5 Tips for Making the Windows 8 Start Screen More Useful

Windows 8’s Start Screen has earned a decent amount of criticism over the last couple of years. Mostly because buyers of Windows 8 tablets, desktops, laptops and 2-in-1s don’t think of it as being as useful compared to the Start Menu that it replaced.

Mostly, that’s because the Start Screen is something entirely new in Windows 8. In its effort to make sure that touch users had an interface that they could interact with, Microsoft decided it would be a good idea to rethink the Start Menu. Unlike the Start Menu, the Start Screen isn’t some miniature pop-up with a list of installed programs in alphabetical order.

Instead, the Start Screen is a touch friendly area that’s filled with its own different kind of apps. These apps each have their own individual customizable tiles. App makers can put things like a user’s bank balance or latest emails on the Start Screen for them to quickly glance at. Users can then resize these tiles and move them around for a bit of added customization.

Here are some tips for making the Windows 8 Start Screen more useful, inviting and functional.

Pinning Useful Live Tiles to the Start Screen for Easy Visibility

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The biggest mistake new Windows 8 device buyers make is that they get their device home and stick to the live tiles that are pinned to the Start Screen. They never customize them and they never add any new ones. Instead, they keep diving back into the Desktop for all of their needs. This turns the Start Screen into a sort of pit stop on the way to the Desktop.

Windows 8 users should go into the app list by swiping up on the Start Screen from the bottom of their touch display or by clicking on the arrow in the bottom-left corner of their screen. Mouse users should right-click on each app that they think they’ll want to access quickly and pin it to their Start Screen. Tablet users should tap and hold their finger on each app they find useful and pin it to the Start Screen.

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It doesn’t matter if the app is a Windows Store app or a Windows Desktop app. The point is to pin it to the Start Screen so that you can quickly dive into it without a problem.

Arranging Live Tiles Based on Usefulness and Priority

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Looking at different tiles for information is daunting. Thankfully, Windows 8 allows users to rearrange and group live tiles in ways that makes more sense for their needs and break up the monotony of colored rectangles and squares. Many Windows users, myself included, separate apps into media apps, news apps, and tools. This allows the brain to instantly know exactly where to go to open a specific type of app or glance for new notifications.

Download Apps With Useful Live Tiles

Every installation of Windows 8 on every device comes with a default list of installed apps. Pre-installed apps like News and Weather provide sufficiently useful Live Tiles. Don’t just stick to those apps though, there are plenty of Windows Store apps that have more robust Live Tile offerings.

Flipboard showcases the latest cover stories directly on its Live Tile and MetroTube surfaces user’s latest YouTube subscription updates directly here. Simple apps like YourTime allow users to put a clock on the Start Screen instead of opening the Charms Bar. Look for apps with decent Live Tiles, and if possible never buy an app that doesn’t have one. As you download and install these apps they’ll become available on other Windows 8 devices you have.

Add a Background for a Bit of Personality

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In early versions of Windows 8, Microsoft didn’t have a built-in way for users to add their own pictures behind the Start Screen’s Live Tiles. Why that was remains a complete mystery, but the company added the feature in a free update later. Enabling this feature also sets the default background picture to whatever other Windows 8.1 devices you have. Turning it on makes the Start Screen feel less like an empty colored hole and more like a cohesive useful part of Windows.

Read: How to Add a Background to the Start Screen in Windows 8.1

Replacing Live Tiles with a List of Installed Applications

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No matter what tips and tricks are available today, it’s likely that some people still aren’t going to want to use the Start Screen. That’s not really a reflection on them as much as it is the Start Screen. Adding things to the Windows workflow was never going to please the subset of users who are set in their ways.

For those users, there’s always the option to disable the Start Screen. This is done in two different ways. First, users can disable the Start Screen’s Live Tiles and show only the list of installed applications when they hit the Windows button on their laptop or desktop.

The second option is a bit more involved but allows Windows 8 users to quickly recreate the Start Menu from past versions of Windows. Users can add the Start Menu back by installing Stardock’s Start8 desktop program.

