Windows 8.1 All-in-One For Dummies
If you have a computer or tablet that runs Windows 8, you really should upgrade to Windows 8.1. If you’re starting out fresh, moving from Windows XP or Windows 7 (or an earlier version), be forewarned that Windows 8.1 is nothing like the Windows of yore. Whether you have a touch screen or use the traditional keyboard and mouse, you'll want to find your way from the Metro Start screen to the desktop and back, uncovering the new Windows 8.1 features you’ll want to start using right away. Along the way, you can customize Windows 8.1 to work in a way that makes sense to you.
4 Tips for Navigating the Windows 8.1 Metro and Desktop Interfaces
If you've ever used Windows (like, oh, 1.4 billion other people on the planet), you'll be confused by Windows 8.1's Jekyll and Hyde interface. On the one hand, Dr. Jekyll's old-fashioned desktop looks and acts like all the other Windows desktops you've ever seen. On the other hand, Mr. Hyde's Metro tiled side goes great with fingers but looks like a telephone screen. Intentionally.
When you start Windows 8.1, you end up staring at the Metro Start screen, which looks completely different from any kind of Windows that's come before.
Getting around is harder than it should be, but you can solve almost all of your navigational problems by remembering four little points:
With a few exceptions, the old-fashioned desktop and the Metro tiled side are completely separate. They work differently and act differently, and don't play together well.
If you're inside a Metro tiled app (you can tell because it takes up the whole screen), or on the old-fashioned desktop, you can get to the Start screen by pressing the Windows button on your tablet or the Windows key on your keyboard, or by hovering your mouse in the lower left and clicking the funny-looking Start button.
If you're on the Metro Start screen, you can get to the desktop by tapping or clicking the Desktop tile.
There's a handful of moderately useful shortcuts on the right side of the screen (both the Metro tiled side and the desktop) called the Charms bar. To bring up the Charms bar with your fingers, swipe from the right. To bring up the Charms bar with your keyboard, hold down the Windows key and press C.
If you can't find a program but know that it's there, go to the Start screen and just type the name of the program. Windows brings up a list of programs that match what you type.
Customizing and Optimizing Windows 8.1 to Work Your Way
Windows 8.1 has lots and lots (and lots and lots) of options. Remember that there's always at least a dozen ways to skin whatever cat may come calling. The following is a highlights reel of Windows 8.1 customizations and optimizations you'll want to check out:
Check out your e-mail, calendar, and photo-organizing option. By all means, kick the tires on Microsoft's Metro apps for Mail, Calendar, Contacts (the People app), and Photos. If you don't like them, remember that the latest iterations of the old Windows Live programs — Windows Live Mail (which has contacts and a calendar) and Windows Photo Gallery in particular — still work (for now), but on the old-fashioned desktop side of Windows 8. They aren't as visually fetching, or touch friendly, like the Metro apps on the Start screen, but they get the job done, and they're free. Also remember that Google offers excellent alternatives: Gmail, Google Calendar, and Picasa.
Looking for a productivity tip? Set up a picture password. Even if you use a keyboard, you'll find it faster and easier than typing or mistyping a password.
Think about installing a different browser. Internet Explorer 11's cool and all that, but many people are moving away from it. Chrome is getting better every day, Firefox doesn't track your surfing, and there are other options like Opera and Maxthon.
Don't have a Facebook account yet? Sheesh. There's another billion people you haven't caught up with. If you've never worked with Facebook, or you have a Facebook account and haven't locked it down, first get Facebook whipped into shape and then hook your account into the Metro People app.
Want to speed up your computer? With rare exceptions, there's very little you can do that will make any difference. (Installing a Solid State Drive (SSD) may be the only reliable exception: SSDs almost always speed things up, but they're a pain to retro-fit into an existing computer.) To really speed things up, spend your money on a faster Internet connection.
Top Tasks for New Windows 8.1 Users
Like most new software, Windows 8.1 comes with a few administrative tasks you should do before using it. If you just upgraded, here's what you need to do:
Get your logon IDs straightened out. There are advantages and disadvantages to using a Microsoft account (formerly known as a Windows Live ID) as your logon ID. The two big advantages: your Outlook.com mail and contacts get pulled into the Metro Mail and People apps; all your settings (including accounts and passwords for Facebook, if you've provided them) travel to other Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 computers when you log on with the same Microsoft account. Big disadvantage: Microsoft knows when you've logged on, and where, and can use your Windows logon ID to keep track of your browsing. Tough choice.
Turn off Smart Search. New with Windows 8.1, Smart Search is very, very smart for Microsoft — they use it to sell advertising — and a privacy-sapping intrusion with no conceivable benefit for you.
Show filename extensions. Windows hides a key piece of information from you that can help you identify and avoid viruses and discombobulate all sorts of, uh, combobulations. The next time you use Windows, take a few seconds and make it show you "file name extensions" — the little piece at the end of each file's name, usually three characters long (for example, .doc or .exe or .bat), that dictates how Windows treats the file.
Turn off Automatic Updates. Let Windows tell you when updates are available, but don't download or install them until you're good and ready. Now's the time to take de bull by de horns and de-horn de bull. If you're willing to manage updates and look at them with a critical eye (you can see updates on updates at AskWoody.com), this is the way to go. (If you're setting up a computer for someone who finds basic computer maintenance intimidating, however, Automatic Updates may be the better option.)
If you have two hard drives, or a big USB drive that you aren't using, set up File History. It's Microsoft's answer to Apple's "Time Machine" — an easy way to save copies of all your files, going back to the beginning of time, on a backup disk. It'll save your tail, guaranteed.
If you plan to mostly use the desktop and ignore the Metro tiled side, set up Windows to boot directly to the desktop, turn off the "hot" corners on the screen, and install a Start menu program like Start8 (go to www.stardock.com for more information).