Windows 11: Do these six things immediately after completing setup
Setting up a new Windows 11 PC is quite simple. Deceptively easy, in fact. After clicking through the dialogs and adjusting the few settings available as part of the out-of-the-box experience, you’ll find yourself on the Windows 11 desktop.
But your job is not done. Microsoft’s default settings aren’t necessarily set for you, and a default configuration comes with a handful of annoyances that you can quickly fix.
When you get to the Windows desktop, I recommend taking a few minutes to do these six things before going any further.
Use a Microsoft account for maximum security
On a system that you personally own and manage, you have two choices for setting up your primary user account: a Microsoft account or a local account.
(If your PC is in a managed enterprise environment, you’ll either have a domain account or sign in with Azure Active Directory. Either way, your admin is the boss, not you).
Old timers will probably prefer a local account because that’s what they’ve been using for decades. But it’s the wrong choice these days, at least if you care about security.
Using a Microsoft account gives you three benefits that you can’t get with a regular local account.
- You can enable 2-factor authentication and Windows Hello, which lets you log in using fingerprint or face recognition hardware.
- You can enable encryption for your system drive even using Windows 11 Home edition. (To make sure it’s on, go to Settings > Privacy & Security > Device Encryption.)
- You can recover your data if you forget your password by using Microsoft account recovery tools.
And, of course, if you have a Microsoft 365 Family or Personal subscription, you get access to Office apps and a terabyte of cloud storage.
You are not obligated to use the email address provided by Microsoft for anything other than this sole purpose. And if you create a new Microsoft account as part of Windows 11 setup, it’s not linked to any existing phone number or email address, meaning there’s no tracking.
For more details on the differences between each type of account, see “Windows 11 setup: which type of user account should you choose?” For step-by-step instructions on securing your Microsoft account, see “How to lock your Microsoft account and protect it from outside attacks.”
Clean up the shit
As was the case with its predecessor, Windows 11 makes money for Microsoft through shortcuts scattered throughout the Start menu of each new install, presumably in exchange for bounties paid by the owners of these third-party apps and services. Candy Crush and her ilk disappeared on my recent test systems, replaced by media streaming (Spotify, Disney+, Prime Video) and social media (TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook) options.
The good news is that these shortcuts are exactly that. They are not installed by default; they take up tiny amounts of disk space and each can be removed with two clicks directly from the Start menu.
Right-click the unwanted icon, click Uninstall. Confirm your choice in a dialog box. Repeat as needed.
Enable Windows Sandbox
It’s a killer feature if you have Windows 11 Pro, Enterprise, or Education. It allows you to instantly spin up a secure virtual machine without any complex configuration. The VM is completely isolated from your main system, so you can visit a suspicious website or test an unknown application without risk. When you’re done, close the sandbox and it disappears completely, removing all traces of your experience.
Although it uses the same virtualization features as Hyper-V, you don’t need to enable Hyper-V and it only uses a tiny amount of system resources.
To get started, click Search and type Windows Features to find the Turn Windows Features on or off dialog box. Scroll down the list and click the box to the left of Windows Sandbox feature. After restarting, you will find a Windows Sandbox shortcut in the Start menu.
Note that a Windows Sandbox session contains almost no Microsoft applications. He is completely stripped. You can use the Windows clipboard to paste a URL into Microsoft Edge or copy a program file to the sandbox for further exploration.
Add Folder Shortcuts to Start Menu
The Windows 11 Start menu is greatly simplified. It has a section for pinned icons at the top, and below that is a section for shortcuts to apps and documents you’ve used recently. At the bottom of the menu is your profile picture and a power button. That’s it.
Unless you dig into the Settings menu and do a few customizations, that is. Go to Settings > Personalization > Start > Folders, and you’ll find a menu that lets you add shortcuts to the bottom of the Start menu, giving you easy access to some common folders. These are the equivalent of the shortcuts that are in a column to the left of the Windows 10 Start menu.
You will also notice that I enabled dark mode for this system. It’s much easier on the eyes, especially if you’re working in a dark or dimly lit room. You’ll find this option in Settings > Personalization > Colors > Choose your mode.
Remove widgets and other unwanted items from the taskbar
Microsoft finds a new way to clutter the taskbar with each new release. Luckily, they also include the tools you need to declutter things. In Windows 11, the default taskbar configuration includes these four superfluous additions:
- A search button. (You don’t need a search box. Just press the Windows key and start typing to search.)
- The Task View button. (You don’t need it either. Use Windows key + Tab to go to the same place.)
- Widgets. (Ugh.)
- To discuss. (Microsoft continues to try to get people to use Teams even when they’re not at work.)
If you want any of those things, more power to you. But the rest of us can make all four shortcuts disappear by quickly going to Settings > Personalization > Taskbar. Slide these four switches to the left and restore the taskbar to its original purpose.
There are also some goodies at the bottom of this Settings page. Expand the Taskbar corner overflow section to control which icons appear by default on the right side of the taskbar. And if you have multiple monitors, be sure to click Taskbar Behaviors to browse options for how the taskbar works on a second monitor.
Configure OneDrive backup
You get at least 5 GB of free cloud storage in Microsoft’s OneDrive service when you sign in with a Microsoft account. This feature includes a parameter that can get confusing if you’re not careful.
If you click on the default options, Microsoft will redirect your Desktop, Documents, and Pictures folder to OneDrive, which effectively backs up anything you put in any of these folders. If you already have a solid backup strategy, you may want to disable this feature. If you like the idea of having cloud-based backup, you might want to check out its settings.
To do this, open File Explorer, right-click the OneDrive shortcut in the folder pane on the left, and then click OneDrive > Manage OneDrive Backup. This takes you to the dialog shown here. (Note that the options will be disabled if you are using a system managed by your company using a domain or an Azure AD account.)
You can disable backup for each of the three folders with just one click. (The blue tick in the upper right corner means the folder is backed up and synced.)