a phone support charge for this. Yes that is what my job entails but when someone phone support rapes you 10 times, most of which you didn't charge for it gets annoying. Had I charged for all of them at 21.40 a pop .. you can see how expensive it would get.

warwagon said,
Except for the fact they were all questions none of which I charged him for. Well after the 10th call I told him there will be a phone support charge for this. Yes that is what my job entails but when someone phone support rapes you 10 times, most of which you didn't charge for it gets annoying. Had I charged for all of them at 21.40 a pop .. you can see how expensive it would get.

Plan an intro to Windows 8 guide or point them to a resource so they can figure it out for themselves. I know, people often go "fix it for me!" but suggesting they read your guide because they'll get charged for future calls is a good motivator

Windows 8.1 has a great start-up guide.

It is such a sad commentary that a new Windows-8.1 user has to jump through all those hoops just to get a machine up and running. It might be marginally tolerable for one who already has a Windows-based machine. But, for a totally new computer user or a user of another Operating System--way too many steps.
As for those suggestions of using Windows-7, excellent thought. Just make sure you have a legal copy of Windows-7 to install on the new hardware.

TsarNikky said,
It is such a sad commentary that a new Windows-8.1 user has to jump through all those hoops just to get a machine up and running. It might be marginally tolerable for one who already has a Windows-based machine. But, for a totally new computer user or a user of another Operating System--way too many steps.
As for those suggestions of using Windows-7, excellent thought. Just make sure you have a legal copy of Windows-7 to install on the new hardware.

Oh give me a break. It's not any more steps than Windows 7.

1. Move Desktop tile to top left so that whenever you're on the start screen you can just press enter to go to the desktop
2. Right-click the taskbar and select boot to desktop and use same wallpaper on desktop and start menu (if you choose)
3. When you go to open a new video, photo or music file, right-click and select open with. Make sure you tick "always open with this program". Select a desktop app. The metro ones are unpolished unfortunately. Doing this takes very little time, and once you've done it once you're set
4. Unpin stuff you don't want or use from the start menu, pin stuff you do want
5. If you so choose, sign in with a Microsoft account

Mostly it's stuff that you can do as you're using the computer, not that big a deal at all. As I said, not really any different to Windows 7 - or any OS really, for that matter. I've gone through iOS, WP7 and 8 and several versions of Android up to 4.3, each took days to get set up right - because I did it as I was using the device - by necessity, because using the device is how you figure out how you want to set it up.

First thing to do is either format it and install win 7 or immediately head to download classic shell, startisback or start 8.

I thought with Windows 8.1 you didn't need to swipe the Charms in to search on the Windows Store? Isn't the search box just sitting there at the top right corner of the screen...

1st thing EVERYONE should do is change their time zone! absolutely crazy that ms does not let you select it during install, the number of people still on pacific zone is nuts after months and months, lol

Correct, although I did setup a 1 new OEM machine with 8.1 and the time zone was front and center to select. I was surprised, so maybe on the first boot of 8.1 it's fixed.

Make an article on how to set up Windows Server 2012 for regular desktop usage. Let me know if you have any questions; I recycled a 7 year old computer running Vista to do that for my sister.

Pluto is a Planet said,
Make an article on how to set up Windows Server 2012 for regular desktop usage. Let me know if you have any questions; I recycled a 7 year old computer running Vista to do that for my sister.

Your sister can blow the money for a server OS license and use it as a desktop?

Pluto: You may have done a lot more work than you needed to. Your Vista product key works with both 32-bit and 64-bit OEM install disks. If you need a 64-bit OEM install disk any local shop should be able to burn you one, it's not illegal since you still need the case sticker Vista product key to activate it. Replacing 32-bit with 64-bit version of Vista on a machine with at least 2-GB (preferably more) RAM makes Vista run much better. 32-bit Vista really sucks. 64-bit SP2 runs well, after it boots.

Why put a server OS on a PC? You can't use the same anti-virus programs leaving it vulnerable. ClamWin works with Server 2012, but not as well as Panda Cloud, Avast, AVG,or Comodo on desktop Windows.

I used Windows Server because I am a student with access to a free download of it on Dreamspark. So it's entirely legal. And it wasn't very difficult, just required Googling a few things. Also, Windows Server comes with Antivirus protection leaving no problem for protection.

Pluto is a Planet said,
I used Windows Server because I am a student with access to a free download of it on Dreamspark. So it's entirely legal.

Re-read the EULA instead of just clicking "I Agree". You having access to Dreamspark doesn't entitle you to install Server 2012 on your sister's computer. If you think it does, then post your installation key here so I can use it. If not, then please explain how you make the distinction.

_dandy_ said,

Re-read the EULA instead of just clicking "I Agree". You having access to Dreamspark doesn't entitle you to install Server 2012 on your sister's computer. If you think it does, then post your installation key here so I can use it. If not, then please explain how you make the distinction.