Read: How to Bring Back the Start Menu in Windows 8

Whatever tips you decide to take advantage of concerning the Start Screen remember that there isn’t one way of doing things. For it to work best you the Start Screen needs to be customized for your personality and computing habits.  Change things often until you find what works best.

Comments

  1. mrbarta says

    Travis, you consistently provide fair and useful information about Windows 8x. I recall how people said the old Windows Mobile Phone — with clunky Start menu — was such a huge dog…how the iPhone’s interface surpassed it instantly. Now you have the flexibility on a mobile (i.e., touch/tablet) interface to do it whatever way you see fit and people still balk endlessly. An honest assessment would say it provides multiple ways to deal with users having widely varying preferences. Windows 8x addresses this pretty darned well IMHO. All it takes is a little investigation on a new PC/tablet or the Windows website to figure these things out…either that, or read your columns. Thanks for being honest and fair.

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  3. JohnFen says

    Mbarta, I don’t think the complaints about the start screen are coming from users of phones or tablets. They’re coming from desktop/laptop users. In my opinion, they are legitimate: the start screen is obtrusive and doesn’t present benefits that make the downside worthwhile.

    It’s not a matter of people being afraid of the new or not understanding how to use the start screen, it’s that for a whole lot of people, the start screen on a desktop is an actively worse solution than the start menu. I recognize that you don’t agree with that assessment: for you, it’s great and there’s nothing wrong with that. But that doesn’t make it great for everyone.

    • PJ says

      I’ve failed to ever hear why its worse than the start menu other than that “it’s not the start menu.” anything you can do with the start menu, you can do with the start screen, in as few or sometimes fewer clicks and a lot of times, even faster. in my opinion, people dislike it simply because its a different method and people seem to balk at having to learn how to do something differently.

      • Doug in Skagit Valley says

        Using Windows XP I could navigate four or five levels into my favorites, getting me, for example, to a particular financial institution I had saved as a Favorite. All this tok about ONE SECOND!

        So, you are right: the Windows 8 desktop is damned well NOT the FUNCTIONAL start menu that has existed in virtually EVERY iteration of Windows sine 95, if I my recollection is at all accurate….

        • William says

          “All App” screen is equivalent to your start menu as it includes every programs you have. “Start Screen” is equivalent to your “favorites” as you can put your most used programs there for quick access.

  4. walkergw says

    Very nicely put. I think you have indeed outlined the keys to making the start screen useful. All your suggestions are spot on. I especially agree with point 4. I have always liked Windows 8. So I was surprised by how using the same background for the start screen and the desktop led to a feeling that it was the same OS instead of a kind of gateway between two different OSes.

    I would say one thing. People who put these into effect will have to first get over a larger hurdle. That is the one that JohnFen talks about even though I think even he realizes it. And that is the perception that a touch screen OS must invariably will make the UI less useable. While this concept is understandable it is still a missconception. It starts with the idea that the old method is optimized, so that any changes will then be a reducition in optimization. That just isnt true. The old method was useable, so is the new one. Each has benfits at times, but further optimizations are possible with both. MS has some peices in good places and some peices in scratch your head moments. But the tweeking that MS has done has gone a long way to address the head scratchers.

    Let me address one more point that I hear talked about often. That is that a whole screen use of icons will inveriable slow down selection. This is also not true and actually is opposite. You can move the mouse fully accross the screen faster than you select a menu item and move to the next menu. The reason is, on a small menu, you must move the mouse slower to get to the proper target, you must then expand and go to the next target. The weakness of the full screen is not in the movement it is in finding. And this is where your points 1 and 2 are key to making the start screen faster than using a menuing system. Yes, I said it. Windows 8 Start Screen is faster than then start menu for mouse users. But it is not so out of the box, it requires personal tweeking.

    So thank you for writing this good article. I hope that people take it and use it. Windows 8 is the best OS MS has ever put out in my opinion.

  5. Doug says

    Travis,

    Please confirm how, “…users can disable the Start Screen’s Live Tiles and show only the list of installed applications when they hit the Windows button on their laptop or desktop.”

    • William says

      There is an option in navigation tab that let you get into “All App” screen instead of “Start Screen”. “All App” screen doesn’t have live tiles and only provides a list of all installed applications.

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