Windows

How to Use Group Policy for a Custom Windows Start Menu

Rahul Saigal 26-02-2020

The Start Menu has evolved from a simple list of apps to an adaptable and dynamic interface. You can pin apps and folders, group them, toggle live tiles for real-time information, and more. The Taskbar got a powerful Windows search, multi-desktop, and Action Center.

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The Start Menu and the Taskbar are favorite areas for customization in Windows. That’s true even for Windows 10 Professional and Enterprise users who use Windows in their company. Business users can set up a pre-defined start layout that can reduce clutter and increase productivity.

Let’s learn how to use Group Policy for customizing the Start Menu.

Group Policy for Windows Customization

We have talked earlier about the importance of group policy in Windows 10 Windows Group Policy: What Is It and How to Use It Wondering what Group Policy is or how to access the Group Policy Editor? Here's an overview of this important Windows feature. Read More . They give you a centralized set of rules that govern the way Windows operates. At a local level, it only affects your device. You can configure its settings through the Local Group Policy Editor.

In a domain environment, the policies reside on Microsoft Windows Active Directory. You can configure policy settings for all users with one click.

The domain-based system uses the Group Policy Management Console to edit group policy objects distributed within the domain. IT admins prefer to work with Group Policy because its editor has an intuitive interface. It also provides you a thorough explanation for every policy. Even a novice user can understand its effects on Windows.

Customize the Start Screen of Your Computer

We recommend you set up a customized Start layout on a test computer to make sure everything works properly. Install all your apps and customize the Start menu the way you want. To customize the Start and taskbar layout using Group Policy, you need

  • Version 1703 for Windows 10 Pro
  • Version 1607 for Windows 10 Enterprise and Education

Also, create a new user account that you can use to customize the Start layout. To begin with, you can pin or unpin apps, drag tiles to reorder your apps, resize the app tiles, and create your app groups.

To customize the Taskbar, here is our complete guide on Windows 10 Taskbar customization Windows 10 Taskbar Customization: The Complete Guide Here's how to customize the Windows 10 taskbar with built-in settings, handy tricks, and third-party software. Read More .

Export the Start Menu Layout in Windows 10 1803 (or lower)

Once you customize the Start menu, export the settings using PowerShell. Press Win + X and choose Windows PowerShell (Admin). Use the command:

Export-StartLayout –path <path><file name>.xml

To export the Start menu layout to the D: drive (you can use any other drive/location on your system) with “MyStartMenu” as a filename, type in

Export-StartLayout -path D:\MyStartMenu.xml

export start layout through powershell in windows 1803

Open the exported XML file with Notepad or Notepad++.

start layout code in windows 1803

Understanding the Code

The Start layout always starts and ends with the “LayoutModificationTemplate.” You can either implement a full Start layout or a partial Start layout:

  • Full Start layout: You can view and open all apps in the All Apps view, but cannot pin, unpin, or uninstall apps from Start. It’s also not possible to create any new groups.
  • Partial Start layout: You can create, customize, and move your groups, but it’s not possible to change the contents of the tile groups.

Every Windows 10 app has an AppUserModelID. For Win32 desktop apps, the layout uses DesktopApplicationLinkPath. The medium-sized tile is 2×2, and for wide tile, it’s 4×2. The column and row number deal with the relative position of apps in your Start menu. For example,

<start:DesktopApplicationTile Size="2x2" Column="0" Row="4"
DesktopApplicationLinkPath="%ALLUSERSPROFILE%\Microsoft\Windows\Start
Menu\Programs\GIMP 2.10.14.lnk" />

As per Microsoft docs, if the Start layout that you export contains tiles for Win32 apps, you must change the DesktopApplicationPath to DesktopApplicationID. Unless you change this, the start menu layout will not work accordingly.

Get the Application ID

Launch Windows PowerShell (Admin) and type in

Get-StartApps

get application ID with powershell

Right away, you’ll see the app name and it’s ID. Copy the AppID to Notepad. Considering the above example, the code will change to

<start:Tile Size="2x2" Column="0" Row="4"
DesktopApplicationID={6D809377-6AF0-444B-8957-A3773F02200E}\GIMP
2\bin\gimp-2.10.exe" />

The DesktopApplicationID uses the attribute AppUserModelID that’s associated with the corresponding app. The other technical data like column, row number, and tile size specification remains the same.

