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Windows is moving towards a more locked-down direction with Windows 8 and its Start screen and “Modern” app environment. There’s no denying this — you can’t even set a custom Start screen background without installing a third-party utility. Luckily, Windows hasn’t completely shed its legacy of customizability, yet. There are many different hacks you can perform with the Start screen, although most of them should have been included with Windows 8 itself.

Microsoft has always had urges to restrict users from customizing Windows, even in the past. That’s why, although a desktop-theme engine was introduced in Windows XP, you still can’t install custom Windows desktop themes Amazing Windows 8 Themes You Need To See Amazing Windows 8 Themes You Need To See Windows has always had an active community of enthusiasts who customize everything about it, including its desktop theme. Although Microsoft tries to prevent this, Windows 8's desktop can be themed just like Windows 7's. We've... Read More without bypassing the check that only allows Microsoft-approved themes.

Create Custom Tiles

Windows 8 includes nice-looking icons for Modern apps from the Windows Store, but what about all your desktop applications or other things you pin, like websites and folders? Their default tiles don’t look very good and there’s no included way to set a nice-looking tile image. Desktop programs can’t even include their own nice-looking tiles.

If you want to create your own custom tile images for desktop applications Modern All The Way: Creating Custom Tiles for Windows 8 Modern All The Way: Creating Custom Tiles for Windows 8 To tile or not to tile? One of the most divisive elements of Windows 8 is the Start screen's tiles. These square or rectangle-shaped buttons are effectively shortcuts to launching apps, and are often displaying... Read More , use OblyTile.

customizing windows 8

Change the Start Screen’s Color Scheme

Microsoft offers a variety of themes for the Start screen, but you can only choose from among a few different colors. If you want to set a custom color scheme, you’ll need to use a third-party utility to change your Start screen’s colors Make Windows 8 Sexier With These Background & Theme Tweaks Make Windows 8 Sexier With These Background & Theme Tweaks Does your Windows 8 system look too bland with the default settings? You can customize it in a variety of ways, changing a variety of backgrounds and colors -- whether on the Start screen, lock... Read More . Stardock’s Decor8 does this very well, although it’s a paid application. Windows 8 Start Screen Customizer can do the same, although it’s in beta and may not be as stable as Decor8.

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Add a Custom Background Image

The Start screen included with Windows 8 allows you to choose your own background image, but you can only select from among the few background images Steven Sinofsky thought were acceptable.

Windows 8.1 How To Upgrade To Windows 8.1 Preview & What To Expect How To Upgrade To Windows 8.1 Preview & What To Expect Anyone using Windows 8 can now upgrade to a preview version of Windows 8.1 for free. This update refines Windows 8, giving keyboard and mouse users important interface improvements and making the Modern interface more... Read More will allow you to set a custom background image, even sharing the same background image as your desktop wallpaper. For now, you’ll have to use a third-party utility to set a custom background image Make Windows 8 Sexier With These Background & Theme Tweaks Make Windows 8 Sexier With These Background & Theme Tweaks Does your Windows 8 system look too bland with the default settings? You can customize it in a variety of ways, changing a variety of backgrounds and colors -- whether on the Start screen, lock... Read More . Both of the above tools — Stardock’s Decor8 and Windows 8 Start Screen Customizer — will also allow you to set a custom background image.

customize windows 8

Pin Folders and Websites

The Start screen isn’t just for apps. You can pin almost anything to your Start screen, from folders to website shortcuts.

pin-a-folder-to-your-start-screen

Pin Any File

You’ll need a third-party tool to pin any arbitrary file to your Start screen. Try using something like Start Screen Pinner, which will allow you to create Start menu shortcuts directly to files.

Add Shut Down Shortcuts

The Shut Down and Restart options are fairly hidden on Windows 8, but you can create your own Shut Down and Restart buttons and place them directly on your Start screen for easy access. To do this, you’ll just be creating custom Windows shortcuts Every Windows 8 Shortcut - Gestures, Desktop, Command Line Every Windows 8 Shortcut - Gestures, Desktop, Command Line Windows 8 is all about shortcuts. People with touch-enabled PCs use touch gestures, users without touch devices must learn the mouse shortcuts, power users use keyboard shortcuts on the desktop and novel command-line shortcuts, and... Read More that use the shutdown command built into Windows. Consult our list of ways to shut down Windows 8 How To Shut Down Windows 8 How To Shut Down Windows 8 Windows 8 brings the biggest changes to the familiar Windows interface since Windows 95. The Shut Down option isn’t where you’d expect to find it – in fact, the entire classic Start menu and Start... Read More for instructions on creating these shortcuts.

how to shut down windows 8

Rearrange The Start Screen and Customize Animations

You can tweak a variety of things about the start screen, from displaying the login animation every time you open the Start screen to the position of your profile image. You can tweak the start screen hidden options using manual registry hacks Rearrange The Windows 8 Start Screen With Registry Tweaks & Utilities Rearrange The Windows 8 Start Screen With Registry Tweaks & Utilities As befits a new operating system, over the past few weeks we’ve featured many articles about how to use and tweak Windows 8. With the focus largely on tweaking. After all, when so many developers... Read More or with a utility like the free Start Screen Animations Tweaker.

