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Customize Start screen in Windows 8 and 8.1

By . Last modified: 2014-08-14.

How to personalize Start screen in Windows 8 and 8.1 - tile looks, pinning, privacy and other settings

Windows 8 and 8.1 have a radically redesigned Start menu that uses the new Modern UI/Metro style. It is now called Start screen. List of applications and Desktop programs now consists of pinned tiles that have different sizes and colors. You can also pin folders to the new Start screen.

Because the new Start screen is much simpler than Start menu was in previous Windows versions, there are no recently used programs and documents or Jump Lists available. This also means less configuration options and therefore less confusion.

General overview of how to use Start screen in Windows 8 and 8.1 is available in Windows Desktop, Start menu and folders tutorial.

Those who are in love with old Start menu, can customize Taskbar to display classic Start menu in less than a minute:
Windows 8 Taskbar, classic Start menu look.

To pin an item to Start screen, find it using the new Search pane (keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Q) or locate it using File Explorer (keyboard shortcut Windows Key+E). Right-click the program, application or folder and click Pin to Start in App bar or popup menu. Touch screen owners should flick the item instead - touch and then drag down a little.
Windows 8 Start screen. To pin a program to the end of Start screen, right-click on its name and select Pin to Start. Windows 8, File Explorer. To pin a program or folder to the end of Start screen, right-click on its name and select Pin to Start.

Note that you can also uninstall any app or Desktop program directly from Start screen.

The new item is now the last tile on Start screen.
In Windows 8.1, some system tiles have additional actions - for example, if you pin This PC (aka Computer) to Start, you can quickly access Computer Management or System Properties, or connect/disconnect network drives.
Windows 8.1 Update (available since 8th of April, 2014) does not show App bar on devices without touchscreens: instead, traditional popup menus are used on keyboard & mouse systems.
Windows 8.1 Start screen. This PC tile allows additional quick actions after right-clicking. Windows 8.1 Update, Start screen. This PC tile allows additional quick actions after right-clicking.

In Windows 8, any new program or app installed will have its tile/icon added to the end of Start screen. To pin something else, use keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Tab to switch to All apps view.
Windows 8.1 does not add new tiles for newly installed apps or Desktop programs by default. These are added to the All apps view (Ctrl+Tab) instead and all recently added apps have a "New" label there. This is to keep your Start screen more personal - but you can still pin any of the newly installed apps to Start screen.

In case you do not want an item to be pinned, right-click on its tile and select Unpin from Start.
Windows 8, Start screen. To unpin a program or folder from Start screen, right-click its tile and select Unpin from Start.

Desktop programs in Windows 8 have one more option available - Pin to taskbar or Unpin from taskbar. Taskbar personalization is covered in Change Taskbar in Windows tutorial. In Windows 8.1 Update, you can also pin Modern UI (aka Metro or Windows Store) apps to Taskbar.
Windows 8.1 Start screen. To remove a program or an app from Start screen, right-click on its name and select Unpin from Start.

You can select and de-select multiple items on Start menu just by right-clicking/flicking. The list of available commands changes according to the types of selected items. Keyboard and mouse users of Windows 8.1 Update can also hold down Ctrl key and click tiles to select more than one.

Arranging tiles and tile groups on Start screen

As tiles on Windows 8 and 8.1 Start screen are not sorted by name or any other criteria, you can rearrange them just as you please.
In Windows 8, click and hold (or touch and hold) on a tile and then drag it to the position you like. You can move only one tile at a time.
In Windows 8.1 without Update, you can move multiple tiles at once - select some tiles by right-clicking, and then drag them with mouse. The number of tiles moved is displayed in the group's top right corner.
Windows 8.1 Update users must hold down Ctrl key to select multiple items for relocation. Then drag the group where you like.
Windows 8 Start screen. To move a tile, drag it to the position you like. Windows 8.1 Start screen. To move multiple tiles, select them by right-clicking. Then drag the tiles to a new position.

Some Modern UI-style applications, such as People, Messaging or Photos, have live previews of content and can be larger and smaller. These are called Live Tiles. Desktop programs do not come with content previews and their tiles are always in smaller size.
Windows 8 Start screen. Live Tiles display information (such as news or social networking updates) and previews of content.

