Ah, the joys of setting up a new computer. A blank canvas, there's nothing like starting fresh with a clean slate and experiencing a Windows 10 machine like it's straight out of its box.
But with the wealth of tweakable options you now have on a new PC or after a fresh install, it can get overwhelming just to get it going the way you want it. I've been there before, and these are the basics I found to be absolutely essential for personalization and privacy.
1. Set up a Microsoft account
Right off the bat, Windows 10 will ask you to link a Microsoft account either by signing in with an existing one or by creating a new one. If you're creating a new account, you can use any email address, even a non-Microsoft email address, as long as it's a valid one.
Linking a Microsoft account with your Windows 10 machine has a range of benefits. It syncs your data across Microsoft services such as OneDrive files, apps from the Windows Store, Skype accounts, Bing and Cortana personalized data, Office files, email, activation data, etc. It's the way Microsoft intended Windows 10 to be experienced - a system that utilizes the cloud for convenience.
Typically, going with "Express settings" upon setup and linking a Microsoft account is the fastest way to get your Windows 10 machine up and running. However, since this relies on personalization data, it also sends a myriad of information back to Microsoft.
If you're concerned about your privacy, you can choose the "Customize settings" option instead. This lets you turn off location tracking, Wi-Fi sharing, personalization data, advertiser information collection and more right from the start.
You can also sign in to your Windows 10 machine for a local account instead of a Microsoft Account. This will keep Windows from sharing as much with Microsoft, but this will disable some of Windows 10's convenient cloud-based features.
To summarize, if you want to use Windows 10 for convenience and personalization, the way Microsoft intended it to be experienced, choose Express settings then link a Microsoft account. On the other extreme, if you want more control of your privacy, you can choose "Customize settings," review your options and go with a local account instead. You can always change these settings later anyway.
To learn more about these privacy settings, check out these three Windows 10 settings you need to change.
2. Watch the Get Started tutorials
If you're new to Windows 10, we recommend you check out the built-in "Get Started" app. This app has a wealth of information and videos that will help you get acquainted with all the new features of Windows 10.
To access "Get Started," simply type it in the Search box and click the best match.
You can search and choose a specific item via "Search," "Browse Topics" or "Watch Videos," check recommended Windows Store apps on the "Welcome" section or check new features on "What's New."
You can access it anytime but the "Get Started" app is a fine place to begin your Windows 10 journey.
3. Check and change the default settings
Next, venture to Settings. Do this by clicking on the cog icon on the Start menu, typing it in the Search bar or by pressing Windows Key + I.
You can start by clicking "Personalization" to customize your Windows 10 desktop's look. Change your wallpaper (Background), color scheme, lock screen items, theme settings and control how your Start menu and Taskbar looks.
Next, familiarize yourself with the default apps and what types of files they open. This includes default apps for maps, location, music, photos, videos and the web. You can also associate default apps by file extension or protocol. You can always go back to this section and replace the default apps with third-party software and their file associations anytime.
To further improve your Windows 10 experience, check out the "Ease of Access" section. This has all the accessibility options you can activate like Narrator (voice-over), Magnifier (zoom), on-screen keyboard, mouse pointers, closed captions and high contrast. You can also tweak animations and notification length.
Additionally, in the System section under Display, you can adjust your text and item size to your preference for better legibility.
4. Recheck Privacy
By default, Microsoft collects a variety of usage data in Windows 10. This is used for targeted advertising, account syncing, telemetry and personalization.
If you're concerned about privacy, review the myriad of settings you can turn on and off in the Privacy section of Settings.
Here you can opt to turn off your advertising ID, key logging, location sharing, speech recognition and all sorts of personalized data. Review each item carefully and choose what type of data you won't mind sharing. Keep in mind that turning off specific items like your advertising ID will disable key Windows 10 features like app suggestions and personalized search.
Another setting under Privacy that's worth checking is "Feedback & diagnostics." This is where you control what anonymous usage data or telemetry your Windows 10 PC will share with Microsoft.
Telemetry data is often used by software companies to improve their products by working out bugs or by studying user patterns. There are three levels to choose from: Basic, Enhanced and Full.
Basic shares just the vital data to keep computer specs and configuration, software and drivers installed, network data and peripherals connected. Enhanced includes application usage and diagnostic data about crashes. Full includes the memory state of your PC during a software crash and advanced diagnostic features that collect additional data.
Other Privacy sections you should visit often are Camera and Microphone. Here you can check, allow or deny apps that utilize these devices.
5. Manage update schedule
Windows 10 installs updates automatically and it's worth checking what times it will install them so they won't affect your work. (You can defer or postpone non-security updates for Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise versions but you still can't skip them.)
To adjust this schedule, click the "Update & security icon" under Settings and go to the "Windows Update" tab. You'll see what updates are available.
Here you can tweak your "Active hours" (times you commonly use your computer) and Restart options. Adjust these times so as not to interfere with your daily routine. Under "Advanced options," for more automated updates, you can choose to have other Microsoft apps to update with Windows.
Then there's the "Defer feature update" option to postpone certain updates. Don't worry if you can't find this option if you have the Windows 10 Home version since deferring updates only works for the Pro and Enterprise versions of Windows 10.