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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Each name will appear on the Start screen, allowing you to categorize your tiles, apps, and shortcuts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Folders and websites will appear on your Start screen as tiles, just like other shortcuts.
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