To resize a Live Tile in Windows 8, right-click/flick it and then click either Smaller or Larger.
Windows 8 Start screen. To reduce a Live Tile, right-click it and then click Smaller. Windows 8 Start screen. To increase a Live Tile, right-click it and then click Larger.

Some of the Live Tiles might disable content previews while their size is reduced.

In Windows 8.1, app tiles have four different size options: Large, Wide, Medium and Small. Some of Modern UI apps might not support the Large size yet.
Desktop programs have only Medium and Small sizes available.
To resize a tile, select it, click Resize button in App bar (or expand Resize in Windows 8.1 Update) and select the option you like.
Windows 8.1 Start screen. To change Live Tile size, right-click to select it and then click Resize. Windows 8.1 Update, Start screen. To resize a Tile, right-click it and select an option from Resize menu.

If you want to create a new group or section of tiles, drag a tile to a free space on Start screen until a wide vertical bar appears. Then release mouse button or lift your finger.
Windows 8 Start screen. To create a new tile group, drag an item to the edge of screen until a vertical bar appears.

To remove a tile group, either move all items to another group or unpin all items in the group.

To give a group of tiles a name in Windows 8, click or tap the minus sign button on the bottom right of screen. Alternatively, hold down Ctrl key and scroll mouse wheel towards yourself until you see a small overview of Start screen.
Then right-click a group, click Name group in App bar, type a title and click Name.
Windows 8 Start screen, small overview. To give a group of tiles a title, right-click a group and click 'Name group'. Type a title and click Name.

In Windows 8.1, you can easily name a group. Just right-click or flick a tile in the group you want to rename and click the "Name group" field (if the group has no name) or the group's current name.
Type a name and click/tap somewhere else.
Windows 8.1 Start screen. To give a group of tiles a title, click in the 'Name group' field and type a name. Windows 8.1 Start screen, named group

Windows 8.1 Update keyboard and mouse users can right-click anywhere outside tiles and click Name groups.
Windows 8.1 Update, Start screen. To set or change a name of Tile group, right-click outside of tiles and then click 'Name groups'.

Changing Start screen color and background

To select a different color and background for Start screen in Windows 8, use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+I to open Settings charm. Alternatively, move mouse pointer to the lower right edge of screen (or swipe in from the right edge of touch screen) and click Settings.
Then click Change PC settings in the bottom of the bar.
Windows 8 Start screen, Settings charm. To personalize Start screen color and background, click 'Change PC settings'.

PC settings app in Windows 8 opens in Personalize tab. First, click to open the Start screen tab on the right. Then choose the background and color you like.
Windows 8, PC settings, Personalize, Start screen. Click the background and color you want for Start menu.

If your user account is a Microsoft account, the changes will now sync to other PC-s and devices trusted by your account.

In Windows 8.1, the process is simpler. Open Settings charm using keyboard shortcut Windows Key+I and click Personalize. Then select the background picture, Background color and Accent color you like.
Windows 8.1 Start screen, Settings charm. To customize Start screen color and background, click 'Personalize'. Windows 8.1 Start screen, Settings charm, Personalize. Select the background picture, Background color and Accent color you like.

Displaying Administrative Tools on Start screen

Power users might want to display Administrative Tools (Disk Management, Event Viewer, etc) on Windows 8 and 8.1 Start screen. To do that, make sure Start screen is open and then use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+I to open Settings charm. Alternatively, move mouse pointer to the lower right edge of screen (or swipe in from the right edge of your touch screen) and click Settings.
Windows 8 Start screen, Charms bar. To change Start screen options, click Settings.

Now click Tiles.
Windows 8 Start screen, Settings charm. To change Start screen options, click Tiles.

Click the Show administrative tools slider so that it displays "Yes". Click outside the Charms bar to exit settings.
In Windows 8.1 Update, you might have two additional options here, depending on the resolution of your monitor: Display more tiles on the Start screen and Display more apps in Apps view. Both make tiles/icons smaller and fit more items on large screens.
Windows 8 Start screen, Settings charm, Tiles. To display all Administrative Tools on Start screen, click the 'Show administrative tools' slider. 

