For a long time, Windows was the operating system that everyone grew up on and learned how to use in school. Times have changed, however; while kids are certainly learning with technology, Windows is no longer a core part of that. Due to the widespread use of alternate operating systems, including iPads, Android devices, and even Macs, it’s possible for some people to get by without ever touching Windows.
At some point in your life, though, you’re likely going to be confronted with a Windows-based system, and it’s essential to know your way around. For anyone who will be forced to use Windows in college or the workplace, become tech support for family, or decide to just try it out for something new, here are some important pointers for starting out on Windows.
Remove The Bloatware
Since computers running Windows come from so many different manufacturers, no two are the same; each manufacturer puts their own software on it before it reaches you. Unlike Apple’s great pre-installed Mac software, pre-installed Windows programs, known as bloatware, are rarely useful. They consist of junk like free trials of paid security software, inferior media players, and slow weather/news programs that you don’t need. Not only do they take up space on your hard drive, they also run in the background and waste resources.
Fortunately, removing this trash from a new system isn’t complicated. Tim has covered all the bases on removing crapware from Windows, made simple by the excellent tool PC Decrapifier. Simply download and run it to get a list of all installed programs on your system, along with some advice on which to yank.
If you’re still not sure which programs should go, other tools can let you know what’s reputable, such as Should I Remove It? We have reviewed Should I Remove It? and recommend consulting it when you doubt a program’s worth. The service includes both a free desktop program that will analyze all your installed software and a fully functional website if you just want to check out a couple of programs from time to time.
Even after you’ve removed the pre-installed junk, it’s important to be smart about your downloads to make sure that you don’t end up with more garbage in the future. Interestingly, Windows is the only major operating system that doesn’t include a central “store” for downloading and sorting apps. Mac and iOS users have the App Store, Android reports to the Google Play Store, and on Linux package managers accomplish the task.
Windows users were stuck with third-party app stores, but with Windows 8 Microsoft introduced the Windows Store, which should have been the official solution that was sorely lacking. Unfortunately, the Windows Store is only compatible with Metro apps, not traditional desktop programs. Even worse, the content on the store is filled with scams and fake paid versions of legitimate software, which isn’t an issue any other operating system has. Given all of this, it’s important to know where you’re getting your Windows software from.
Aside from the third-party repositories like AllMyApps (our review), you can visit a program’s official website to download it. A Google search should be enough to find a download page, but be sure you’re on the real website and not a fake. If you need some suggestions, we keep a list of the best Windows programs and their download links. You could also use a reputable aggregate website like FileHippo to quickly find software downloads. Ninite is another excellent option for speedy app downloads.
Finally, be sure to check the preferences while installing software. Even with legitimate, helpful programs, toolbars and other third-party rubbish can be bundled inside. Whenever possible, use the custom installation, not the default or express option, and uncheck all boxes offering you extras.
If you’d like some assistance in this area, Unchecky is a free program that will watch for these unrelated junk installations and untick their boxes automatically, taking the hassle out of your hands.
Use An Antivirus
It goes without saying that no Windows machine should be without an antivirus. You can protect your PC without one, using safe browsing habits and other tools, but unless you have a good reason, you should be using an antivirus program.
We’ve compared the most popular free choices; as long as you pick one that’s well-known like avast!, Avira, or AVG, you’ll be protected. Microsoft has their own free antivirus, and it’s included on Windows 8 and above as Windows Defender. Prior to Windows 8, the same product can be downloaded under the name Microsoft Security Essentials. You should avoid using it on either version, though, as it has performed terribly in tests and even Microsoft has said to use another program.
Don’t worry about paying for a full antivirus suite, either. Free tools do the job just fine; paid protection programs are typically full of unnecessary features. Save your money for use elsewhere.
Perform Regular Maintenance
Over time, Windows builds up temporary files and other cruft that should be cleaned out for best performance. Going overboard with cleaning can mess up your system, though, so doing it right is important.
For cleaning out the Recycle Bin, temporary browser files, and old files used by the OS, you can utilize the built-in Disk Cleanup tool. Search for it in the Start Menu, choose the disk you want to clean (likely your main hard drive) and Windows will analyze the space you gain from each area.
It’s worth clicking the Clean Up System Files button before cleaning, as you can also clean out old Windows Update files to save even more space. After you click it, the tool will re-analyze your drive and present you with the new information.
Since this is a process you’ll want to do on a semi-regular basis, it’s a good idea to automate it with the Task Scheduler.
Since the functionality is built into CCleaner, it’s worth mentioning that you do not need to clean the registry. There’s no difference in performance after cleaning the registry, and most cleaners try to steal your money in exchange for their useless products. Stay away.
As annoying as Windows Updates can be, they’re essential for keeping your system safe. When a vulnerability is discovered, Microsoft sends updates your way to fix the problem. It’s a no-brainer to enable automatic updates, at least for important patches, so that you don’t have to remember to check constantly. Just search for Windows Update in the search bar to open the menu, and choose Change Settings on the left to make sure they’re automated.
After important updates are installed, Windows will try to force you to restart, which can be infuriating if you’re in the middle of something and walk away from your computer. Luckily, you can disable these with a few quick hacks; just be sure to actually shut down and install them at some point after doing so!
It’s not just Windows Updates that need to restart your computer from time to time; restarting your computer manually is important. When you encounter slow performance, a program refusing to start, or other odd behaviors, don’t call tech support right away. Restarting Windows fixes most issues without any other steps required.
Even if you’re the kind of person who leaves their machine on for weeks at a time, be sure to restart it every once in a while to keep things refreshed.
It’s absolutely essential to back up your computer. No matter how little or unimportant data you think you have, losing your information is awful and makes backing up worth the small hassle it is. On Windows, you have lots of choice in which backup program you use.
You should back up to an external hard drive, an online storage provider, or both. We’re big fans of CrashPlan, a tool that allows you to back up to external drives or even other computers easily and for free, and offers paid plans for online stashing. Before you choose an online provider, check Tim’s list to make sure you’re getting what you pay for.
You’re Ready For Windows
Now that you’ve learned some basic tips for Windows usage, you don’t have to feel abandoned in your new operating system. You’re bound to have a few questions over time, but don’t panic! We write articles about Windows all the time.
If you’re a Windows user but are thinking of switching to Mac OS X, check out our guide to making that switch.
What situations have forced you to use Windows? What other aspects of the operating system confuse you? Let us know in the comments!
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