The Windows 8.1 update brought a host of great changes to the modern interface, allowing you to more easily customize your Start Screen and organize your modern apps. We’ve already covered 10 Windows 8 Start Screen hacks that can improve your experience, but with these Windows 8.1 tips and tricks, you’ll master your Start Screen tiles and modern apps.
Sort Through The Bloat
When setting up your Windows 8 device, the Start Screen is bound to feel pretty foreign. With so many tiles already present, it can feel overwhelming — but you can get it under control! After making your Start Screen look nicer with backgrounds and themes, your next step should be deciding which apps are actually useful and which can be forgotten about.
Microsoft preloads a bunch of apps on your device that are recognizable by their bright colors and flat, white icons. You may find some helpful and others not so helpful. You might as well try them out and see if you like them, but if you decide that they’re not for you, they can easily be unpinned from the Start Screen or uninstalled entirely.
Unpinning Vs. Uninstalling
Unpinning them means that they’ll be hidden from the Start Screen but still accessible in the apps view. (To access the apps view, go to the Start Screen and swipe up on a touchscreen or click on the down arrow in the bottom left corner.) Uninstalling them, however, will remove them from your computer completely, freeing up a small amount of hard drive space. The good news is that most of these apps can simply be redownloaded from the Windows Store if you ever have regrets later on.
If you bought your computer anywhere but the Microsoft Store, it’s likely to have some manufacturer bloatware on it too. We have some fantastic tips on how to avoid and remove this bloatware, but removing the modern bloatware from manufacturers is just like removing Microsoft’s preloaded apps.
Removing Undesired Tiles Or Apps
Simply find the apps you don’t want anymore and right click on them (or tap and hold) and unpin or uninstall them. In this case, though, you should be more careful about what you uninstall because it may be difficult to reinstall later and some of it is actually useful. For instance, many Asus computers come preloaded with Asus WebStorage, which is largely useless and can be uninstalled, but they also come with Asus Live Update, which is recommended because it will keep your device up-to-date.
So scan through your preloaded apps and use your best judgement to decide if you should remove it or not. Apps related to updating or hardware specific features like a fingerprint scanner are best left untouched, but other unnecessary apps like cloud storage or free trial antivirus software can be removed.
Pin Apps To Your Start Screen Or Taskbar
With your bloatware gone, it’s time to decide what apps you want on your Start Screen. If you have an app, modern or desktop-based, that you want quick access to, you can pin it to your Start Screen for easy access. To do this, navigate to the apps view by swiping up or clicking the down arrow in the bottom left.
In the apps view, you can scroll horizontally through a list of all the apps on your device, with modern apps appearing first and desktop apps further to the right. (Although you can change how the apps view is sorted by clicking on the words “by name” in the top left.)
Pinning An App To The Start Screen
To move an app up to your Start Screen, right click on it and select Pin To Start. This will create a tile on your Start Screen that you can later move around and customize further.
If you’re on a touchscreen, the process will be a little different because you’ll want to tap and hold the app that you want on the Start Screen, and this will cause a bar to appear along the bottom of your screen with the option to Pin To Start. This difference between the context menu for mouse users and the bottom bar for touchscreen users was introduced in Windows 8.1 and makes life a lot easier for those without touchscreens.
Pinning Multiple Apps At Once
To select multiple apps at once, simply hold the Ctrl button while clicking or tapping on apps. Touchscreen users can then choose what to do with all those apps using the bottom bar, while non-touchscreen users will need to right click on one of the selected apps.
The Pin To Taskbar button that you see allows you to pin modern or desktop apps to the taskbar that stays along the bottom of your screen in the desktop view. In Windows 8.1, this taskbar is actually visible even from modern apps by bringing your mouse to the very bottom of the screen. There’s more on the taskbar later in the multitasking section.
As far as visual customizations go, you’re basically stuck with whatever the logo is for modern apps, but desktop apps allow for a bit more customization. Using third-party software, you can actually assign your own images to Start Screen tiles for the ultimate customized look.
Group, Resize, And Organize Tiles
Once you’ve decided what apps you want on your Start Screen, it’s time to get them organized. Right clicking on a tile on the Start Screen will allow you to resize them and choose if they are live tiles or not. The size of the tiles is determined by the app, meaning that some have a large and wide option, while others only have medium or small options.
If an app has the option to be a live tile, it means that it can display pertinent information on the face of the tile rather than just a logo. For apps like Facebook or Photos, this simply means displaying photos, but for other apps like Weather or News, this could actually be useful and up-to-date information. Some apps, though, don’t support any live tile function.
