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I've written before about my nostalgia for the Windows XP- or Windows 7-era "clean install," when you could substantially improve any given pre-made PC merely by taking an official direct-from-Microsoft Windows install disk and blowing away the factory install, ridding yourself of 60-day antivirus trials, WildTangent games, outdated drivers, and whatever other software your PC maker threw on it to help subsidize its cost. You can still do that with Windows 11—in fact, it's considerably easier than it was in those '00s versions of Windows, with multiple official Microsoft-sanctioned ways to download and create an install disk, something you used to need to acquire on your own. But the resulting Windows installation is a lot less "clean" than it used to be, given the continual creep of new Microsoft apps and services into more and more parts of the core Windows experience. I frequently write about Windows, Edge, and other Microsoft-adjacent technologies as part of my day job, and I sign into my daily-use PCs with a Microsoft account, so my usage patterns may be atypical for many Ars Technica readers. But for anyone who uses Windows, Edge, or both, I thought it might be useful to detail what I'm doing to clean up a clean install of Windows, minimizing (if not eliminating) the number of annoying notifications, Microsoft services, and unasked-for apps that we have to deal with. That said, this is not a guide about creating a minimally stripped-down, telemetry-free version of Windows that removes anything other than what Microsoft allows you to remove. There are plenty of experimental hacks dedicated to that sort of thing—NTDev's Tiny11 project is one—but removing built-in Windows components can cause unexpected compatibility and security problems, and Tiny11 has historically had issues with basic table-stakes stuff like "installing security updates." The most contentious part of Windows 11's setup process relative to earlier Windows versions is that it mandates Microsoft account sign-in, with none of the readily apparent "limited account" fallbacks that existed in Windows 10. As of Windows 11 22H2, that's true of both the Home and Pro editions. There are two reasons I can think of not to sign in with a Microsoft account. The first is that you want nothing to do with a Microsoft account, thank you very much. Signing in makes you more of a target for Microsoft 365, OneDrive, or Game Pass subscription upsells since all you need to do is add them to an account that already exists, and Windows setup will offer subscriptions to each if you sign in first. I use Edge out of pragmatism rather than love—"the speed, compatibility, extensions ecosystem, and stability of Chrome with all of the Google stuff removed" is still a strong pitch, though it's gotten less so as Microsoft has pushed its own services more and more aggressively. In a vacuum, Firefox aligns better with what I want from a browser, but it just doesn't respond well to my normal tab-monster habits, despite several earnest attempts to switch. The main problem with Edge on a new install of Windows is that even more than Windows, it exists in a universe where no one would ever switch search engines or shut off any of Microsoft's value adds except by accident. Case in point: Signing in with a Microsoft account will happily sync your bookmarks, extensions, and many kinds of personal data. But settings for search engine changes, or for opting out of Microsoft services, do not sync between systems and require a fresh setup each time. Here are the Edge settings I change to maximize the browser's usefulness (and usable screen space) while minimizing annoying distractions; it involves turning off most of the stuff Microsoft has added to the Chromium version of Edge since it entered public preview five years ago. Complete information can be found on OUR FORUM.