With its sleek design and its patchwork of multicolored, always-updating “tiles,” the new “Start” screen makes for one of the most eye-popping—and bewildering—experiences in Windows 8.
Don’t let the flashy Start screen get the better of you, though. Here’s eight ways to take charge, from rearranging and resizing your tiles to picking a new background.
And yes—you can even skip the Start screen altogether if you wish.
Note: These tips are for Windows 8 PCs that have been updated to Windows 8.1. Haven’t updated yet? You should—and here’s why.
1. Change the color scheme
One of the quickest ways take ownership of the Start screen is to give it a fresh coat of paint.
All it takes is a few quick clicks in the Settings panel.
- Mouse over to the top- or bottom-right corner of the screen (or swipe “in” from the right side of the display on your tablet or touchscreen PC), click the Settings icon (or “charm”—it’s the one that looks like a gear) that slides out from the side of the display, then click Personalize under the main Settings heading.
- From here, you can choose from 20 different background patterns (including the wallpaper on your “classic” desktop, which should appear in the last panel) and dozens of background and accents color. As you click around the various choices, you’ll see the Start screen preview change color and backgrounds.
- All set? Check out your new Start screen by mousing to the bottom-left corner of the screen and clicking the Start thumbnail.
2. Drag your tiles here, there, everywhere
Don’t like how your various Start screen tiles are arranged? You can move them anywhere you want by just clicking and dragging (or tapping and holding).
Keep in mind that you can arrange your tiles in different columns (or “groups”), if you wish; just click and drag a tile to the left or right side of the screen. Drag a tile beyond the last column in either direction, and a new one will be created for you.
Want to see all your columns at once? Click the little “-” button in the bottom-right corner of the screen.
3. Name your tile groups
If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can go ahead and add labels to all your Start screen groups—perfect for anyone who’s ever gone nuts with an old-school label maker.
Just right-click the Start screen (or swipe up from the bottom on a touchscreen PC or tablet), then click (or tap) Customize.
When you do, you’ll see a series of long, thin gray boxes at the top of each tile group. Click and start typing to add a group name.
4. Make your tiles bigger, smaller, or wider
Take a close look at the Start screen and you’ll notice that some tiles are bigger, smaller, and/or wider than others.
Jumbo-size and double-wide tiles get more room for displaying headlines and photos, and they’re a little easier to spot in a crowd. The smaller, bite-size tiles, on the other hand, are much easier to arrange.
Right-click (or tap and hold) a tile you’d like to expand or shrink, click the Resize button at the bottom of the screen, then select a new size: Large, Wide, Medium, or Small.
Nice, but keep in mind that Start screen tiles for your old Windows 7 and earlier apps come in “Medium” and “Small” sizes only.
5. Stun your “live” tiles
You’ve probably noticed that many tiles in the Start screen boast sliding panels of photos, headlines, and other information.
These are “live” tiles, as Microsoft calls them—and taken together, they form a handy, albeit distracting, dashboard of your digital life, all from the Start screen.
Want to turn one of more “live” tiles off? No problem. Just right-click the live tile you’d like to stop, then click the “Turn live tile off” option.
If you ever have second thoughts, you can always retrace your steps and turn the tile back on.
6. “Pin” or “unpin” an app to the Start screen
So, don’t feel the need have the Sports app starting you in the face from the Start screen? Or want to bring the old Windows Calculator app front and center?
- To remove—or “unpin”—an app from the Start screen, just right-click it, then click the “Unpin from Start” button.
- To pin an app or program to the Start screen, you’ll first have to find it on the All Apps page. Click the little down-arrow in the bottom-left corner of the Start screen, then scroll to find the app you want to pin. Another option: just start typing the name of the program for instant search results.
- Right-click the pin-worthy app, then click the “Pin to Start” button.
Note: You can also pin people, folders, and web sites to the Start screen. Here’s how…
7. Make “All Apps” the default view for the Start screen
Now that you’ve seen the (new) All Apps screen, are you wishing it could be the first thing you see when you boot your PC? No problem.
- Click the Desktop tile to open the “classic” Windows desktop, right-click the toolbar (most likely at the bottom of your screen), then click the Navigation tab.
- Under the Start screen section, check the box next to “Show the Apps view automatically when I go to Start.”
- Click the OK button.
Related: A quicker way to view all your apps
8. Skip the Start screen and boot directly to the old Windows desktop
Rather skip the Start screen altogether? Easily done.
- Retrace your steps to the Navigation settings (go to the classic desktop, right-click the toolbar, select Properties, then click the Navigation tab).
- Under the Start Screen section, check the box next to “When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start.”
Related: 3 ways to make the Start screen cozy up to the desktop
Looking for more Windows tips? Click here!
Note: This updated and expanded tip was first published in November 2012.