The new versions of Microsoft’s Surface tablet (the Surface
2 and Surface Pro 2) ship with Windows 8.1. Both of these new versions of Windows have done away with the
traditional Start Menu that all Windows users have come to
know and love. This article is designed to point out how you can make the most of your Start screen and
hopefully remove some of the animosity surrounding the new look and
feel of Windows 8.

 Here are some additional TechRepublic articles about adding the Start
Menu in Windows 8:

The keyboard, charms
bar, and Surface display have a Windows logo button that will get you to
the Start screen. When you land on the
Start screen for the first time (Figure A) — at your first boot of a Windows 8 device — it
can be a bit different, if not weird, but you can make it all yours with a bit
of customization.

Figure A

An example
of the Windows 8/8.1 Start screen.

As you can
see, the Start screen on my Surface Pro 2 has been slightly customized already, but
much of this was due to the settings imported from my laptop when I signed in
with my Microsoft Account. 

Adding and
changing tiles

What if you
use some particular applications all the time and others hardly at all? Suppose you are learning Windows PowerShell
and want to keep it front and center with the OneNote app and ensure they live
where they’re easily visible on the Start screen.

Using the
image of the Start screen above as an example, first add the ISE to
the screen. Here’s how:

  1. Access the Start screen
  2. Select the All Apps view clicking the icon of a down arrow in the bottom left corner of the Start screen
  3. Scroll through the list of applications to locate OneNote
  4. Right-click the OneNote icon to display the options bar
  5. Select Pin to Start

Now, when
you access the Start screen again, OneNote should be visible there. If you don’t see OneNote right away, scroll
the screen to the right, and it will likely be sitting on the end of the screen.

In addition
to customizations that allow applications to be pinned to Start, you can change
the size of most of the tiles to suit your needs. I use the phrase “most of” here, because not all tiles can be made all sizes, but all tiles can be resized. 

To modify a
tile, complete the following steps:

  1. Access the Start screen with a swipe from the right edge, and a tap on
    Start (or with the Windows logo on the bottom edge of the display)
  2. Tap and hold the tile you want to customize
  3. Once the customize mode appears, tap the Resize option
  4. Select the size you want from the available choices (generally Large,
    Wide, Medium, Small)
  5. Once the size is set, tap anywhere on the Start screen to exit customize
    mode

From the
customize mode of the Start screen, you can also remove Windows Store Apps by
tapping Uninstall, plus enable or disable Live tiles by tapping the live tiles
option that appears on the customize bar if you’ve selected a live tile.

Grouping
common items together

Now that
OneNote has been added to the Start screen, you can do two things with its
tile: Group it with PowerShell and move
it to a better position on the screen. Both of these things solve the problem outlined above.

Head back to the Start screen and scroll over
to OneNote. Tap and hold the OneNote
tile to bring up the options bar . You
should also notice that the tiles on the Start screen have headers or labels
over them (more on that shortly). For
now, when you see the labels appear, you’ll know that the Start screen is in customization
mode. You can tap, hold, and drag the
OneNote tile over to another tile. If
you drop OneNote on top of another tile, these will be added to a group.

You can
then add a name to the group — for example, PowerShell Learning — to complete the
example above (Figure B).  

Figure B

Grouped
tiles.

Rearranging groups

Once you’ve created groups for your most-used or favorite applications, wouldn’t it be
great if you could move them around so that they’re in a more useful order than
either at the end of the screen or stuck right in the middle? Thankfully, Windows allows this, and it isn’t
too bad. Follow these steps:

  1. On the
    Start screen, pinch the screen with two fingers to see all of the groups
    available (Figure C)
  2. Tap and
    hold the group you’d like to move, and simply drag it to the new location
  3. Once the
    group is in its new position, tap and expand two fingers to bring things back
    to their normal size

Figure C

All groups
in the Start screen.

Benefits of more real
estate

I know that
many users have been disappointed with the Windows 8 Start experience because it isn’t
the Start Menu. I’m quite happy with
the Start screen, especially on the Surface, because it allows near misses. Trying to tap a small menu item and
get the application I want is difficult. It’s better on new devices like the Surface
than tablets of old, but without the stylus, it can take far too
long to get what I need.

Fortunately, the Start
screen helps to correct that. Tiles are
(or can be) quite a bit bigger, and the Start screen doesn’t fold itself back
up if I miss what I was aiming at. It just sits there waiting until I get something. Sure, you can still tap the wrong application,
but giving my favorite applications large tiles makes this more unlikely. 

The Surface Pro 2 is an interesting device for sure, and the out-of-the-box full touch
experience will take some getting used. After all, let’s face it, Windows on a
touch screen will be new for many people, and Microsoft’s previous attempts at accomplishing
“touch” were not as glamorous as Windows 8/8.1.

Do you have additional tips and tricks for working with Microsoft Surface? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.