The ultimate guide to Windows 8.1

Taking you through everything you need to get started on your PC.

Windows 8 is a big change from any previous Windows operating system. Whether you’re a devout Windows user or new to the operating system, the latest and greatest update to the Windows series is here to change the way that you use a desktop computer. The joy in using Windows 8 comes from the fact that it’s the most streamlined Windows experience yet, simplifying where things need to be simplified and making the whole user experience a much friendlier one. However, frustration may come to users for that exact same reason. If you’re updating from Windows 7 then you may find yourself utterly lost and confused with the new tiles layout, the lack of a Start button (although that has been reinstated in the Windows 8.1 update) and what appears to be an entirely new interface. Of course, if you stick with it then this confusion will quickly pass as you get to grips with just how easy to use Windows 8 can be.

In this detailed feature you’ll see just how much you can achieve with Windows 8, from streaming your favorite TV shows to completely personalizing your machine for your exact wants and needs – and whatever those are, Windows 8 has something for you.

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“Windows 8 makes the whole user experience much friendlier”

Windows 8.1 The advantages of the Windows 8 operating system

Windows 8 has been built with the new digital revolution in mind. For a lot of users, your Windows machine won’t be the only one you’re using. Whether you’re listening to music on your smartphone, playing games and getting organised on your tablet, or doing work on the go on a laptop, you can sync all of your information across all of your devices with Windows 8. Microsoft’s Xbox One and Xbox 360 are also syncable with your system. The entire Windows interface has been changed around to suit the way that people use their computers and devices nowadays. When booting up your computer, you’ll be taken to the Start screen. This contains a series of tiles which will link you to your favorite apps (such as Internet Explorer and Outlook), your settings options and different folders where you might store photos and movies. Live tiles constantly update themselves, presenting up-to-date information on the app they are linked to. For example, Outlook’s live tile will tell you how many unread emails you have in your inbox. It is in this new Start screen where you’ll begin to see the real advantages of Windows 8. By placing all of your apps and live tiles into one space, the Windows 8 interface takes on the feel of a tablet device. And when you’re ready to get down to business, you can access the Desktop and use your computer and its more advanced features just as you would with any other Windows OS.

Entertainment

Windows is here to entertain. Whether you want music, TV shows, games or movies, it can all be accessed online using a variety of apps. There are many different options for renting, streaming and purchasing movies and TV. All of the following apps are readily available through the Windows Store, which can be found on your Start screen.

Firstly, there is streaming via third-party services such as Netflix, Flixster and Hulu. Just download one of these apps from the Windows Store, then register an account with them and pay a monthly subscription fee. From there you can stream movies from the app’s library any time you want.

The native Windows Video app is a great way to rent or buy movies and TV shows that may not yet be available for streaming. From the Start screen, open the Video app. Here you can browse genres or do a keyword search. Depending on the product, you can either rent or purchase it. All content in the Video app comes with reviews linked to rottentomatoes.com, also offering other recommended viewing. If you already have a library of movies downloaded on your Windows PC, Xbox or another device, then it’s no trouble for you to be able to access and stream them via Windows 8. Within the Video app, you can locate all of your stored videos and play them. To stream videos from another device, all you have to do is sync the device with Windows 8. You can do this from the ‘Change PC settings’ menu by selecting PC and devices>Devices. As long as your device can be discovered, it can be synced and streamed from with Windows. The Xbox Video app has also been released for Windows phones, so you can stream any content purchased via the Xbox Video store on a Windows phone. It’s also worth checking out the Windows Store for other video apps like Vimeo and YouTube.

“There are many options for renting, streaming and purchasing movies”

Browsing

By default, web browsing is done via the Internet Explorer 11 app, which is set up to work with the Bing search engine. A great many websites have been built specifically for Internet Explorer – to see what it can do, check out www.atari.com/arcade. As with most things in Windows 8, you don’t have to do all of your online browsing through a desktop web browser. Whether you want to check your emails, book a holiday, check up on the stock market or read the latest headlines, Windows 8 provides an app for it, most of which are powered by Bing’s search engine. To browse all of the different Bing apps, look them up on your Start screen or click on the downward arrow at the bottom left to reveal all of your apps. Opening the Bing News app, you’ll be provided with a headline news story, like the other Bing apps, you can browse through them by sliding from left to right. Once you’ve become familiar with the variety of online apps that are Bing-powered, you may find yourself using a web browser less and less to search online for content and using a Bing app instead. The apps are useful since they help to refine your browsing to a certain topic: News, Travel, Sports, Money, etc.

Another way to browse online is by using the Search charm, which can be accessed in your Charms bar. This will search the entirety of your computer and the internet to bring you results. Online results will be presented to you in a digest of information that you can click on to be linked to the site where the information came from. When searching online using the Search charm, you can also specify that you just want image and video results to help better refine your search.

On top of all this, you can also download your favorite web browsers from the Windows Store, such as Chrome, and sync it with the appropriate accounts that you may already hold, such as Gmail.

Music

If you’re a music lover, you’ll enjoy access to the millions of tunes available via Xbox Music on your Windows 8 machine, as well as your own personal library of songs which can be streamed from any of your devices.

Although you can access your tracks from the desktop interface and play them in Windows Media Player or iTunes, the most seamless way to play music is through the Xbox Music app, represented by a pair of headphones. There are several ways to listen to music in the app. Firstly, you have your collection. This will consist of any music that you have stored in the Music folder of your computer. Of course, you can allocate other folders in which to import audio too. In your collection you can browse your music by artist, album or song – and see all the album covers.

Next up is Xbox Radio. Here you can search for a favorite artist, then the app will play through an automated playlist of tracks by them along with those by similar artists. You can also create your own radio stations based on artists that you like.

A key feature of the app is the Explore streaming service. With your Xbox account, you can search for and stream millions of tracks. Tracks can then be added to personalized playlists. You can also buy tracks and albums to download to your computer. Although you can stream music for free, you will be limited to ten hours per month unless you subscribe to the premium Xbox Music Pass, which comes with a great deal of benefits. This service provides advert-free streaming of music and automatic sync between devices.

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