If you found a shiny new Windows based device under the tree then congratulations and welcome to the latest version of the Windows operating system.

The Windows 8.1 update to last years Windows 8 release made significant usability and performance improvements. It also improved the discoverability of various elements in the Windows 8.1 UI to help you use the system more efficiently.

As you get that new device setup for regular use here are five recommendations to get the most out of your device.

  1. Create and log into that device with a Microsoft Account. I know the tendency is to use a local account but you will miss out on some of the greatest aspects of Windows 8.1 which is the ability to sync settings, Start Screen layout, IE Favorites as well as Modern App user info and content. Of course, that Microsoft Account also gets you a SkyDrive account with 7GB of cloud storage that is synched between all of your devices securely. No more flash drives or copying data between machines to have your info on any Windows device. Worried about having another email account? Then use your current email address because any email can be used as a Microsoft Account.
  2. If your device arrived with Windows 8.1 pre-installed then visit Windows Update and grab those system and firmware updates. Right now there are about 40 updates for Windows 8.1 but your mileage may vary slightly depending on your system. You may also have to run Windows Update more than once to get all the updates installed.
  3. If the device you received happens to have Windows 8 on it then the first thing you want to do after going through the initial setup experience and logging in with your Microsoft Account is to install the Windows 8.1 update. In order to update directly from Windows 8 to 8.1 you must make sure KB 2871389 is installed so that it will show you the Windows 8.1 update in the Windows Store.  A word of warning on this though – I personally would install any Windows Updates first. This may take some additional time but it should avoid some of the upgrade issues a limited number of users saw who did not have a completely updated Windows 8 install. I say play it safe rather than run the risk of experiencing a failed update.
  4. Once your system is update you can move the recovery files to a flash drive to free up a few gigabytes of space on your Windows device. That of course will increase your available storage for other applications. Just make sure to label the flash drive and store it somewhere safely as you may be prompted for it when you do a Refresh or Reinstall of Windows on your device. Here are instructions for Surface RT but the same process works for any Windows 8.1 device.
  5. Update all of your pre-installed Modern Apps in the Windows Store so you have the latest versions ready to run.  There is an option in Windows 8.1 to let Windows automatically update your Modern Apps so you can set that up if you want. There is no update history though for apps so if you like to be aware of the apps which get updated you may want to leave this turned off.

Finally one last recommendation – if you are completely new to Windows 8/8.1 then head to Scott Hanselman’s YouTube channel and watch his tutorial videos on the OS. They are the best out there and will help you learn your way around your new Windows devices. If you have been using Windows 8/8.1 for a while you should still watch them as you never know what new thing you may learn about Windows 8/8.1.

Let’s hear your ideas for new users on Windows 8/8.1.  Just put them in the comments below so everyone can learn from your experiences.