Review: Windows 8 – Setup and PC settings

PC settings - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

Pocketables is reviewing a different aspect of Windows 8 each week until the operating system’s public launch on October 26. Having just taken a look at cloud connectivity, it’s time to dig into Windows 8′s setup process and PC Settings.

With the release of Windows 8 just nine days away, the penultimate installment of our Windows 8 review takes a look at the Out Of the Box Experience (OOBE) and PC Settings. When you turn on your Windows 8 PC for the first time – be it an upgraded machine or a brand new device like the Surface – you’ll see quick intro video (below) with basic instructions on how to use the new interface. Windows 8 will then ask you to choose a theme color, confirm a few settings, and create your user account. The first-run experience, however, becomes really special if you already have a Microsoft account. In that case, Windows 8 will suddenly “light up” with all of your data, instantly loading your profile picture, email, calendar, contacts, and much more.

The new PC settings app (for lack of a better word) presents a touch-friendly interface for most of the settings you’ll need to access on a regular basis. The Control Panel, however, still exists, so you end up with a somewhat bifurcated way to access settings, as each one contains options not found in the other. But aside from a few personalization options and the excellent Family Safety settings – allowing you to track app and website usage and manage how often the computer can be used – the old Control Panel hasn’t changed quite as much.

PC settings, however, is another matter entirely. Many of the options are completely new, designed specifically with Windows 8 in mind. In addition to the personalization, user account, and sync options, which have been covered previously, PC settings is broken up into the following categories: notifications, search, share, general, privacy, devices, ease of access, HomeGroup, and Windows Update.

Windows 8 will let you temporarily disable notifications for one, three, or eight hours, but if you’re not a fan of them for some reason, you can disable them on the lock screen, turn off notification sounds, or disable app notifications completely. Search and share offer similar settings, allowing you to disable the list of most frequently used apps, search suggestions, and frequent sharing methods, as well as specify the number of frequent sharing methods shown in the share charm’s list. You can also granularly toggle notifications, search, and share for each app.

Some of the most interesting options, however, can be found in the general category. Windows 8 has a new feature which allows you to essentially refresh the operating system without affecting any of your personal files. Or, if the situation is particularly bad, you can reset the OS to factory defaults. While I haven’t encountered a situation where I needed to use these features, they worked quite well during tests. One of the downsides to Windows 8’s lightning-fast boot time is that it can be difficult to access advanced setup options. As a result, Microsoft has added a button which restarts your computer and automatically launches this menu. Other settings in the general category include the time, app switching (although I’m not sure why you’d want to disable multitasking), touch keyboard options, settings for the system-wide autocorrect, and a button which displays all of the Windows Store apps on your device.

Privacy, devices, ease of access, and HomeGroup are pretty self-explanatory; not much has changed in these categories. Windows Update, on the other hand, is now less intrusive. The OS will automatically combine a month’s worth of updates into a single batch and place an alert on the lock screen. If, for some reason, you choose not to update your machine, it will automatically apply the update after three days. Windows 8, however, is intelligent enough to delay the automatic update if there is a risk of losing data you might have up.

Overall, Windows 8’s setup process is, by far, the best one yet. In nine days, you too will be pleased to see all of your data magically appear on your device. And while the settings have now been split into two distinct locations, most of what you’ll need can be found in the new PC settings app. Frankly, the only annoyance is that, if you have a multi-monitor setup, it currently isn’t possible to select which screen notifications appear on. PC settings aren’t the most exciting features, but they are nonetheless essential to a good experience.

Next week: the conclusion of the Windows 8 review. For our full coverage, check out the Windows 8 review portal.

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William Devereux

William Devereux is the former Microsoft editor at Pocketables, as well as a Microsoft MVP and SkyDrive/ Insider. As his title implies, he wrote about all things from Redmond, including Windows 8 and Windows Phone. He is currently carrying a Windows Phone 8X by HTC and a Microsoft Surface with Windows RT tablet.

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