The Metro hater's guide to customizing Windows 8 Consumer Preview

The Metro hater's guide to customizing Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Summary: Why has there been such a negative initial reaction to the Windows 8 Start screen? Maybe it's because the default presentation is so ugly and impersonal. If you hate Metro and want to use the Windows 8 Consumer Preview mostly with desktop apps, try my five-minute makeover and see if it helps.


I’ve been following the ongoing debate over the Windows 8 Start screen with amusement and genuine sympathy. The common complaint goes something like this: “Touch-optimized Metro apps are great. The improvements to the Windows desktop are solid. But the Start screen, which serves as the hub between the old and new Windows, is too much new and not enough old. The transition is jarring, and ultimately doesn’t make me more productive.”

OK, I understand that point of view. In fact, I had a similar complaint when I first looked at Windows 8. Personally, after using the new interface for a while, I have come to like its overall design, but I also get how someone can look at the Windows 8 Consumer Preview with a much more jaundiced eye. I also see its long-term potential and expect it to improve and be refined over time.

Frankly, I think a lot of the reason people have a negative reaction to the Metro style Start today is because the default presentation is so ugly and impersonal. Here, see for yourself:


See the accompanying gallery for step-by-step instructions


By default, all 18 Metro style apps in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview are literally in your face, pinned to the Start screen along with tiles for the Store, Internet Explorer, and the Desktop.

If you install a Windows desktop app like Microsoft Office, all the icons that would have been dumped into the All Programs menu in Windows 7 are splattered across the right side of the Start screen

Taken as a whole, the result is messy. It’s a great way to encourage beta testers to try out the preview apps and thus get an idea of the potential of a future with lots of slick, well-coded Metro style apps. It is distracting and disorganized if you are trying to be productive today, in an environment where you mostly use Windows desktop programs.

The solution? Clear away the clutter and reorganize the Start screen into something more personal and more appropriate to your workflow. Once I did that, I found it was a lot easier to understand how to use the new Start. Here’s what the customized Start screen on my test machine looked like after getting my five-minute makeover:


See the accompanying gallery for step-by-step instructions


No, your eyes are not deceiving you. I’ve also included custom Shut Down and Restart shortcuts.

The whole point of this Start screen is to make it easy to get to the desktop, where almost every technique you know by heart from earlier Windows versions still works. (Unless, of course, it involves the Start menu.) If you can get to the desktop, you can pin shortcuts to the taskbar, pick recent documents  from jump lists, and use a variety of shortcuts to do stuff directly without returning to Start.

For me, being productive with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview means accepting a few realities:

  • You need to learn new ways to accomplish some tasks. In most cases, I think your productivity will increase. Some specific tasks take more steps but are easier once you learn them. I really can’t think of a single common task that is significantly more difficult than using the Start menu in Windows 7.
  • Keyboard shortcuts really make things simpler. That’s been true of Windows for as long as I can remember, but Windows 8 really takes it to another level.
  • It’s OK to ruthlessly clear unwanted tiles from Start. If you expect your primary usage to be Windows desktop apps, you can safely remove just about all of those.
  • The search box is your friend. Seriously.

In the gallery that accompanies this post, I explain in detail, with specific steps, how to give your Start screen a complete makeover so it becomes a useful gateway to the Windows desktop. I also introduce a handful of keyboard shortcuts that will make switching between the Start screen and the desktop much easier.

For the step-by-step instructions, see The Metro hater's guide to customizing Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

Here's what you'll find in that gallery:

It also includes the five Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts you must know:

Related posts:

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Microsoft, Software, Windows

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  • microsoft has no taste.

    I hate the metro UI because it's UGLY. It's almost as bad as the new windows logo.
    The customization you did is a huge improvement, but still...
    • I think it's a good concept with great functionality, but...

      The new Windows logo, however, always makes me think Google created the product. The 8 resembles a G, and the blocky logo looks like something you'd see on the Google search home page.

      There needs to be more customization options. I hate the fact that we cannot choose the background or a full size image for the static tiles. I don't care if it's a desktop only item, I want it to have a full size image of my choosing.

      The biggest problem I have with Windows 8 is the jarring separation between the two different worlds. Either merge them, or completely separate them. This seems like more of a transitional OS at the moment, but then again, that's true with every preview release of an O.S.. Time will tell what becomes of this. My hopes is that they choose one direction or the other and adapt it so it no longer looks less like two different, but stacked, operating systems.
      • Prediction: Metro apps may be placed like sidebar gadgets

        With tile and open display modes.
      • It's Not Jarring As It's Been Claimed Except Internet Explorer.

