The Windows 8 Start screen is largely a love-it-or-hate affair. But even those who aren't too keen on the screen may welcome the new ways you can customize it in the Windows 8.1 Preview.
Right off the bat, Windows 8.1 offers a dedicated Customize button for the Start screen where you can tweak a variety of settings. Right-click anywhere on the Start screen to display the app bar and click on the Customize button. You can also right-click on any tile to open the Customize view.
The screen dims slightly. You can now drag and drop any tile to another spot on the screen. Moving a tile by dragging and dropping is nothing new. But in this Customize view, you can't accidentally open an app by clicking on or tapping its tile.
You can select multiple tiles by clicking on them, and then drag and drop all of your selected tiles en masse to another spot. There's an array of other options that can be run on multiple tiles.
You can unpin them from the Start screen, uninstall them, resize them, turn off any live tiles, or just clear the selection. You also have more tile sizes from which to choose. Certain tiles offer a choice of small, medium, wide, and large. You can enlarge the tiles for your favorite apps and shrink the ones for apps you rarely use.
If you organize your tiles into distinct groups, you can more easily name them. In the Customize view, simply click on the text box for Name Group and enter a name.
To get out of Customize view, just click or tap on the Customize button on the app bar.
What other tricks will you find in the new Start screen? Less clutter for one.
In Windows 8, any app you install automatically takes up residence on the Start screen, easily turning it into a crowded and disorganized mess. In Windows 8.1, apps don't make their way to the Start screen unless you pin them there.
After you install a new app, click on the down arrow in the lower left corner of the Start screen. That takes you to the App screen where you'll see any recently-installed apps highlighted with the word New. Right-click on the tile or tiles of any apps that you wish to appear on the Start screen and click on the Pin to Start button. Windows 8.1 then transports you back to the Start screen to reveal the new tile.
Finally, more choices are available for you to change the color and background of the Start screen.
Hover your mouse over the small dash icon in the lower right corner of the screen to display the Charms bar. From there, click or tap on the Settings charm and then select the Personalize option. You can pick background and accent colors from the on-screen palette or choose a specific background image. Best of all, you can pick the same background image used by your desktop. That option makes the visual trip between the Start screen and desktop less jarring.
The Start screen may still seem like an unnecessary annoyance to many Windows users, especially those working with a non-touch PC. Windows 8 does offer a boot to desktop mode where you can bypass the screen entirely. But the latest tweaks in Windows 8.1 do make the Start screen a bit friendlier and decidedly easier to manage.