All administrative tools are now listed in the end of Start screen in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 without Update.
Windows 8.1 Update actually adds the icons to Apps view (click the small arrow down button to access it) so that you can pin only the items you need to your Start screen.

Enhancing privacy of Live Tiles on Start screen

Because Live Tiles on Start screen can potentially display private, adult or confidential content, it might be necessary to disable their active previews.

To do that, right-click or flick (touch and drag down a little) the required app and click Turn live tile off in App bar or in popup menu.
Windows 8 Start screen. To disable content previews in a Live Tile, right-click it and use the 'Turn live tile off' command. Windows 8.1 Update, Start screen. To disable content previews in a Live Tile, right-click it and select 'Turn live tile off' command.

As usual, you can always re-enable active content by right-clicking the app and using the Turn live tile on command.

To clear all personal data from all tiles at once (and remove all content previews), open Settings Charm using keyboard shortcut Windows Key+I. Alternatively, move mouse pointer to the lower right edge of screen to reveal Charms bar and click Settings.
Windows 8 Start screen, Charms bar. To change Start screen options, click Settings.

Now click Tiles.
Windows 8 Start screen, Settings charm. To change Start screen options, click Tiles.

Click the Clear button in Clear personal info from my tiles section. No confirmation is displayed, and the process is complete after "Done!" appears.
Windows 8 Start screen, Settings charm, Tiles. To remove all personal data from tiles, click Clear.

If you have not turned off Live Tiles, the previews will appear again after you re-open an app with Live Tile. Always disable active content first if you want to keep your privacy.

New Start screen options in Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 brings long-awaited enhancements to Start screen behavior. To access the new options, open Desktop (keyboard shortcut Windows Key+D), right-click an empty space of Taskbar and select Properties. Windows 8.1 Update renames some of the options shown below.
Windows 8.1 Taskbar, right-click menu. To customize Start screen options, click Properties.

Taskbar and Navigation properties window opens. Click Navigation tab on top.
First, let's see the last option in the Corner navigation section - to bring back Command Prompt items to Quick List menu, clear the Replace Command Prompt with Windows PowerShell in the menu when I right-click the lower-left corner or press Windows key+X check box.
Here's the comparison:
Windows 8.1, Quick List with Windows PowerShell commands. Windows 8.1, Quick List with Command Prompt commands (just like in Windows 8).

The first option in the Start screen section is Go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in (Windows 8.1) or When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start (Windows 8.1 Update). As its name states, ticking this check box means that you'll see Desktop instead of Start screen after you log in to Windows.
The Show my desktop background on Start option allows using the same background photo or color for your Desktop and Start screen.
Always show Start on my main display when I press the Windows logo key (Windows 8.1) or Show Start on the display I'm using when I press the Windows logo key (Windows 8.1 Update - note that the command means exact opposite!) is useful for those using multiple monitors. In Windows 8, Start screen opened on the display where some Modern UI/Metro app last was: so if you moved an app to your secondary monitor, Start screen opened there, too (until reboot or moving an app back to primary monitor). In Windows 8.1, you can now force Start screen to open on your primary screen only, regardless of where other apps are.
Windows 8.1, Taskbar and Navigation properties, Navigation tab. Windows 8.1 Update, Taskbar and Navigation properties, Navigation tab. Customize as you please.

The Show the Apps view automatically when I go to Start check box enables or disables automatic All apps view when you open Start screen. This view is somewhat similar to the good old All Programs menu (it lists all installed programs and apps, showing Windows Store apps first) and it always remembers its last grouping criteria (by name, date installed, most used, category).
Search everywhere instead of just my apps when I search from the Apps view is available only if the previous check box has been ticked. It changes the behavior of Windows Search when you start typing while Start screen is open in Apps view. By default, only installed apps and programs are searched.
Here's how Apps view looks - no different tile sizes, all available apps and programs listed.
Windows 8.1, Start screen in Apps view.

The last check box in Start screen section is List desktop apps first in Apps view when it's sorted by category controls whether to display Desktop programs first. This might be handy for those who rarely use Modern UI apps and need to find their favorite programs quickly.
Here's how this would look like:
Windows 8.1, Start screen in Apps view, sorted by Category, Desktop programs listed first.

 

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