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Windows 11: Do these six things right away after you finish setup

Microsoft's default settings for Windows 11 are filled with tiny annoyances, including unnecessary taskbar icons and unwanted apps. Here's how to declutter your new setup and maximize your security settings.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor
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NurPhoto/Getty Images

Setting up a new Windows 11 PC -- or resetting a gently used Windows 11 PC, so it's as good as new -- is pretty easy. Deceptively easy, in fact. After you click through the dialog boxes and adjust the few available settings as part of the out-of-the-box experience, you end up at the Windows 11 desktop.

But your work is not complete. Microsoft's default settings aren't necessarily tuned for you, and a default setup comes with a handful of annoyances that you can quickly fix. 

Also: Windows 11 FAQ: ZDNET's upgrade guide and everything else you need to know

When you get to the Windows desktop, I recommend taking a few minutes to do these six things before you go any further.

1. Use a Microsoft account for maximum security

On a system you own and manage personally, you have two choices for setting up your primary user account: a Microsoft account, or a local account. 

If your PC is in a managed corporate environment, you'll have either a domain account or you'll sign in with Entra ID, formerly known as Azure Active Directory. Either way, your administrator is the boss, not you.

Also: The best Windows laptop you can buy: Dell, Samsung, Lenovo, and more

Old-timers will probably prefer a local account because it's what they've used for decades. But it's the wrong choice these days, at least if you care about security. 

Using a Microsoft account gives you three advantages you can't get with a plain-vanilla local account:

  • You can turn on two-factor authentication and Windows Hello, which allows you to sign in using fingerprint or face-recognition hardware.
  • You can turn on encryption for your system drive, even if you're using the Windows 11 Home edition (to make sure encryption is turned on, go to Settings > Privacy & Security > Device Encryption).
  • You can use Microsoft's account recovery tools to access your encrypted data if you forget your password.

And, of course, if you have a Microsoft 365 Family or Personal subscription that uses your Microsoft account, you get access to Office apps and a terabyte of cloud storage.

Also: These 5 major tech advances of 2023 were the biggest game-changers

You're not required to use your Microsoft-supplied email address for anything but this single purpose. And if you create a new Microsoft account as part of the Windows 11 setup, it's not linked to any existing phone number or email address, which means the address can't be used to track your online activity.

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You can create a new Microsoft account during Windows 11 setup.

Screenshot by Ed Bott/ZDNET

For more details on the differences between each account type, see Windows 11 setup: Which user account type should you choose? For step-by-step instructions on securing your Microsoft account, see How to lock down your Microsoft account and keep it safe from outside attackers.

2. Clean up the crapware

As was the case with its predecessor, Windows 11 makes money for Microsoft thanks to shortcuts sprinkled across the Start menu on every new install. Some of those shortcuts represent third-party apps and games, which are presumably placed on this high-value real estate in exchange for bounties paid by the owners of those third-party apps and services. 

Also: Here's why Windows PCs are only going to get more annoying

Candy Crush and its ilk, which were ubiquitous in the Windows 10 era, are gone on my recent test systems, replaced mostly by streaming-media options (Spotify, Disney+, Prime Video) and social media (TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook).

The good news is that these shortcuts are not installed by default. They take up minuscule amounts of disk space, and each one can be removed with two clicks directly from the Start menu.


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It takes two clicks to uninstall an unwanted app directly from Start.

Screenshot by Ed Bott/ZDNET

Right click on the unwanted icon, click Uninstall, confirm your choice in a dialog box, and repeat as needed. (And yes, I realize that it's very weird to offer the Uninstall option for an app that is not actually installed, and does not appear in the Installed Apps list in Settings, but here we are.)

In addition to those third-party app shortcuts, you'll find an assortment of apps from Microsoft itself. Many, but not all, can be uninstalled in the same way. For more advice on what to do with these apps, see The 12 Windows apps I keep (and the 11 I dump) on every new install.

3. Turn on the Windows Sandbox

This is a killer feature if you have Windows 11 Pro, Enterprise, or Education. It allows you to instantly spin up a secure virtual machine (VM) without any complex setup. The VM is completely isolated from your main system, so you can visit a suspicious website or test an unknown app without risk. When you're done, close the sandbox, and it vanishes completely, removing all traces of your experiment.

Also: How to lock down your Microsoft account and guard it from attackers

Although it uses the same virtualization features as Hyper-V, you don't need to turn on Hyper-V, and it uses only a tiny amount of system resources.

