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Windows 8: the complete guide

Our in-depth guide to Microsoft's new OS

Lock screen and password options

With previous versions of Windows, you'd have to click on your username and enter a password to log in. Alternatively, if you weren't bothered about security you could set it to boot straight to the desktop.

Windows 8 introduces a smartphone-style Lock screen which you have to drag upwards to reveal a more familiar list of users. The Lock screen can be customised to show your own photo, which is overlaid with the time, date and app notifications. For example, you can see Wi-Fi signal strength, the number of unread emails and battery level (for laptops and tablets).

Windows 8 lock screen

There are three options for authentication, though. You can type in a traditional password, a four-digit PIN or use a picture password. The latter requires to you complete three gestures on a photo, which is far easier to do on a touchscreen than keying in a password using an on-screen keyboard, but arguably more secure than a PIN.

You can choose any photo you like and then configure a series of three gestures using taps, circles and straight lines. You might draw a circle around a person's head, then tap each of their eyes - the options are limitless.

Windows 8 picture password

Settings

Although the old Control Panel still exists, the new Settings app lets you tweak things much more easily with your fingers. On the left-hand side are 12 categories: tap each to show the options on the right.

Under Personalize, you can choose a picture for the Lock screen and select which apps show their 'quick status' and notifications. Using the links at the top, which are easy to miss, you can also change your account picture and personalise the Start screen. There's a limit to how much you can customise it: there are six abstract backgrounds and a choice of nine colours.

Windows 8 PC settings

Notifications are new in Windows 8. As well as informative icons on the Lock screen, pop-up messages will appear in apps from other apps that you select here. Share options include whether to show a list of sharing methods that you use most often, as well as prioritising apps that you use most frequently to share things.

Other new and useful options include the ability to prevent Windows downloading updates and software on metered internet connections. This is primarily for tablets which could switch between Wi-Fi and 3G (or 4G) networks.

Sync settings Windows 8

Sync your settings is another noteworthy feature. Here you can select which preferences and personalisations to synchronise with your Microsoft account. Enable everything and you can log onto another Windows 8 PC using the same account and feel as if you're using your own computer since it will look and work just as yours does.

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