With the holiday season here, we wanted to do an article to help new users get started using Windows 8.1. In this article, we’ll look at some of the new features in Windows 8.1 as well as how to access them.
Although there’s a bit of a learning curve with Windows 8.1, there are a number of benefits that come along with the changes. So let’s take a look.
Starting the Computer for the First Time
The first thing that new Windows 8.1 users will encounter as the computer boots up for the first time is the Personalization process in which users will select a default background color, which will be used on some of the Windows interface screens, and a name for the computer.
Next, users will need to either choose to use the Express settings shown below or they will need to select to customize the system settings.
If Customize is chosen, Windows will load a series of configuration screens allowing users to select the settings they want. These settings include choosing a default search engine, automatically finding devices on the network, setting Windows Updates options, and to enable protection on the PC to help prevent issues from malware or other questionable files, apps, or websites.
My recommendation for new Windows 8.1 users would be to use the express settings. These settings can be modified later if users wish to turn options on or off in the PC Settings menu which will be addressed later in the article.
Windows 8.1 Account Creation
After selecting the Personalization and computer settings options, the step of setting up the computer is the account creation process. With Windows 8, Microsoft allows users two account type options. These account types are local accounts, which are the same accounts used in previous Windows versions, and Microsoft accounts.
Microsoft accounts were previously called Windows Live IDs prior to Windows 8 and they were used for accessing data in online accounts. With Windows 8, Microsoft renamed them when the changes for computer accounts were introduced.
- Local accounts are just that, local to the computer.
- Microsoft accounts are accounts that have the online access previously associated with Live ID included.
With Microsoft accounts, user’s preferences, settings, and Windows Store app data is stored online so that when users log in to other Windows 8 PCs using a Microsoft account, the user’s preferences, settings, and Windows Store app data is available.
Users can choose to sync the data to the new PC when the account is created or at a later time if they choose. When setting up the computer for the first time, users that have Microsoft accounts can sign in with their Microsoft account or they can choose to create a local account on the computer.
If a local account is chosen, the settings saved online with the Microsoft account will not be imported to the new PC. The image below shows what the Microsoft account login screen during the initial setup looks like. If the new user does not have a Microsoft account or just wants to use a local account, click on the Create a new account link.
Additional accounts can be added to the computer at any time. Those accounts can be either local or Microsoft accounts. Users can also choose to change the account type from local to a Microsoft account or from a Microsoft account to a local account at any time.
For more information on creating user accounts on Windows 8.1 computers, please see my article on Windows 8 User Accounts. The directions will also help in creating the first user account on the PC as part of the steps are the same for both the initial account and additional user accounts created later.
With Windows 8, Microsoft removed the traditional Start Menu. Instead, Microsoft introduced the Start Screen.
Clicking on the Start button will load the Start screen which consists of a number of tiles that are used to start applications on the PC. Users can right-click on the desktop on the group names to change the name or add a group name if one is needed (or touch and hold on a touchscreen device). Right-clicking on a tile allows users to make other changes such as pinning a program to the taskbar. This allows for quick access to programs from the desktop.
At the top right portion of the Start screen, users can change their account picture, lock the PC, or sign out of the account. They can also access some PC power settings and perform searches by using the respective icons.
One other simple tip can be used to perform searches. Users can click on the open area where there are no tiles and then type in the name of something to search for and Windows 8 will automatically search for items that match the term.
For example, if I type “Settings”, anything with Settings in the name will be displayed in the results.
If there is a program that does not have a tile on this screen, users can click on the circled arrow at the bottom left corner of the screen to bring up another screen listing all of the applications on the computer.
Right-clicking on the app names allows users to perform additional actions such as Pin to Start, which creates a tile on the Start screen, and Pin to Taskbar, which creates (pins) an icon for the program on the taskbar. To return the the Start screen, users can click or touch the circled arrow again or press the Windows key on the keyboard.
Microsoft added a feature called the “Charm Bar” in Windows 8. To access the Charm bar, move the mouse to either the top right or bottom right corners of the display and hover it there. The Charm bar will appear along the right side of the display.
There are five options available using the Charm bar. These options are Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings.
- Search allows users to search either on the computer, the Internet, or both.
- Share allows users to share an image of what is currently on the desktop with others.
- Start loads the Start screen discussed above.
- Devices does not be of much use with Windows 8.1 as two of the three options listed state that the functions can only be done from within apps.
- And well, Settings allows you to configure the system. We’ll explore that in detail next.
I have addressed some of the functions and features within this section in other Windows 8 articles. For now we’ll look at the basics of the Settings section and what options are available.
At the top of the settings frame are five options: Desktop, Control Panel, Personalization, PC info, and Help.
