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6 Ways To Customize the Windows 8 Start Screen

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While you can’t get rid of the Start screen in Windows 8, there are lots of ways to customize the look and feel of the Start screen and make it your own.

In addition to removing tiles you don’t want to see, you can turn the Start screen into a full-screen desktop application, folder, and website launcher. You can tone the colors down or use an even more colorful design.

Change the Background & Color

If the Start screen’s default flat blue-purple color and sparse background doesn’t do it for you, you can change the Start screen’s background and colors.

To change this setting, move your mouse to the top or bottom left corners of your screen or press the WinKey+C shortcut to reveal the charms bar. Click the Settings charm and click Change PC settings.

(If you’re using a touch screen, you can access the charms bar by swiping in from the right.)

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Click the Personalize category, click Start screen, and select your background image and color scheme. You can’t set custom background images or color schemes, but Microsoft provides quite a few options. You can choose everything from a complicated background in bright pink to a flat color background in dark gray.

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Resize Tiles

You’ll notice that some tiles on the Start screen, such as Mail and People, are larger than other tiles on the Start screen, such as Internet Explorer and the Store. You can control the size of each tile yourself. Right-click a tile and use the Smaller or Larger bottom that appears at the bottom of the screen to enlarge or shrink the tile.

(Long-press the tile if you’re using a touch screen.)

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Disable or Enable Live Tiles

Some tiles provide live, updated information. For example, the Finance and News tiles provide updates financial information and news from the Internet. If you don’t want this noise cluttering your Start screen, you can right-click a tile and click Turn live tile off. The tile will show only the app’s name – you can click it to open the app and view the information at your leisure.

Of course, if you don’t want a tile on your Start screen at all, you can click the Unpin from Start button instead.

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Organize Tiles Into Groups

The Start screen allows you to arrange tiles into groups, each of which can be named. To arrange tiles into a group, drag and drop them – you’ll see areas of space in between groups while dragging and dropping.

To name your groups, use the Semantic Zoom feature – hold Ctrl and scroll the mouse wheel down or click the little button at the bottom right corner of your screen, to the right of the horizontal scroll bar.

(If you’re using a touch screen, perform a stretch gesture – place two fingers on the screen and move them apart.)

Right-click one of the groups and click the Name group button to enter a name.

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Each name will appear on the Start screen, allowing you to categorize your tiles, apps, and shortcuts.

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Create a Desktop Application Launcher

If you don’t like the interface formerly known as Metro and you’d rather just use desktop apps, you can turn the Start screen into a desktop-only app launcher. Unpin all the tiles you don’t want to see by right-clicking each and using the Unpin button, and then pin all your favorite apps.

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You can find all your desktop apps under All Apps – right-click on the Start screen and select All apps to view them. Right-click an app and select Pin to Start to put it on your Start screen.

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Pin Folders & Websites

You can also pin shortcuts to folders and websites to your Start screen. To pin a folder to your Start screen, right-click it in the File Explorer window and select Pin to Start.

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To pin a website to your Start screen, navigate to the website and use the Add site to Start Screen option in your browser’s menu. This feature is included in Internet Explorer, but other browsers can also support it. For example, you’ll find the same Pin to Start Screen option in Google Chrome’s menu.

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Folders and websites will appear on your Start screen as tiles, just like other shortcuts.

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With a few tweaks, the Start screen can be something approximating a full-screen Start menu — one that doesn’t encourage you to use any of the Windows 8 (don’t call it Metro!) apps if you don’t want to use them.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 10/6/12

Comments (21)

  1. Patrick

    Windows 8, works really nice. I really want the Surface RT. It’s just a bummer that it is not the end of October..

  2. Tasmin

    Nice article, but I was really hoping you’d cover a way to create custom tiles. The default you get when you add a website link or program to the Start page are all mono colored, poorly labeled (particularly website links), and generally unappealing visually. This and the fact you default to the desktop after closing a program (so I have to go to the hot corner to activate the charms bar, then click on the Start charm – how is that better than having a Start menu button on the desktop?) are my primary gripes with the new interface.

  3. Fantasm

    No matter how much you try to dress it up…
    It still looks like crap…
    It still looks like a toddler, with little or no drawing skill dreamed it up…
    I really really find this (formerly known as Metro) UI ugly… Really ugly…

  4. JohnnyG

    In all honesty, I never look at my desktop, it’s always covered with windows open. I think I’m going to miss the taskbar or at least I think it’s gone on Windows 8. I use the taskbar to start all programs.

    I expect I will load Windows 8 on my computers as soon as it comes out. I like to stay current!

  5. Lucas Paiva

    @JohnnyG the taskbar isn’t gone in windows 8, just the start button, you can still pin programs to taskbar.

    Sorry for the poor english.

  6. Victor
  7. r

    “The horror … the horror …”

  8. angel

    The Win 8 interface just looks like a illiterate child’s toy.

    I need a new laptop – but think I will buy a bargain one with Win 7 and lots of RAM instead of an 8

    I really think this tiles idea is just for idiots.
    I hate it

  9. abhijitrucks

    is this from windows 8 RTM?