customizing windows 8

Skip the Start Screen at Login

Windows 8.1 will allow you to skip the start screen and log in directly to the desktop without installing any third-party software. Until then, you can use a third-party program to do this. Most Start menu replacement for Windows 8 Start Menu, How I Miss Thee: 4 Ways To Make A Start Menu On Windows 8 Start Menu, How I Miss Thee: 4 Ways To Make A Start Menu On Windows 8 Windows 8 brought down the axe on the Start Menu. This is a feature that no one paid special attention to for years but its untimely demise has caused all sorts of despair. Not only... Read More — from the free ClassicShell to the paid Start8 and others — include a feature that allows you to log directly into your desktop.

Start8 even offers a mode that allows you to use a Start screen-like Start menu panel that pops up in a smaller window on your desktop.

Move the Start Screen Onto the Desktop

The Start screen is in its own special world by default — Start screen and desktop dare not mix. With ImmersiveTaille, you can display your Start screen on your desktop Make The Windows 8 Start Screen Work For You Make The Windows 8 Start Screen Work For You So much has been written about the Windows 8 Start screen over the past few months that sometimes it seems as though we've heard every viewpoint and seen every tweak. However, it seems that there... Read More , either from the sides of the screen or in a window on your desktop.

windows 8 start screen

Run Modern Apps in Desktop Windows

This isn’t technically a Start screen hack, but it’s certainly similar. Modern apps normally run in a full-screen environment and pretend the desktop doesn’t exist. If you want to run these new Modern apps on the traditional Windows desktop, try Stardock’s ModernMix. It lets you run Modern apps in desktop windows Make It Your Own: 8 Useful Tools For Customizing Windows 8 Make It Your Own: 8 Useful Tools For Customizing Windows 8 Windows 8 isn’t quite as configurable out-of-the-box as previous versions of Windows, lacking such seemingly important features as the ability to boot to the desktop and run "Modern" applications in windows. For all its problems,... Read More , complete with taskbar icons and multiple Modern apps on screen at the same time.

customize windows 8

Do you know any other useful Windows 8 hacks? Leave a comment and share your favorites!

Image Credit: Jason Howie on Flickr

  1. Anonymous
    February 12, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    You can still pin websites in 8.1 they just changed how its done. You go to the site via IE and in the "tools" area there is an option for "add site to apps".

  2. Mithrandir
    January 1, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for the great tips. I was wondering if you know of a tweak that can change the colors of the background of custom shortcuts on the start screen. For example, it seems that the default color is grey, which looks bad on a lot of icons. Is there a way to change this background color?
    Let me know if a picture would help to show what I mean.
    Thanks!

  3. Leah
    February 23, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    Great article, awesome tips! Thank you :)

  4. Sergio Vazquez II
    February 10, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Does anyone know of a workaround or third party utility (even paid) that will let me create multiple start screens for a single user, similar to virtual desktops or Android home screen profiles? Like Home, Work, Meetings, Play, Airplane, Vacation, Etc. So when I have my laptop's display being projected onto a screen in front of a room full of executives, they won't see World of Warcraft, NASCAR or my custom Pamela Anderson background on my start screen. =) This should be simple, but I can't seem to find anything like it anywhere.

    I know I could create multiple user accounts, but that is massive overkill for what I am trying to accomplish. Not to mention I would have to then deal with all of the headaches that come with multiple application profiles and file and folder ownership, so this is not an option. It should also only take a couple of seconds to switch between start screen profiles.

  5. Alastair
    December 17, 2013 at 2:20 am

    This is a useful article.
    A lot of people dislike Windows 8 because they have to relearn an operating system. Articles like this help those people understand their new OS, and save them some digging.

    Keep up the good work!

  6. Evan
    September 22, 2013 at 5:10 am

    Looks like the desktop Internet Explorer hack is now blocked in Windows 8.1. It will not pin to start screen.

    • wizkhalifa
      May 11, 2015 at 5:34 pm

      Hai Evan, are u crazy?

  7. C. L. Wadington
    August 31, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    Reading all about Windows 8 only makes me want to stay with the Mac. If my lap top expires I will probably buy a Mac lap top.

    • ECJ
      November 21, 2013 at 3:01 am

      Don't do it- you can always go to linux if you get sick of windows!

  8. Jim
    August 31, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    how an i add a pic to the top right of windows 8 screen so theirs not a white head bust

    • Anonymous
      September 25, 2013 at 12:08 am

      You have to apply a profile picture

    • wizkhalifa
      May 11, 2015 at 5:33 pm

      sounds good man

  9. Matt M
    August 30, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    You seem to be a big Stardock fan. That's cool, I have Modern Mix and Start 8. They're very stable and are updated fairly frequently. Good support from them.

  10. Suman M
    August 30, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    creating custom tiles is very handy...that's a very useful tip..

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