Pro tip: Reset Windows 8.1's Start Screen

If you've made changes to the Start Screen, you can return it to its previous state -- and even its original appearance. Greg Shultz explains how.

Windows 8.1 Start Screen

In the article "How to reconfigure the Start Screen in Windows 8.1," I showed you how to take advantage of several new enhancements to the Start Screen that you can use to make it look and feel more like the Start Menu. The main task in that technique involved resizing all the tiles to small, organizing them into groups, and then naming the groups. Doing so gave you an entirely differently looking and ultimately more usable Start Screen interface (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

You can change the Start Screen to work more like the Start Menu.

Well, I recently got an email from a reader who had followed all the steps in that article and then later wished that he wouldn't have done so, because he discovered that he really liked it the way that it was before. He asked me if there was an easy way to undo the changes he made to the Start Screen.

Of course, there are several things that immediately come to mind as a way to undo such a change. The first one is to use a restore point. If you don't have a restore point, the second choice is to Refresh Windows 8 from a Recovery Drive.

While both of these offer a viable way to undo a change to the Start Screen, I kept digging and actually found a much easier way to return the Start Screen to its previous state. I even found a way to take the Start Screen all the way back to the way that it was when you first got Windows 8.1.

In this article, I'll show you what I discovered.

The Start Screen files

I discovered that the details for the arrangement of the Start Screen are stored in a set of files that are in the C:\Users\{YourUserName}\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows folder. The files are:

  • appsFolderLayout.bin: This file contains the Start Screen layout
  • appsFolder.itemdata-ms: This file contains the Start Screen customization settings
  • appsFolder.itemdata-ms.bak: This is a backup file

Now, most folks might think that all you have to do is delete these files, and the Start Menu would return to its previous state — and to some extent, they would be correct. However, I found that rather than deleting the files, it's better to move them to another folder. Moving the files rather than deleting them allow you to go back and forth between the different Start Screens should you want to be able to do so. I also discovered that moving different files has different results. Let's take a closer look.

Prep work

Before we begin, it's important to point out that the folder containing these files is hidden. So, the first thing that you need to do is enable the Show hidden files, folders, and drives option. To do so, launch File Explorer, select the View tab, and click the Options command on the far right.

When the Folder Options dialog box appears, select the View tab. Then, locate and select the Show hidden files, folders, and drives option, and click OK. Once you do, you can navigate to the C:\Users\{YourUserName}\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows folder.

Now, you need to create a folder to move the files to. I created a folder called SSFiles on the Desktop. Keep in mind that the easiest way to move files in File Explorer is to use the MoveTo command on the Home tab.

Going back one step

If you move the appsFolder.itemdata-ms and the appsFolder.itemdata-ms.bak files to another folder, sign out of Windows, and then sign in again, the operating system will rebuild the customization file (along with the backup file) and use the settings in the existing appsFolderLayout.bin file. When you then access the Start Screen, you'll see that it appears just like it did before you made the last change.

This is the technique that I recommended to the reader who wanted to undo the changes made in the aforementioned article.

Going back to day one

If you move all three files to another folder, sign out of Windows, and then sign in again, the operating system will rebuild the customization file, and you'll find that the Start Screen appears just like it did the first time that you installed Windows 8.1.

Once you begin rearranging tiles, the operating system will create a new appsFolderLayout.bin file.

What's your take?

Have you ever changed the Start Screen and then wanted to put it back the way that it was? What method(s) did try to fix it? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox