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Windows 8 shows desktop application shortcuts on its Start screen, but these shortcuts look out of place in the new, tile-based interface. However, there is a way to spruce up your Start screen with detailed tile icons for your desktop applications.

This trick also works with other types of shortcuts you can pin to your Start screen — folder shortcuts, favorite websites, and direct links to Steam games.

Download OblyTile

We will be using OblyTile for this, as Microsoft didn’t build this feature into Windows 8. You will need to download and install OblyTile (it’s free) to get started.

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Creating a Program Tile

Using OblyTile is fairly simple — enter a name for the tile, select a program that the tile will launch, provide a tile image, and select some colors. OblyTile will then create a tile for you. The most work involved will be creating tile images — but you don’t have to do that yourself. OblyTile’s website contains a searchable archive of tile images for common apps, games, and websites.

We will test it out by creating a tile for VLC, a desktop app. We will enter “VLC” into the Tile Name box, browse to the vlc.exe file on our system, choose a VLC tile image we downloaded from OblyTile’s website, and select orange as the background color.

Once we are done, we can preview the tile with the magnifying glass icon.

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Use the Create Tile button to add the tile to your Start screen. You can then drag it around, just like any other tile. When clicked, this tile will launch VLC on the desktop.

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Advanced Stuff

Here are a few more tips for making the most of OblyTile:

  • Removing a Tile: Right-click a tile on your Start screen and select Unpin from Start.
  • Creating Your Own Tile Images: Custom tiles must be PNG images below 200kB in size. They must also be between 120×120 and 256×256 pixels.
  • Creating Tiles for Folders and Websites: Enter the address of the folder or website into the Program Path box or use the Choose Folder or WebSite Url options.

4 oblytile types of tiles

  • Creating a Tile for a Steam Game: You will need the Steam game’s application ID. Enter an URL like steam://rungameid/201870 into the Program Path box, replacing 201870 with the ID of the Steam game you want to run.

Tile Manager

Use OblyTile’s Tile Manager feature to speed things up. Just click the folder icon at the top-right corner of the OblyTile window to open it.

From here, you can edit tiles you have created, quickly create tiles from shortcuts already on your Start screen, create tiles for common tasks such as “Shut Down”, or view a list of installed applications for which you can create tiles. Just click the icons at the top of the Manager list to get started.

5 oblytile tile manager

If you are using Windows 8’s Start screen as a desktop program launcher, this should help desktop applications blend in more easily, because unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t make it easy for desktop applications to create their own Windows 8-style tiles when you install them.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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