You can then group your tiles into whatever fashion you want. Tiles automatically take the uppermost left position that they can, so if you place a bunch of tiles one after the other vertically, they will eventually overflow to the right when they run out of screen space vertically. This creates a tiny amount of space between columns, as seen below, and is good for keeping groups together.
However, to better separate groups of apps, you’ll want to grab a tile and drag it to the right manually. You’ll see a light-colored vertical divider appear to indicate that the tile is being spaced away from the current group, as seen below.
After placing the tile to the right of that divider, you’ll then have a much greater space in between those two clusters of apps, and that is called a group.
You can name groups by right clicking (or tapping and holding on a touchscreen) on an empty part of the screen.
This will create a small dialog over each group where you can input a name for it.
Showing More Tiles
Want to fit even more on your Start Screen or apps view? Try this. From the Start Screen, swipe in from the right or press Windows Key + C. Select Settings, then Tiles, and in this menu you can choose to show more apps — which essentially means that it will shrink everything down a bit smaller so that it can fit more.
Now that you have all the apps you want on your Start Screen and they’re well-organized, there are a few more tricks to learn before your mastery of modern apps is complete.
Get An Overview
This is useful for those of you with large amounts of apps. You can zoom out from the Start Screen or the apps view to get a large overview of all your apps. The process is intuitive on a touchscreen — just pinch inwards — but a bit more hidden on non-touchscreen device.
There’s actually a tiny minus symbol in the bottom right of your screen. Click it, and everything will zoom out.
On the Start Screen, this just gives you tiny colorful icons, but on the apps view, you’ll be able to more easily browse through your categories.
Run Multiple Apps Side-By-Side
Windows 8.1 brought a very welcome change to running two apps side-by-side: the ability to customize how much screen space they took up. Previously when running multiple modern apps in Windows 8, users could only run one app at 25% and the other at 75% with nothing in between — you got one big app and one tiny app.
Thankfully, users can now decide exactly how much of the screen both apps can take up. Unfortunately, many apps are still designed for the old interface and will shrink to the 25% size if you try to make them smaller than 75%. A perfect example of this is the built-in calculator app that comes preloaded on all Windows 8 devices.
In fact, some Windows 8.1 devices even support running three or four apps at the same time, but it depends on the resolution of your display.
Managing Side-By-Side View
To run multiple modern apps at the same time, simply open one, then return to the Start Screen and open the other. The first app you opened will be suspended in the multitasking pane, available by swiping in from the left side of the screen on a touchscreen. Non-touchscreen users, try navigating your mouse to the upper left corner and then moving downwards; alternatively, the touchpad on your laptop may support swiping in from the left side of the touchpad.
In this multitasking pane, you can drag out the first modern app and place it next to your currently running app. The small black bar in the middle can be adjusted by selecting it and dragging it left or right.
To close out one app and leave the other open, just drag the black bar all the way across the screen. To close an app completely, you can either swipe down from the top of the screen or navigate with your mouse to the top of the screen; a black bar should appear with a red X in the top right, and clicking that will close the app.
Multitask Like A Boss
For the most hardcore of multitaskers, you’ll want to find out how to make Windows 8 work on dual-monitor setups, but for everyone else, these multitasking tips should suffice.
Adding Modern Apps To Taskbar
Remember the taskbar from earlier? This is where it comes in handy. Windows 8.1 offered up a bunch of tiny tweaks that make modern apps and the desktop play more nicely together. To access these, go to your desktop, right click on the taskbar, and select properties.
Here under the Taskbar tab, you can choose if you want Windows Store apps to be on the taskbar — this is referring to modern apps. By default, only desktop apps appear on the taskbar and modern apps stay in the multitasking pane off to the left side of the screen. But since you can now access the taskbar throughout all of Windows 8.1, if you choose to have modern apps on the taskbar, you could multitask between all your apps using only the taskbar.
Further Customizing The Start Screen
Under the navigation tab, you have even more options for customizing the Start Screen. (Why are customization options for the Start Screen hidden here? We may never know.)
If you prefer the desktop view, you can select the first option to default to the desktop instead of the Start Screen. The second option allows you to share your desktop background with the Start Screen, which can make the Start Screen feel like it’s more on top of your desktop than in a completely different, disconnected place.
You can even choose to see the apps view instead of the Start Screen when you press the Windows key, and you can select to display desktop apps before modern apps in the apps view.
What Tips Would You Suggest?
Being one of the biggest visual changes in Windows 8, the Start Screen can be quite a shock. Windows 8.1 seems to have made this a little better, but there’s still a bit of a learning curve.
What other tips do you have for people getting used to the Start Screen? Feel free to share in the comments below!
Image Credits: Hand holding blank paper Via Shutterstock
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