I looked into it and I guess you're right, whoops! Looks like we're reverting it back to Vista! Though I have to admit, I definitely did get an educational experience out of it.

freak180 said,
If thats the case.. Guess its not really user friendly

I guess that means that Windows 95 (plus 98, 98SE, ME, NT4, 2000, XP, Vista and 7 as they all have the same interface paradigm) isn't user friendly either then as it had tutorials.

Or how about nearly every consumer product ever made that came with a manual, quick start guide, etc.... guess they're all not user friendly either.

Seriously mate...?

freak180 said,
If thats the case.. Guess its not really user friendly

So Microsoft is damned for not having included it before, now they're damned for including now? You people find anything to complain about with Windows 8....

TCLN Ryster said,

I guess that means that Windows 95 (plus 98, 98SE, ME, NT4, 2000, XP, Vista and 7 as they all have the same interface paradigm) isn't user friendly either then as it had tutorials.

Or how about nearly every consumer product ever made that came with a manual, quick start guide, etc.... guess they're all not user friendly either.

Seriously mate...?

How long Metro lovers will be in denial. Metro on desktop is useless and totally unnecessary. Get rid of this Metro from Desktop.

Learn that the Windows button activates search even if you don't see it.

The only thing I ever used the start button in windows 7 for other then shut down. I have a laptop so I'd always just slam it shut for hibernate mode

a. Enable boot-to-desktop.
b. set the wallpapers to match.
c.1. unpin metro apps that you don't use.
c.2. pin your frequently used desktop programs and shortcuts like This PC, pictures, downloads, control panel, run, etc. to start screen, put them in one group and place it at the left side.
d. change image, video and music defaults to desktop programs.

e. ...

f. profit?!!

P.S. right-click on the start button and stop hating.

eddman said,
a. Enable boot-to-desktop.
b. set the wallpapers to match.
c.1. unpin metro apps that you don't use.
c.2. pin your frequently used desktop programs and shortcuts like This PC, pictures, downloads, control panel, run, etc. to start screen, put them in one group and place it at the left side.
d. change image, video and music defaults to desktop programs.

e. ...

f. profit?!!

P.S. right-click on the start button and stop hating.


That's exactly what I did after I installed Windows 8.1, lol!!

techbeck said,
Turn on the machine...enter info as prompted. Then go online and watch a basic video on how to use Windows 8.

There's the help app now with the tutorial vids now, though I'm sure the online vids could have more advanced stuff in

benjimoola said,
The best computer ever made is the surface pro 2... I was confident enough to sell my MBA after using it for 2months.
What made you choose a MBA over a MBP?

Ditto. I only ever used the old start menu to launch apps with the search box. That functionality remains in 8/8.1 in an almost identical fashion. The "All Programs" portion of the start menu was a disorganised mess and I won't miss it, especially with Adobe abusing it by dumping their icons at the root of the menu and not in a sub-folder like they should do.

I've just installed 8.1 on a workstation. After trying it a year ago I absolutely hated it. It's not the Start menu people really care about, it's AVOIDING METRO. After using StartisBack, I like the machine now, I don't have to deal with Metro and I can run Metro apps in a window instead of full screen (assumed). I have cascaded menus for apps with a dozen shortcuts. I like some of the Live tile features and would prefer them on my desktop so I can work and see them.

Overall I'm very happy with the performance, it's much better, but having a MS account was another turn off. Again, MS FORCING things on people. What if I don't want it? I created a dummy account as the machine will be shared with a few people for work.

Millions just want better performance with some familiarity and aren't really interested in MS's "vision". Apparently choice is still important to people...who knew?

Hahaiah said,
but having a MS account was another turn off. Again, MS FORCING things on people. What if I don't want it?

Who said you NEED an account?!! You don't, unless you want to install metro apps, which I'm sure you wouldn't.

Here is the trick; disconnect your internet connection, install windows 8.1 with a local account, re-connect the internet after booting into OS, done.

DConnell said,
If that's what you prefer. Personally I'd rather have my wisdom teeth pulled (again) than use the Start Menu again.

Was the start menu not useful?

Order_66 said,

Was the start menu not useful?

It was not. It was a text list. Adequate for Dosshell back in the day, but as the program launcher for a full GUI, a text list (even with tiny icons next to the listings) is horribly inadequate. Give me a set of easy to scan icons, whether full-page or just a section of the screen like the old Program Manager any day.

The best thing Microsoft ever did to the Start menu (besides retire it) was add the search box, which let you bypass the list entirely.

First thing to do.. Plug in, power up, Make Microsoft account if not already got. Then load Weather app and select home town if not done automatically. Then run windows update and enjoy a lightning fast OS that's rock stable. Oh and change wallpaper to suit.

Vester said,
First thing to do.. Plug in, power up, Make Microsoft account if not already got. Then load Weather app and select home town if not done automatically. Then run windows update and enjoy a lightning fast OS that's rock stable. Oh and change wallpaper to suit.

You forgot about making the Weather Tile bigger, it looks so much nicer!

Grunt said,
Install Linux. Obviously 2014 will be the year of the Linux desktop

Ohh please. Since 2000, every year has been "the year of Linux desktop"