Microsoft Surface Pro 2 101: Customize your Start screen

Derek Schauland shares some tips for customizing and making the most out of your Microsoft Surface Pro 2 Start screen.


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

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

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

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.