Like millions of other folks, I downloaded and installed the Windows 8 Release Preview last week and have spent the last couple of days intently running it through the paces, and I must admit I’ve been pretty impressed with the subtle changes and enhancements that Microsoft has made to this release of the operating system. Of course the majority of these enhancements have been to the Metro UI and its live tile apps.

The Metro UI seems to flow better now that there’s a nice array to real Metro style apps to work with. The native apps such as Mail, Calendar, Photos, and Music seem to be much better tools than the similar applets that used to come with the operating system. And then there’s the News, Sports, and Weather apps, which are beautifully designed and extremely easy to use. Furthermore, visiting the Microsoft Store allows you access a host of very cool apps from such places as StumbleUpon, Wikipedia, and USA Today.

While the Metro UI along with all the touch based features are really cool, they all seem to be aimed at tablet toting consumers. What about the more traditional Windows users running the operating system on a desktop/laptop with a keyboard and a mouse and using business applications? How are they going to be productive? Especially when the Start Menu is MIA.

As you my know, after experimenting with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview I wrote a post entitled Easily revive the Classic Start Menu hidden within Windows 8, in which I showed you how create a toolbar on the Taskbar and configure it to mimic the missing Start Menu. I also showed you how to take advantage of the Metro Start Screen via the [Windows]+[Q] shortcut which brings up the Apps Search feature as I described in Navigate Windows 8 like a pro with the Windows Key.

However, while using the Windows 8 Release Preview, I came up with new idea. Since hovering the mouse pointer in the lower left corner of the Screen brings up a Start Screen icon (basically right where the Start button used to be) and clicking it takes you to the Start Screen (which replaced the Start Menu), why not get rid of all the tiles on the Start Screen and populate with application shortcut icons. Doing so will essentially allow you to use the Start Screen as a replacement for the Start Menu.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I’ll show you how to make the Windows 8 Start Screen work like the Start Menu.

Removing the App tiles

Removing all the app tiles from the Start Screen is very easy. And don’t worry, because even though you remove them from the Start Screen, they are still available on the Apps screen albeit they will no longer be live tiles.

To begin, right click on an App tile that you want to remove. When you do, the Apps bar will appear at the bottom of the screen, as shown in Figure A, and a check mark will appear on the tile that you have selected. I right clicked on the Messaging app tile here. At this point, just click the Unpin from Start icon on the left.

Figure A

After you select an App tile, click the Unpin from Start icon.

Continue unpinning apps until you have removed them all except Desktop, as shown in Figure B. You’ll want to leave the Desktop tile on the Start screen as it will allow you to return to the desktop should you need to do so. (You’ll notice that I made the Desktop tile smaller by right clicking the tile and selecting Smaller from the Apps bar.)

Figure B

You’ll want to leave the Desktop tile on the Start screen as it will allow you to return to the desktop.

Adding application shortcut icons

Adding application shortcut icons to the Start Screen is easy. To begin, press [Windows]+[Z] to bring up the App bar again and this time click the All apps icon on the right. When you get to the Apps screen, scroll to the right until you see your standard application icons. Now, right click an application icon that you want to put on the Start Screen and when you see the Apps bar, as shown in Figure C, just click the Pin to Start icon on the left. Continue pinning application icons to the Start Screen until you get everything that you want.

Figure C

Clicking the All apps icon will take you to the Apps screen.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to get every single icon – just the ones that you will use most often. Everything will remain on the Apps screen, so no worries. Also, if as you are pinning icons, you lose track of which ones you have pinned, just remember that for any icon that you have already pinned, the icon will read Unpin from Start.

At this point, press the [Windows] key on your keyboard to return to the Start Screen. You can now drag the icons around on the screen to create a logical arrangement. As you do so, you’ll notice that if you drag an icon away from the main grouping that a separator appears on the screen, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

When you drag icons away from the main group, separators will appear.

If you want to create logical groups of icons, just drag those icons to the other side of the separator. You can have as many groups as you want because the separators will continue to appear as you drag icons away from the group. As you can see in Figure E, I have created three groups for my Start Screen.

Figure E

I create three logical groups on my Start Screen.

Now, when you start Windows 8, the first thing that will appear is the Start Screen full of your application icons, so you can just click an icon to launch your application and get right to work, If you are in the Desktop and need another application, just hover you mouse pointer in the lower left corner and the Start icon will appear, as shown in Figure F. Just click it and you’ll see the Start Screen Start Screen full of your application icons. Just click the icon and get right to work.

Figure F

Start icon in the bottom left corner

What’s your take?

Using this technique, you can effectively make the Start Screen work like the Start Menu. Furthermore, you can forget about all the Metro UI as well as all the touch based features and essentially use Windows 8 like you have its predecessors. What do you think? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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