To get started, click Search and type Windows Features to find the Turn Windows Features On Or Off dialog box. Scroll to the bottom of the list and click the box to the left of the Windows Sandbox feature. After you restart, you'll find a Windows Sandbox shortcut on the Start menu.


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The Windows Sandbox includes almost no apps, only the Edge web browser and File Explorer.

Screenshot by Ed Bott/ZDNET

Note that a Windows Sandbox session is totally stripped down. It includes no third-party apps and almost no Microsoft apps, except the Microsoft Edge browser, File Explorer, Notepad, and the legacy version of Windows Media Player. You can use the Windows Clipboard to paste a URL into Microsoft Edge or to copy a program file to the sandbox for further exploration.

4. Clean up the Start menu

Compared to its predecessors, the Windows 11 Start menu is severely simplified. It has a section for pinned icons at the top, and below that is a section for shortcuts to apps and documents you've used recently. At the bottom of the menu are your profile picture and a power button -- and that's it.

To make the Start menu a bit more useful, go to Settings Personalization Start > and make a few customizations. Use the options at the top to change the allotment of space between the Pinned and Recommended sections. You can't hide the Recommended section, but you can use the switches on that page to hide shortcuts that would otherwise appear. 

Also: How much RAM does your Windows 11 PC need?

At the bottom of the page, click Folders and you'll find a menu that lets you add shortcuts to the bottom of the Start menu, in the space to the left of the Power button. This option gives you easy access to some common locations in the file system without the need to open File Explorer first. These locations are the equivalent of the shortcuts that sit in a column to the left of the Start menu in Windows 10.

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Add any of these shortcuts to a row along the bottom of the Windows 11 Start menu.

Screenshot by Ed Bott/ZDNET

You'll also notice I turned on dark mode for the system. It's much easier on the eyes, especially if you're working in a dark or dimly lit room. You'll find that option in Settings > Personalization > Colors > Choose Your Mode.

5. Remove widgets and other unwanted taskbar items

Microsoft finds a fresh way to clutter up the taskbar with every new release. Fortunately, they also include the tools you need to declutter things. In Windows 11, the default taskbar setup includes these extraneous additions:

  • A search button -- You don't need a search box. Just tap the Windows key and start typing to search.
  • The Task View button -- You don't need this, either. Use Windows key + Tab to get to the same place.
  • Widgets -- Ugh.
  • Chat -- Microsoft keeps trying to get people to use Teams, even when they're not at work.
  • Copilot (preview) -- On some newer Windows 11 versions, the Chat button is replaced with this shortcut to Microsoft's AI service, which opens in a dock along the right side of the screen. 

If you want any of those items, then more power to you. But you can make any or all of those shortcuts disappear with a quick trip to Settings > Personalization > Taskbar. Slide all four of these switches to the left to streamline the taskbar, so you can concentrate on the program shortcuts instead.

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Get rid of taskbar clutter by sliding those top four witches to the Off position.

Screenshot by Ed Bott/ZDNET

There's some good stuff at the bottom of that Settings page, too. Expand the Taskbar Corner Overflow section to control which icons appear on the right side of the taskbar by default. And if you have multiple displays, be sure to click Taskbar Behaviors to go through the options for how the taskbar works on a second monitor.

6. Configure OneDrive backup

You get at least 5GB of free cloud storage in Microsoft's OneDrive service when you sign in with a Microsoft account. That feature includes a setting that can be confusing if you aren't paying attention.

If you click through the default options, Microsoft will sync the contents of your Desktop, Documents, and Pictures folder to OneDrive, which effectively backs up everything you put in any of those folders. If you already have a solid backup strategy, you might want to turn that feature off. If you like the idea of having a cloud-based backup, you might want to check its settings.

To do that, open File Explorer, right click the OneDrive shortcut in the folder pane on the left and then click OneDrive > Manage OneDrive Backup. That step takes you to the dialog box shown below. 

Also: How to easily install a cloud service at home in an hour or less

However, you should note that the options will be disabled if you're using a system that's managed by your business using a domain or Entra ID account. 

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When folder backup is enabled, these three folders are automatically relocated to OneDrive.

Screenshot by Ed Bott/ZDNET

You can turn off backup for each of the three folders with a single click. The blue checkmark in the top-right corner means the folder is backed up and synced.

If OneDrive Backup has been on for any length of time, turning it off leaves your files in their respective OneDrive folders and adds a link to that location in the folder in your local user profile. You'll need to manually move or copy those files from their OneDrive location back to the local user profile if you want them in a single location.  

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