- Personalization allows users to change their preferences on the computer for how colors or other options are displayed.
- Control Panel and PC info load the same interfaces used in Windows 7 and the functionality of those two options is the same.
- Help loads the Windows Help and Support screen where users can look up additional information on using Windows 8.
At the bottom of the Settings frame are some additional system options that users can configure. These options are Network, Audio Volume, a setting for adjusting the display brightness, Notifications, Power, and Keyboard.
- The option for adjusting the display brightness is unavailable on both my desktop computer and my Windows 8 virtual machines on Windows 8.1 so Microsoft may have disabled this option.
- The Network section allows users to view the network connection information and make changes if needed.
- Users can use the Audio setting to adjust the volume.
- The Notifications section allows users to hide notifications for three different durations: 1 hour, 3 hours, and 8 hours.
- Power allows users to choose whether they wish to shutdown, the PC, restart the computer, or put it to sleep.
- The keyboard option allows users to view what language is used for the keyboard.
There is also a link for Change PC Settings which loads the interface shown in the image below.
Clicking in the link for Change PC settings loads the menu interface. There are a number of features and functions located in the PC Settings section. I recommend that users take some time looking through this section to learn more about what options are available.
Open Window List
Microsoft have also added additional ways to look at all the applications Windows users have open on the computer. The functionality from previous Windows operating systems of Alt-Tab is still used in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 but users also have another method of looking at what applications are in use on the PC.
To view thumbnail images of the windows that are open, hover the mouse on the top left or bottom left corners of the display. The list of apps that are open will appear in a bar along the left side of the display with the most recent application’s thumbnail image at the top left corner.
If you have a touchscreen Windows 8.1 device you can also drag your fingertip from outside the left side of the screen diagonally across the screen to the right to cycle between open applications.
Microsoft introduced the Windows Store as part of the operating system in Windows 8. The Windows Store icon appears as a white shopping bag on a green background and is located on the taskbar. There are many apps available in the Windows Store. These free or paid apps are divided into categories and they can be usually installed on multiple PCs.
When adding a Microsoft account to a different PC, the apps for that Microsoft account will show up in the Apps list. To install them, users can click on the App name or the app can be installed from the Windows Store.
Other Improved Tools
With Windows 8, Microsoft made changes to enhance the functionality of transferring files as well as added functionality to Task Manager. For file transfers, File Manager allows users to see more information about how fast the data is being transferred in the expanded view as well as allowing users to pause or cancel the file transfer.
For Task Manager, Microsoft overhauled it to add new functionality. In its basic view shown below, Task Manager shows just the apps that are running. Right-clicking on the task names allows users to select some different actions such as switching to the task or ending tasks, starting a new task, or looking at the properties of the task.
Task Manager can be expanded by clicking on the arrow next to More details shown in the image above. After expanding Task Manager, a number of options are now available. These options are divided using tabs. These options have been very useful for me in the past when I need to look at CPU utilization or what apps and services are running. User also can look at hard drive, network, and system memory usage as shown in the image below.
In addition, Microsoft made improvements to Windows 8’s system protection functionality. With Windows 8, Microsoft added the ability to use File History to recover previous versions of personal files. Restoring previous versions of files was available in Windows 7 but Microsoft changed the process in Windows 8 to provide better access to previous versions of files. I have an upcoming article series discussing System Protection and its components. Please watch for those articles for additional information on what System Protection is and what the components like File History are used for.
Behind the Scenes Changes
Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 also include some changes in other functionality. Secure Boot support was added for Windows operating systems in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.
Secure Boot is a security standard developed to help ensure that Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 computers use only software authorized by hardware manufacturers. When the computer boots up, there is a test that runs to compare this software’s signatures to a database of approved software. If the software signature matches one of the database items, the computer will then boot to the operating system. Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 have been designed to take advantage of this feature to help protect computers against unauthorized access to the PC.
Microsoft also included improved virus protection with Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 that helps protect against malicious software (malware) infections. Windows Defender, Microsoft’s included virus and malware protection, runs in the background to keep the system functioning normally. Microsoft also has included malware protection during the boot up process. In addition to add malware protection during the boot up process, Microsoft has improved boot up and computer shutdown times.
Other Windows Articles
In addition to the information in this article and the articles linked above, I also have other Windows articles that I have written which may help users in learning how to use different features or functions in Windows 8. The link below will load the author’s page for my articles. In addition to the articles showing users through how to do specific processes using Windows 7 and 8, I also have articles on that page that discuss what the different features and functions are used for.
I hope today’s article helps anyone new to using Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 in getting started with using these operating systems. If there are any questions or comments, please feel free to comment below or email me at the link in my bio.