New settings and policies in Windows 8.1 for customizing the Start screen

This blog post is part of a series of guest posts we’re publishing in the coming weeks from Windows 8.1 experts across Microsoft. – Ben

Over the past few months, we’ve talked about the improvements that we have made in Windows 8.1 to improve the overall user experience, with the return of the Start button, new Start screen configuration options, a new “Help+Tips” app to help discover what Windows 8.1 can do, and much more. We believe that with these improvements (combined with the advancements in security, manageability, mobility, and more) Windows 8.1 is ready for business, whether you are using tablets, laptops, or desktops.

With the new Start screen configuration options, you can adjust the behavior to different working styles. These options are exposed through a new tab on the Taskbar and Navigation properties page which you can get to from the desktop by right-clicking on the taskbar and selecting “Properties.” On the “Navigation” tab, you can see the new choices:

image

Let’s review these options briefly:

  • When I point to the upper-right corner, show the charms. By default, both the upper-right and lower-right corners are used to show the Windows charms bar. But if you primarily use desktop apps, you might find yourself accidentally pointing to the upper-right corner with some apps. To avoid this, you can turn off the upper-left corner.
  • When I click the upper-left corner, switch between my recent apps. Similar to the previous option, you might find that when you primarily use desktop apps you could accidentally click in the upper-left corner (maybe to access a desktop app’s menu structure) and switch to another open application. This can also be turned off.
  • Replace Command Prompt with Windows PowerShell in the menu when I right-click the lower-left corner or press Windows key+X. How many of you knew that this Windows-X menu existed? This new option lets you choose whether it should contain Command Prompt or PowerShell options.
  • When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start. This is often called the “boot to desktop” option, which ensures that users first see their desktop instead of the Start screen.
  • Show my desktop background on Start. When set, this option causes the desktop background to also be shown as the background on the Start screen. Setting this makes the transition from the desktop to the Start screen more natural for desktop users.
  • Show Start on the display I’m using when I press the Windows logo key. This option applies in multiple monitor scenarios (which are greatly improved in Windows 8.1) to specify where the Start screen should be displayed: always on the primary monitor, or on the currently active one.
  • Show the apps view automatically when I go to Start. When this is set, the “All apps” list will be displayed instead of the Start screen page when you navigate by pressing the Start key or Start button.
  • Search everywhere instead of just my apps when I search from the Apps view. By default, search on the Apps view only searches apps, but by setting this option it will search files, folders, the web, etc., just like on the main Start screen.
  • List desktop apps first in the Apps view when it’s sorted by category. The “All apps” view has a few different sorting options for displaying the list of apps. When using the category view, the default is to show modern apps first, then desktop apps farther to the right. But when this is set, that order is reversed.

For those who primarily use the desktop in Windows 8.1, a combination of these settings can be used for the behavior that best suits how you work. For example, you might choose to turn off the upper-left and upper-right corners, show the desktop background on Start, set the apps view as the default, configure “boot to desktop,” and show desktop apps first.

Apps

Of course we also provide Group Policy options for setting most of these too, so as an IT pro you could mandate a specific configuration by setting the appropriate policies. These policies can be found in the Group Policy paths:

Edge UI Settings - User ConfigurationAdministrative TemplatesWindows ComponentsEdge UI

Start Menus and Taskbar Settings – User ConfigurationAdministrative TemplatesStart Menu and Taskbar

As you may have noticed, Windows 8.1 no longer presents the “how to use Windows” animation to users the first time they log in. Instead, Windows 8.1 provides some on-screen help tips that pop up as the user is starting to use Windows 8.1:

HelpTips

These can be disabled using the policy “Display help tips” in the Start Menus and Taskbar Settings group policy path mentioned above, if your users don’t need this assistance.

With these enhancements, we believe that regardless of how you use Windows 8.1, you’ll be able to configure the Start screen and Edge UI to behave the way that suits you best. Try it out!

Michael Niehaus
Senior Product Marketing Manager
Windows Commercial