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Day One with your new Windows laptop

Unwrapping a new laptop? Set up these vital tweaks and apps before you do anything else.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Many happy holiday celebrants are opening up new laptops this month (or hybrids, desktops, and tablets). Unless it's a MacBook, the one thing nearly all those systems have in common is that they are going to run Windows 8, Microsoft's radically different new operating system.

The new OS means that the general advice I've been giving for years on what essential setup tweaks to do as soon as you unpack a new laptop needs to be updated for the Windows 8 era.

Frankly, no laptop comes right out of the box ready to perform optimally. The following pages will give you my favorite system tweaks and must-install software apps to get you up and running before the wrapping paper gets swept up. There are probably dozens more I could list, and I'm sure I've left out some of your favorites, so feel free to leave your own Day One tips for new laptops in the comments section.

Screenshot: Dan Ackerman/CNET

Change your power settings
The first thing I do after going through the requisite Windows setup process is tweak a new laptop's power settings. In Windows 8, these are easiest to find by going back to the traditional desktop view and left-clicking the battery icon and selecting "More power options."

From there, depending on the expected battery life of the laptop, you can tweak the length of time before the screen dims and turns off, and before the system goes to sleep. There's no perfect settings that will work for everyone and every system, but I'm comfortable setting the screen to dim at 5 minutes, turn off at 10 or 15 minutes, and put the system to sleep at 20 minutes.

Screenshot: Dan Ackerman/CNET

Review privacy settings
For overall system settings, pull out the Charms bar from the right side of the screen and click Settings. At the very bottom of the Settings window you'll see a text link that reads "Change PC settings."

Click that, and you'll be taken to a full-page view of various system settings. Seventh from the top of the list of sub-categories is Privacy. Tapping that allows you to allow or deny apps access to your geolocation data, share URL data from downloaded apps, and other settings. (Yes, it took a lot of taps to get there, didn't it?)

Screenshot: Dan Ackerman/CNET

Install a new Web browser
Under Windows 7 and earlier versions, Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser came pre-installed, and it was up to you to find, download, install, and use an alternative, such as Safari, Firefox, or Google's Chrome. That was our long-time recommendation, largely because IE was so unwieldy, and full of annoying pop-up notifications.

Under Windows 8, IE is still the default built-in browser for most, but Microsoft has given itself even more of a home field advantage by baking IE10 into Windows 8 even more than before. It has a pre-installed Windows 8 UI-compatible version, which means it runs full-screen with the standard Windows 8 gesture commands. Other browsers aren't quite there yet with Windows 8 features, but you can still download and install one or more or them.

This is where it gets a bit tricky. You can have multiple browsers running in the traditional desktop mode in Windows 8, but only one primary one in the tile-based Windows 8 UI (and even then, the two versions of IE10 don't share everything, and the Windows 8 UI version doesn't support many plug-ins).

You can install Google's Windows 8 search app, which offers a decent gesture-based experience, and also install Chrome or another browser and use them from the desktop, while keeping IE10 as the default browser in the Windows 8 UI screen. Many other combinations would also work, but that's my suggestion for greatest flexibility.

Get Google Chrome and the Google Search app here.

Screenshot: Dan Ackerman/CNET

Add missing apps
Just as one would on an iPad or other tablet, there are a handful of apps that make life on a new Windows PC just a bit easier, even if most of the same features are also available through the Web browser. These are all available in the Windows App Store and are designed to work with the tile-based Windows 8 UI (which was much easier to write about back when we called it Metro).

I'd start with Netflix for streaming video; Skype (now a part of Microsoft and likely pre-installed on your new PC); the Xbox SmartGlass app for second-screen info on movies and other content (you'll probably never use it, but it's fun to show off once); and the Amazon shopping and Kindle apps. If you're following these tips in order, you already have the Google Search app installed. A variety of unofficial Twitter and Facebook apps are also available, both free and paid, but I'm waiting for official apps from both services.

See more Microsoft App Store apps here.

Screenshot: Dan Ackerman/CNET

Ditch preloaded antivirus software
There's a good chance your new PC came preloaded with a PC security package (these have long since evolved from simple anti-virus programs) from McAfee or Norton. Both have their supporters, but after years of suffering through bloated desktop apps and annoying pop-ups reminding me to "renew" (read: "pay for") my limited-time free service, I'd rather just start from a blank slate.

First, download the official removal tools for the app you have (links are below). Then, I'm still a fan of AVG Free, the simple, low-impact version of a larger commercial security suite, so you can try that here.

Norton removal tool
McAfee removal instructions

Screenshot: Dan Ackerman/CNET

Unpin useless Windows 8 UI tiles
Several years ago, laptops invariably arrived bogged down with bloatware and adware. Not only were these app and ad links taking up hard drive space, they also cluttered your desktop with unsightly icons. But, over the past couple of years, we've seen a notable reduction in bloatware and desktop promotional icons, with some PC makers going out of their way to advertise "clean" installs of Windows.

Windows 8, however, turns the clock back. Nearly every Windows 8 system we've seen has a page full of icons on the Windows 8 UI screen for adware, bloatware, and advertising. Even worse, these aren't tiny icons swimming on a large desktop. Many are giant rectangular banners, as big as any other Windows 8 app. Do we really need a huge eBay banner ad showing up every time we flip through the Windows 8 tiles?

At least getting rid of them is easy. Right-click on the tiles you don't want (eBay, Hulu Plus, etc.) and you'll get an option bar on the bottom of the screen, and one of the options available is "unpin." You can also choose to uninstall the app, but if you just unpin it, it'll still be on your master list of apps, just in case you want it back.

Screenshot: Dan Ackerman/CNET

Make it easier get to the desktop
As much as you may like the Windows 8 UI (the tile-based interface formerly known as Metro), get used to the fact that a lot of PC tasks will still have to be done from the traditional desktop view. In typical Windows fashion, hitting the Windows key (the one with the flag), will take you from the desktop view to the Windows 8 UI/Metro view, but hitting it again won't bring you back -- for that move, you have to hit Windows Key+D. The easiest one-finger way to get back to the desktop is to click the Desktop tile.

Or, is it? It turns out that hitting the Enter key in the Windows 8 UI view will launch the app in the upper left corner of your screen -- what you might call the first position. Click and drag the Desktop view tile to the upper left, and now all you have to do is hit Enter to flip back to the desktop and you have a one-finger way to get from A to B and back from B to A.