Windows 8 / Windows Server 2012: Start Screen and User Interface Part 1

Windows 8 / Windows Server 2012: Start Screen and User Interface Part 1

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Welcome to day 2 of our Launch Series.  This is part one of a two part series regarding the new Start Screen and User Interface in Windows 8.  Today, we will look into tiles and groups.

The Start screen replaces the Start menu from previous versions of Windows.  Instead of using static icons to represent applications like its predecessors, the new Start screen makes use of active tiles that can dynamically show notifications and updates at a glance.  You can organize the Start screen to suit your preference.

When you log into Windows 8, you will be greeted with a screen similar to the one below.

Figure 1: Sample Start Screen


You can switch to the familiar desktop by selecting the Desktop tile, but you’ll notice the removal of the Start button which has been around since Windows 95.

Figure 2: Start button removal


The Start screen was designed from the ground up to be “Touch First”, meaning the best method to interact with the interface is with a multi-touch display. However, you may still use a keyboard and mouse.  Desktop mode allows you to use applications which were not designed for touch.


In Windows 8 you launch applications using tiles, instead of icons. You can have Windows Store apps tiles, which allow for richer content to be displayed dynamically, such as the current weather for a weather app.  This allows you to glance at the tile for information without having to open it.

Figure 3: Weather Tile


For applications that are not Windows Store apps, the tiles may also be displayed on the Start screen, but they are static and only display the applications icon and the title. The screenshot below is an example of what some of the Office 2010 apps look like on the Start screen.

Figure 4: Desktop Apps Tiles


Tile Size

Tile size may be small or large, meaning a small tile is a single square, whereas a large tile is rectangle (two square tiles long).

Figure 5: Small Tiles


Figure 6: Large Tile



Interacting with Tiles

  • Single tap or single click – Launches application
  • Tap and hold or right-click – Brings up the properties of the tile. Depending on the type of tile, different options are displayed. For Windows Store apps, you may see some of the options below.

Figure 7: Windows 8 Windows Store app options


With Windows Store apps tiles, you can turn off live tile notifications or make the tile smaller or larger depending on what app you select.

Desktop apps will have different options, including the ability to “Run as administrator”.

Figure 8: Desktop app options


Arranging Tiles

The Start screen is arranged into columns and groups.  Each column is two small tiles or one large tile wide.  When more tiles that can fit vertically have been added to the column, the tile overflows to a new column next to it.

Figure 9: Weather tile overflows to new column on the right side


You can also arrange tiles into groups.  Groups allow for a logical separation of tiles and have a large space dividing them.  When moving a tile between groups, you will see a bar appear, signifying you are moving it into a different group.

Figure 10: Bar appearing between groups when moving Weather app to a new group


Once tiles have been arranged to your liking, the Start screen allows for group names which can be helpful in associating similar tiles.  To name groups, you must zoom out of the Start screen by doing one of the following:

  • On a touch display, zoom out by using pinch-to-zoom
  • With mouse and keyboard, use the CTRL button and the scroll wheel
  • With the keyboard, use CTRL and minus key (plus key to zoom back in)
  • ­With the mouse, select the small minus on the bottom right corner of the Start screen

Figure 11: Minus at the bottom right corner of Start screen


Once zoomed out, you may select the group and name it accordingly.

Figure 12: Naming groups



Figure 13: Start screen after naming groups


As you can see, you are able to personalize the Start screen to fit your needs and make it your own.

This concludes part one of the new Start screen.  Tomorrow we will be going over other aspects of the new Start screen, such as switching between apps, the new Snap feature, and charms.

-AskPerf blog Team

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  • This post makes *no* sense on this blog. Isn't this the "Ask the Performance Team" blog? I'm subscribing here because I want to read technical information about performance stuff in Windows Server.

  • I'd sure like to be able to rename tiles and place them into folders to reduce the foot-print of a group.

  • @Simon:  We, the Performance Team, supports the Shell (aka explorer, desktop, start menu).  These posts are intended to be level 100 material, and give an overview of the new features in Windows 8.  Deeper dive posts will come in the near future which will include level 200 +.

