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 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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