How I set up my new Windows 10 laptop (and thoughts on switching to Windows)

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Last week, I finally bought myself a new laptop. This is after years of using my HP laptop (that I bought way back in 2012), plus a Toshiba Chromebook I bought several years ago.

As for why: the HP laptop’s definitely showing its age, as much as I future-proofed it specs-wise when I bought it. (It has a sticker on it proclaiming it originally came with Windows 7!) Meanwhile, the Chromebook loses support later this year. Instead of two separate machines, I thought I’d rather have one laptop to replace both.

I opted to buy a Lenovo IdeaPad 330S, a 15.6-inch laptop I bought from (of all places) Walmart’s website. Since budget was an issue, I went with another PC laptop instead of a Mac. The laptop doesn’t have a backlit keyboard, but meets all of my other specifications: 8GB RAM, a 256MGB SSD, and a mid-range processor (AMD Ryzen 5 2500U, roughly the equivalent of Intel’s i5 processors).

The only nitpick about the laptop so far is the trackpad seems slightly bent near the top (the top right corner/edge is popping up a bit), on top of being, well, mediocre. While it doesn’t seem enough to justify exchanging it for a different model, I might consider keeping its warranty in mind. I also make use of a mouse when at my desk (where it’ll be most of the time), hopefully making this less of an issue.

Switching to Windows

The other big change is giving Windows a go for the first time as a non-work/non-school related operating system.

For years, I always preferred MacOS or Linux over Windows. However, I want to keep a “mainstream” operating system around, and I don’t have the funds currently for a Mac. I’m also getting a bit tired of some of Linux’s idiosyncrasies (and admittedly, other than the Chromebook’s success, the “year of the Linux desktop” isn’t happening anytime soon). Finally, some of the reasons I originally went with Linux years ago are either less applicable now (due to changing technology, the rise of cloud computing and open standards, etc.) or have been fixed/semi-fixed by Windows.

Thus, I’m giving the OS 90% of the general public uses a go. If nothing else, it makes for an interesting experience to blog about. Granted, I still prefer Macs (and still have my old Linux laptop around), but for the time being, I’ll make do with the operating system from Redmond, Washington.

Below are pictures of the new laptop, plus its keyboard and trackpad.

Initial Windows 10 thoughts

Some of my initial impressions of Windows 10 (Home version):

  • The initial setup went reasonably smoothly, especially after turning off the annoying Cortana feature.
  • Microsoft clearly wants Windows 10 to be more like Chrome OS/Chromebooks than previous versions of Windows. There’s much effort in tying the OS to Microsoft’s various other services (OneDrive, Xbox, etc.), as well as numerous upsell attempts (OneDrive again, Office 365, etc.). Unfortunately, a lot of this comes at the expense of some privacy aspects. For instance, Windows 10 strongly urges users to set up new installs with one’s Microsoft account, instead of a local account like earlier versions of Windows (or how MacOS and Linux generally work).
  • While Windows’ security has been historically lackluster compared to MacOS or Linux, some improvements have been made in Windows 10. Windows Defender’s now included by default, with some improvements (antivirus and anti-malware protection, etc.).
  • Unlike my old Linux Mint laptop, there’s basic photo/graphic editing capabilities built-in, like on MacOS and Chrome OS. This will make cropping pictures for the blog much easier than grappling with GIMP or resorting to an online-based photo editor (such as Fotor).
  • Installing updates for Windows is a major weak point. Downloading and installing updates for Windows took much longer than any other aspect of setting up Windows. Overall, it’s handled poorly compared to MacOS or Linux.
  • Lenovo didn’t install much in the way of “bloatware,” which is a good thing.
  • A laptop with a solid state drive (SSD) makes things much faster than on my old laptop’s traditional hard drive. Startup alone is extremely fast.