    @Mike:  Great idea.  Maybe that option will come in a future release.

    Thanks for reading!

  • @Blake: Yeah, that great idea was called Start Menu. It was *already there*, before you damaged it and caused an order of magnitude drop in productivity for users who are going to be unfortunate enough to be forced to work with this touchpad abdomination that plain does NOT belong on desktop.

  • @Cocotus.Interruptus:  Can you explain to me how it kills user productivity?

  • @Blake: Similar questions suggest that MS developers are autistic, sorry. Suggest placing a group of users in front of this shiny new "GUI" and asking them to do a couple of simple tasks. For starters, things like - find an application/document/whatever, log off, restart/shutdown the computer. These are things that tool one or two clicks with the killed start menu.

  • @Cocotus.Interruptus: Like any new OS, there is a learning curve.  Once users get use to it, it will become second nature.  Since using Win8/Srv2012, I do not miss the Start Menu at all.  In addition to our blogging about the topic, there are tons of helpful "How-to" resources on

    Thanks for reading!

  • At first, I quite liked the changes with the new start screen, however after a few weeks of using it, I've decided that I detest the changes that have been introduced to Windows 8 / Server 2012. Three things I would change, that would make the start screen work for me.

    1. Leave a start button on the task bar.

    2. Make it easier to return to the desktop (i.e. pressing Win key toggles start screen, not just opens it) Click on a unused bit of the start screen to return to the desktop.

    3. When you start typing show all results by default, rather than just applications. It takes a lot longer to navigate to control panel applets or administrative tools on Server 2012.

    We've adopted the server OS due to the fact that:

    1. Virtualisation licensing benefits.

    2. People don't have to use the desktop.

    We have no plans to move to Windows 8 on the desktop, ever.

    Productivity on server has definitely plummeted. Just try doing just about anything using an RDP session that isn't running full screen. Very precise mouse control required, and very, very frustrating to use.

  • I agree with Fred, this tile stuff is useless for a admin and has no business being used on a server operating system. It shouldn't take half a day to figure out where all the common apps I use are now located and trying to get the start menu to pop up so I can do a reboot through rdp is painful

  • I have 17 screens of tiles.  Is there a limit?  It sure is a pain in the butt to get to an app now.

  • Sorry guys but I totally disagree with most of you. As Blake said before there is a learning curve I give you that but it's much faster working with this new interface. Especially the charms bar is something I love, look for programs, files or settings very quickly. On server you only need the Server Manager and if you have 3rd party software you can link it on your taskbar or just get it quickly to either Start or Charms. Ofcourse you have to get used to this new way of working but I think it's more productive. And yes I also use it in RDP, look at the new icon in the RDP-bar in the top of windows, it's all there and otherwise learn some shortcut-keys, it will certainly go faster.

  • There is no reason to emulate a touchpad interface on a server so exclusively. It IS handy when I RDC a smartphone or tablet... but the vast majority of access to servers is still via KVMs or pc-based remote desktop. The 'mouse sensitive' locations for menus and the tile concept doesn't jive with such interfaces. Sure, I'm ok with my desktop pretending to be a tablet because that's just cool to the rest of the world for some reason, but on servers? Come on guys, we're not impressed by whitewash. Start Menu based desktop/interface is best designed to work with the not-always perfect KVM and Remote desktop. Instead you've just reinvented the need for a page of hot keys and/or 4 steps where there used to be 2 steps for most functions. So now my $50000 servers interface like $400 toys. Do I need Functional? Yes. Do I need trendy and pretty? No. Save that for my teenager.

  • I was a little harsh on my previous post: I do like the general layout, especially right-click-on-tile functionality. The interface seems very smooth and light-ended. It's fast on a RDC link. It can be very fast. I don't like mouseover controls, as flaky interfaces (slow rdc or crappy kvms) won't react well. But once you've situated a few tiles and pinned the right stuff to the right places you can FLY. Just make the option to replace the mouseover with click menus or buttons and we'll be grand.