  10. Little John

    I would like to see Start screen span more than one monitor. I use dual monitors, one monitor is my emails and other my working screen. I would like to see both task bars have a clock. The option to start with desktop would be nice. When Windows 8 is release at end of the month, look out for 3rd party add on for start buttons. Right now I know of two webs with Start button options.

  11. kelltic

    All that work to make it only somewhat less ugly. I’m supposed to trade my dark fantasy wallpaper and small icons for that? I don’t think so. I’m with Angel. My next computer will be a Win7 OR I’ll just buy a Win 7 CD, wipe the Win8 disk and start from scratch.

    Worse. Once you pull up an application, it takes up the whole screen. No. Just – - – NO.

  12. Chyzhykova Ninja

    There is a way to hack your way out of using W8 Metro Style by using ‘regedit’ for those of you who aren’t exactly fans of the new Windows 8 start menu/taskbar style.

    By entering ‘regedit’ in the apps search you get an icon labeled ‘regedit’.
    Click on that. Then from that start opening up folders until you get to: ‘HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExplorer’
    On the last part just click ‘explorer’. Then on the right side find ‘RPEnabled’ and change the value from 1 to 0 and click ok. Then exit the window and either restart or shut down to see the changes made.

    If you want to revert back to using Metro Style just on your keyboard hit the windows button and ‘r’ together and type in ‘regedit’. From there just open up the same folders until you get to ‘RPEnabled’ and set the value from 0 to 1.

    Simple as that.

  13. me1010

    Just have to throw this out there. The desktop is exactly the same. Windows 8 functions very similarly to Windows 7, just vamped up a little with some changes to it’s UI. Windows 8 integrates features from the traditional Windows interface with those often found on tablet devices to create a more uniform user friendly interface that works across both platforms. They’re making it more idiot proof.

  14. dolapotunmise

    is windows 8 really out? cos i read somewhere that d official version would be out on october 26th, is dis tru?

  15. DaFoo

    A lot of people commenting here apparently are lying through their teeth. This is JUST THE START MENU. You can still have your normal background picture on the Desktop. The desktop is almost exactly the same as Windows 7. Stop lying.

  16. Fantasm

    When my computer boots up, it goes to the Desktop, complete with Icons, so that I can select what I want to run, look at etc, while still having a high quality desktop background… such as a photo of nude woman, a starship, a landscape etc… I might even want to have my program open a small window or windows to display maybe the internet, a game, Office, Etc… ( I have a 40″ monitor as my main screen so even a small window is often bigger than an entire laptop’s display…) while still having the main part of my screen still showing my desktop… instead of some awful limited color display with squiggles and post-card sized squares and rectangles all over it…

  17. Derp

    So many crybabies. Has anyone even tried to use the final version for a day or two yet? Use it for a few days and you will find that doing almost anything is much faster than before. I’ve had it for 3 days and it’s as if nothing has changed. There is almost no adjustment to anyone who is used to using a pc. It is just much much faster.The metro UI is so easy to navigate on a pc using the mouse scroll. Or just start typing the name of a program, boom, done. If you really don’t like it, then pin your programs to the desktop from explorer. People who don’t like metro are oblivious to graphic design and design in general. This is based off of International Typographic Style and the Swiss Design Movement. Take a really good look at all the websites you use, and most any other graphical displays and you will see a grid layout behind it.
    Then do a little research and see that you can download win 8 pro upgrade for $15 bucks by using a promo code.

  18. Candy Linnell

    I’ve been using the final version on a new laptop for a few days now. The first hour I wanted to cry. It does take a bit to figure it out. Now that I have most of it down, it’s okay. It seems to promise a bit more than it does but at its foundation it’s not much different than Vista (ha, that’s what I had before). I wish there were more truly live tiles than plain colored tile and I wish there was more customization on the backgrounds. I can switch to desktop mode easily and return to “normal”.

    I have had to google a lot of questions to find how to shut down, how to customize start, how pin and unpin, where’s my apps, where’s my music/pictures….argh! I have found them now.

    I do have one question – how do I change my name on the START screen from Admin to ME?

  19. Candy Linnell

    Found it. I had already changed it, just needed to restart. :)

  20. bodycode

    You can’t have SUB-GROUPS! AHHHHHH! Not being able to “sub-group” apps into smaller groups within groups RUINS, absolutely RUINS the Windows 8 Start utility “utility”. Cheezes. What crap. I’m running it now, 15 minutes later I’m “customizing” what looks like a freaking toy! OMG. This sux computer chips big time.

  21. Jeff

    I’ve been using Windows 8 Enterprise for a month now and it’s amazing, everyone that is complaining about the “Metro UI”…DON’T USE IT….I have used the pin feature to the taskbar for over 3 years now with Win 7…people upgrading from Vista or lower…yes there will be a different look and feel to the OS…mainly because you’re 4 years out dated…saying Windows 8 sucks when you’re upgrading from Vista is like saying the Galaxy S3 sucks because you don’t know how to use it switching from your Nokia 3310…It’s better memory management, utilizes SSD tech more efficiently along with being 100% compatible with tablets and mobile devices…once you purchase Windows 8 for your desktop you do not need to ever buy it again you can install it onto all of your devices with the Windows To-Go feature…also for everyone that doesn’t know…the “Metro UI” is needed for touchscreen mobile devices so you say you dislike it now but use it before you knock it…

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