Export the Start Layout in Windows 10 1809 (and above)

The changes you must follow for the layout customization looks baffling and raise many questions. But from version 1809 and above, Microsoft corrected its course and implemented a new command to export Start layout

Export-StartLayout -UseDesktopApplicationID -Path layout.xml

To export the Start layout to D: drive with “StartLayoutMarketing” as a filename, type in

Export-StartLayout -UseDesktopApplicationID D:\StartLayoutMarketing.xml

export start layout through powershell in windows 1809

Open the exported XML file with Notepad or Notepad++. If you carefully observe the code, all the Win32 apps start with DesktopApplicationID. It means that you don’t have to make any changes.

start layout code in windows 1809

Configure Windows 10 Taskbar Layout

Starting from Windows 10, version 1607, you can manage pinned shortcuts in the taskbar via the same XML file with the Start Menu layout. As per the sample taskbar configuration code from the Microsoft documentation, the section starts with a declaration that the XML document use version 1.0 and type UTF–8 encoding.

The “LayoutModificationTemplate” section includes a new schema for taskbar

xmlns:taskbar="http://schemas.microsoft.com/Start/2014/TaskbarLayout

The declaration ends with the closing tag “>.” A new section starts with “CustomTaskbarLayoutCollection.” To pin apps

  • Use <taskbar:UWA> and Application User Model ID (AUMID) of apps installed on the device.
  • Use <taskbar:DesktopApp> and Desktop Application Link Path to pin desktop application.

Note: Configuring the taskbar layout is entirely optional. If you just want to implement just Start menu changes, then skip this section. Also remember, if a particular app is not used by a specific user account, then it will not appear on the taskbar.

sample taskbar layout code in windows 10

To pin your app in the taskbar, we need its user model ID (as discussed above). Here’s a screenshot to show how the code will look when you pin Mail and OneNote app.

configured taskbar layout code

The procedure for getting Desktop Application Link Path is a bit clumsy. Pin your app to the Start menu and use the command to export the layout as an XML file. Look for a property labeled DesktopApplicationLinkPath. That same path is used to pin Win32 apps in the taskbar.

Add the Taskbar Configuration to Start Menu Layout

Assuming that you use Windows 10 (1809 and above), use the “StartLayoutMarketing.xml” file to show where to add your taskbar configuration in the Start menu layout. Open the file in Notepad and navigate to the last line

</DefaultLayoutOveride>...</LayoutModificationTemplate>

Add your taskbar configuration just after the</DefaultLayoutOveride> tag.

add your taskbar configuration after defaultlayoutoveride tag

Looking at the start layout configuration from Microsoft docs, now we’ll just re-arrange the code

  • Move the XML declaration to the first line with an open and close tag.
  • Move the taskbar schemas to the sixth line before the closing tag.
  • The code should be well formatted. Use the free XML formatter online tool to check for any errors.

re-arranged taskbar configuration in start menu layout

Save your file. And keep a separate copy of the start menu and taskbar configuration.

Use Group Policy to Apply Your Customized Start Layout

You can implement a customized Start and taskbar layout when you sign in to your computer. Press the Windows Key + R to launch Run and type in gpedit.msc to launch Local Group Policy Editor.

launch local group policy editor

Go to User Configuration or Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Start Menu and Taskbar. Then, select Start Layout.

select start layout in local group policy editor

Right-click Start Layout in the right pane, and click Edit to open the Start Layout policy settings.

start layout policy settings

Select Enabled. Navigate to your XML file and press and hold the Shift key. Right-click it and choose Copy as path. Under Options, paste the path to your file that you just copied. Click Ok.

path to XML file in start layout options

Close the editor and restart your computer to make the policy setting effective, After rebooting, the Start Screen/Menu tiles gets fixed, and you can no longer customize them. Apps mentioned in the Taskbar layout also appear but remember you can still pin more apps.

customized start layout in Windows 10

Points to Remember

  • When you disable Start Layout policy settings that have been in effect and re-enable it later on, you cannot make any changes to Start.
  • The layout in your XML file will not be re-applied unless you update the timestamp of your file. To update the timestamp, launch Windows PowerShell and run the command (ls <path>).LastWriteTime = Get-Date
  • Make sure that the XML file location has only read-only access. When you’re working in a domain environment, the file should be on a shared network, where user profiles can easily read it.
  • If you pinned some apps to the taskbar, they will remain, but new ones get added to the right.
  • When your layout customization is not working as expected, check for Event 22 and Event 64 errors in Event Viewer.

Boost Your Windows Experience With Group Policy

A standard, customized Start Layout can prove useful on devices that are locked down for specific purposes. It allows the organization to pin useful apps, prevent distraction, help queries, and much more.

Many users are not aware of the Group Policy feature in Windows. Find out the ways Group Policy can make your PC better 12 Ways Windows Group Policy Can Make Your PC Better The Windows Group Policy grants you advanced control over your system, without having to mess with the registry. We'll show you how to easily customize Windows in ways you didn't think were possible. Read More .

Explore more about: System Administration, Windows 10, Windows Customization.

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  1. Matthias
    February 28, 2020 at 9:58 am

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