Bob Bryant, chief technology officer and general manager for Slimware Utilities, has 10 years of experience in technology and computer software.
You may have seen the ads. Cute babies and kids of all kinds going about their daily lives while a narrator tells you, “These kids won’t have to remember passwords, or obsess about security,” and that your little munchkin can login “with a smile.”
It’s one of Microsoft’s commercials for Windows 10, where the narrator also says, “Every screen is meant to be touched; web pages are meant to be scribbled on and shared.”
Paints a pretty picture, doesn’t it?
Installing Windows 10 should be a breeze, and it may well be, but what can you do to make sure that maintaining it is just as easy? As we all know, a computer can be a fickle device -- especially after a major upgrade -- and any tech-related problems that follow would be inconvenient, to say the least. Here are a few jargon-free tips on what to do before and after installing Windows 10.
Back Up Important Files
In my entire career in tech, there's one thing I've found to be universally true: nothing is worse than losing all of your files. It can happen in an instant. You stumble across a virus, or your system suffers some critical error and … bam! Your data and media are gone. And while it’s likely you won’t have to worry about this when migrating to Windows 10, it’s better to be safe than sorry. As with any system upgrade, backing up the files and documents on your PC is always a good idea.
First, get a backup drive. This can be any USB thumb drive, or preferably a USB external hard drive. It’s a good idea to invest in one that has as much or more space than your computer. This way you'll have room for files you accrue in the future. A one-terabyte drive should cover most home PCs. Go through and copy any files and folders you want to keep safe.
The most common locations for your personal stuff are library folders such as Music, Videos, Pictures and Documents. But, of course, you may have other things in other places. Here’s a tip: a lot of USB external hard drives have “sync” capabilities. These are built-in tools that come with the drive’s software. They'll automatically copy data from specified locations, and change that copied data when the original gets updated -- a helpful way to stay organized and prevent unnecessary duplicates.
Here’s an important tip you probably don't think about often: update your driver software.
A driver is a piece of software that manages the communications between a computer and its system components. By components, I mean peripheral devices like printers and scanners, as well as internal devices: graphic and sound cards, game controllers and other hardware. Driver software acts like a translator, helping a computer’s operating system communicate with its hardware and telling the hardware how to work. Without the correct drivers, the hardware connected to a computer won't work properly.
With a new operating system installed, updating your PC system drivers is an important step to ensure you get optimal performance from your hardware.
The reason? Windows doesn’t always automatically apply driver updates the same way it applies some software updates. While a given device – like your graphics card – may work with Windows 10, it may not be optimized for the new operating system, or handle communication with high-powered software in the most efficient way possible. This translates to lost functionality. An out-of-date, missing, or corrupt driver can cause performance degradation or malfunctions to occur.
In some cases, you may have to go out and find the most up-to-date driver for a given device. No doubt, doing this manually involves a little research and can be time-consuming. You'll have to match the driver software with the device, paying close attention to its model number. You'll also have to make sure the driver you get is optimized for your version of Windows 10.
A good place to start is Microsoft's Windows Compatibility Center, where you'll find compatibility information for your devices, and be able to download the latest drivers.
Clean Up your PC
And I don’t mean using a damp washcloth to clear the dust off your monitor. With a car, you change the oil, look at the brakes and check under the hood. The same goes for your PC: You should perform regular maintenance to make sure all systems are running smoothly, and to ensure a fast, error-free experience. This applies even after installing a brand-new operating system.
Use a PC optimization tool to clean your computer and remove automatically-created junk files, bloatware, and tracking data that can take up space and compromise your privacy. What’s more, you can use the same tool to manage background programs and processes. This lets you enable or disable program features -- like startup permissions -- so your system doesn’t get slowed down by too many applications trying to run at once.
Customize the Start Menu
OK, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief now. The Start menu is back!
There are a lot of ways you can tailor the new Start menu in Windows 10. You can add or remove tiles, and adjust the menu’s appearance to your liking.
Customize the look and feel of the Start menu by clicking the Start button in the lower-left corner of the screen and going to Settings > Personalization.
Right-click on any tile to open a small menu, which shows several options including Unpin from Start, Resize, Turn live tile off, and Pin to taskbar. To rearrange the layout, click and drag a tile to a new spot. When exploring Windows 10, you may see an app you want pinned to the Start menu. To do so, right-click the app (or file or folder) and choose Pin to Start from the menu.
Remember, the idea is for you to make Windows behave like you want, not the other way around; so any features you enable, you can also disable. Go to Settings > Personalization > Start to manage Start menu features at a detailed level.
Another cool feature is the option to show apps you use the most. This setting allows you to automatically pin apps you frequently use to the Start menu.
Make notifications work in your favor. The smartphone-inspired Action Center (where your notifications live) is where you pick and choose which apps you want to notify you. To adjust notifications, click the Notifications icon in the system tray in the lower-right corner of the screen (see below) and selecting All settings.
Now go to System > Notifications & Actions. You'll see a buffet of options, including the ability to see notifications on the lock screen . (You may want to turn this off for privacy and security reasons.) Be discerning or hands-off; the important thing is that you choose how and when an app gets your attention.
All in all, Microsoft has made significant usability improvements in its new OS, and hopefully that translates to fewer hiccups going forward. Just remember that Windows 10 is meant to stick around for a while, with Microsoft providing mainstream support for the OS for 5 years, and extended support for 10. That’s why there’s no better time than now to make sure your new system is working like it’s supposed to -- and that it’s working on your terms.