OK, so you've unwrapped your new Windows device. Now what? The first thing you should do is link it to your Microsoft account, which is simply any email and password of your choice. It takes a minute. Go to Settings > Change PC Settings > Users and then follow the instructions. Once you do this, you'll be able to use your own settings and download your own apps on any Windows 8.1 device you own, and connect to your contacts and social networks in very immediate ways. Here's a fuller run-down of the benefits of Microsoft account.
Microsoft account also opens the doors to the Windows Store, where you're going to get apps for your device. And apps are really what Windows 8.1 is all about. Here are 10 free apps to get you going with shopping, gaming, reading, movie watching, and news getting.
Facebook The official app. This lets you see updates on the Facebook tile on your Start screen, more easily have group conversations and share photos, and otherwise take control so you can use Facebook the way you want.
Twitter I follow way too many people on Twitter. The Twitter app lets me group Twitter people in categories so the onslaught of witticisms is a lot easier to deal with. The app also gives a graphical view of your feed which, if you only ever see Twitter on your phone, is a revelation.
Netflix I don't have cable. I get by quite nicely with Netflix and Hulu Plus. This app gives me a great browsing and viewing experience, making it dangerously easy to curl up in bed with a movie on my laptop. Though the app is free, Netflix itself requires a subscription. But as of this writing, there was a one month free trial offer.
Hulu Plus Again, this requires a subscription, but also currently has a free trial offer for the streaming service. I love the Criterion Collection of films. And Modern Family is the only show my 14-year old and I can agree to watch together.
Wikipedia This app gives you a really nice reading interface, and also makes it super easy to share articles to other apps and spread your knowledge of Italian vampire films or whatever else your latest obsession happens to be.
Adobe Photoshop Express Love this one. The full version of Photoshop is a powerful tool for graphics professionals. For the rest of us, this app provides more than enough fire power for basic fixes. There's basically no learning curve, either. The controls are obvious and easy.
Where’s My Water? 2 As addictive as it is awkwardly punctuated, this physics-based game from Disney gives a hundred more satisfying levels of puzzles and difficulties to solve.
Microsoft Solitaire Collection Simplicity and familiarity. Sometimes that's all you want. This offers the traditional game for those times when you want to switch off your mind and focus only on the next card. But it also has a more than a few variations to keep things interesting.
Amazon This app is all about taking control and seeing just what you want, and finding stuff that will be interesting to you personally. It's got a really nice, clean interface. Pin an Amazon tile to get alerts and notifications on your Start screen.
eBay Hate to lose? This app helps you keep track of your bids, track packages, and get alerts when there's action on that taxidermy owl you want. It's also nice for just window shopping (Windows shopping? Yeah, sorry).
ESPN This is another one that requires a subscription and has a free trial offer. We're having pretty fun season here in the Northwest with the Seahawks, and this is the perfect way to keep track of the latest from Pete Carroll and co.
CNN for Windows A great stand-by for staying up-to-date with the news. The app gives you a very nice display that is great for touchscreens. By the way, here is a round-up of some of my other favorite news apps.
KindleWe're a two e-reader family. I'm a Kindle man, and my daughter swears by her Nook. I'm still amazed at how Kindle knows where I left off on any book, even if I start reading on my Windows Phone, read some more on my laptop, and pick it up later on my Kindle itself. This app has some other cool tricks, like a very easy-to-use search feature.
Nook One of the nice things about this app is it comes loaded with free book samples, so you can try out the smooth, page-flicking reading experience. It's also really great for magazines, newspapers, and other graphics-rich publications.
Khan Academy The app promises to let you "learn almost anything for free." And that turns out to be true! It's nice for students who need help (K-12 math and science are covered), but it's also great for anyone who craves a little mental stimulation.
Star Chart Despite what it might sound like, this is for astronomy, not astrology. The truly remarkable feature of this app is you can hold it up to the sky and it will tell you exactly what you're looking at.
OpenTable To paraphrase a certain American president, I am not a cook. And this app helps keep me from starving, with restaurant browsing and booking. I've found places in my own neighborhood that I didn't even know were there. It's also ideal for finding a good meal when you're traveling.
AllRecipes Let me repeat: I am not a cook. But this app just might make me one. I can tell it what I have on hand, and it will give me recipes for stuff I can make in 30 minutes or less. OK, running out of excuses now.
That's just to get you started. Hit the Windows Store icon on your Start screen to find your own favorites. I'm sure you'll find ways to enjoy your new device that you haven't even thought of yet. Happy New Year! --David S.