How I set up my Windows laptop

Here’s how I set up my new laptop; I tried to make the most of Windows, plus overcome any of its shortcomings. Sources I followed for advice include:

Run Windows update (repeatedly)

After initial setup using my Microsoft account (more on that below), I ran through Windows update to make sure everything was updated, under Settings > Update and Security > Check for Updates. Basically, I repeatedly ran through this (and rebooted as necessary) until it stopped showing any need for new updates. As PC World notes, this should be done before trying to use your laptop online.

Install a browser besides Edge

The next step was installing a different web browser. (Sorry, Edge.) I opted for Firefox, so I went to Firefox’s website and downloaded/installed the browser. Chrome users might also want to install Google’s browser.

Security and privacy settings

Lock on a laptop keyboard
Photo by TheDigitalWay (Pixabay / CC0)

Next, there’s running through Window’s security and privacy settings. This was time-consuming, given the number of settings to go through.

Here’s the most important options to adjust or turn off. Note some of the following can be turned off during the initial setup.

  • Randomize the laptop’s hardware address on Wi-Fi, to reduce tracking across Wi-Fi networks. (Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi, turn to “on.”)
  • Turning off Cortana. There’s no easy way to completely turn off Cortana. The best option is to go to Settings > Cortana and slide everything to “off.” Also go to Settings > Privacy > Speech, Inking, & Typing and turn off “speech services and typing suggestions.”
  • Turn off the advertising ID. Unless you like customized ads, there’s no need for this to be on. Go to Settings > Privacy > General and slide to “off.” For that matter, the other options on this page can also be switched off.
  • Adjust location tracking settings. To turn location tracking off completely, go to Settings > Privacy > Location and switch “Allow access to location on this device” to “off.” If you just want location tracking off for only certain apps, scroll down to “Choose which apps can access your precise location” and turn it on/off for desired apps.
  • Keeping account info private. To prevent apps from accessing user account information, go to Settings > Privacy> Account info and slide the setting to “off.”
  • Limit diagnostic data sent to Microsoft. By default, Windows is set to send a lot of data to Microsoft about computer usage, including browser information. While this can’t be completely turned off, diagnostic data can be limited to what’s “necessary” by going to Settings > Privacy > Feedback & diagnostics and selecting “Basic.”

Set up a local account

Setting up a traditional local account, instead of using a Microsoft account, also greatly improves user privacy. While Microsoft greatly discourages setting up a local account on initial setup, one can still do so by making sure the computer isn’t connected to the Internet.

An alternative (and what I chose to do) is to go through the setup using one’s Microsoft account, but then create a local account afterwards. To create a local account, go to Settings > Account > Sign in with a local account instead, then create a user name and password.

A local account keeps information to just that particular computer. As such, you won’t be able to share information across multiple Windows devices. You’ll also be prompted to use your Microsoft Account for certain services, particularly the Windows Store; when doing so, after entering your password, choose the “Sign in to just this app instead” link. (Choosing the “Next” button will convert the local account to a Microsoft account.)

Install my favorite programs

Firefox
Photo by geralt (Pixabay / CC0)

After all of the above, I installed some favorite programs. Fortunately, some of the ones I used on Mac and Linux also have Windows versions. Software included:

  • Firefox
  • Spotify
  • VLC
  • LibreOffice
  • Paint.NET
  • 7-Zip
  • Malwarebytes (free version)
  • HexChat (IRC program)
  • Audacity
  • iTunes
  • iCloud for Windows

Firefox comes with a sync service that allows syncing bookmarks, most preferences, and installed plugins across devices. Thus, after I entered my user name and password, I had my old browser setup running instantly on the new laptop.

Transfer files from the old laptop

Finally, I transferred some of my files from my old laptop to the new one. I simply copied important files to an external hard drive, and moved them over to the new laptop that way.

Of course, my usual cloud services (iCloud, Google Drive) also work under Windows.

Conclusion

I’ll post any future updates or changes on how running this new laptop/Windows goes. If there’s any questions or suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.


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