        I don't really think it's really seperated at all; Maybe because I'm on a Vertex 3 Max IOPs SSD and 16GB, but Windows 8 makes me forget Windows & existed. It's VERY fast to switch to a better way to access all of your programs, categorize them for specific needs without much guess work and etc.

        Everything is 10x faster, and more informative without being in the way when it comes to uploading files, editing files, navigating windows explorer and etc. Mail notifications and etc. are done elegantly like they should have long ago on the OS that makes you realize how much they needed to update.

        Also I really think the way Microsoft have advertised or focused on is like what they have done to Xbox with Kinect. They focus too much on the new stuff for 'casuals' and the much better additions for most of us who know what the hell we're doing.

        While it was feared this new OS makes more power user functions harder to get to, that's not true; It's actually 10x faster by just right clicking the bottom left corner or the revamped Windows+x keyboard shortcut.

        The Task manager is actually useful know with all the information us Power Users cared about. Also, the operating system actually accomodates SSDs completely understanding to optimize things (TRIM) in long-recommended intervals and you not having to worry to remove defrag and etc.

        The start-up is a lot better and is literally as fast as it was advertised.

        The ONLY grip as far as jarring with the new Metro UI is the Two Versions of IE. It sort of makes no sense as far as switching back from them and then having multiple tabs opening on both; it's sort of dumb and it has annoyed me.

        Also there is a bug with one of the keyboard shortcuts that they're fixing when it comes to going back and forth between Win+q, Win+w, and Win+f: You can switch back to apps (Win+q) from searching settings and files (Win+w and Win+f) for some reason that doesn't apply to the other search short-cuts.

        Overall, I think Windows still need to realize they need to at LEAST provide advertising/useful information for power users better than they have then just the casual market basically that don't really need a desktop to use a computer what it advertises to them and instead use a tablet or phone.
        Kevin Lozandier
  • One thing

    This was the one thing I did not like about the CP. On first boot there was nothing but all these mismatched Metro tiles that as far as the end user is concerned is written in Japanese. Even for me, at first glace, I had the feeling of "What is all this, and why is it here?"

    I honestly think Microsoft should take a look at re-designing the start screen for the final release that has all the "classic" desktop icons (Computer, User Folder, Windows Explorer, etc...) pinned front and center for RTM, and have the metro tiles next to them, better organized. I feel that would ease users into the new start screen as well, better than it is in the CP.

    My start screen is similarly laid out, and I've all but uninstalled a handful of Metro apps (I'm REALLY loving the weather app!). All it needs is a Facebook and Twitter app, and I'd be set! Otherwise, Windows 8 is fun to use, and I've been using quite regularly since it's release, and have yet to find myself hindered by the new start screen in the least.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Vista was better

      I NEVER had a problem with Vista and it is far better then this Window's 3.1 clone!

      THis is worse then what the did to Access 2010 and that was pretty bad.
      • What did they do to Access 2010 that was different?

        Don't talk about the ribbon, as that was to be expected and it can be made to disappear. It is just another paradigm.

        I haven't used Access 2010 that much, but I have done a lot in 2003 and 2007, so I would be interested to know any basic gotchas before I need to get into it too deep again.
    • One thing

      Agree 100%. Microsoft needs to redesign that start screen!
    • I agree with Ed

      I think the problem is with people who never got into video games. They start up Win 8 and sit there and stare. Clicking the screen or hitting any key will give you something you can understand. People have a hard time just typing when they don't see an entry field and locate themselves in that field first. That is you working according to how the computer wants it done. just type what you want and all will be revealed.

      Make things like the user folder, etc into live tiles. I've been running Windows 8 for over a year on several non-touch screen computers. Put the things you use regularly in the first set of tiles. Click in the lower left for most system maintenance tasks and hit the Win button on your keyboard and type away to find things.
  • A pig with lipstick still a pig.
    • Hardly a "pig"

      Have you tried the CP? I have a 3 year old laptop with a dual core 1.6 GHz processor, and a standard 72000 RPM HDD, that can boot in 12 seconds flat, and is as fast as Windows 7 on the desktop.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Yes a "pig"

        Yup. Tried it. Also used the Developer Preview. "Pig" reference is not about performance. It is about the UI.
      • Hardly, yes it is a pig

        I dual boot between Linux and Windows 8 CP on my 3 month old HPJ laptop (quad core) and a standard hard drive.

        If i just use sleep mode, windows 8 'boots' in 12 seconds or less.

        But if i actually shut down and reboot, it takes quite a few minutes. Even after it boots, when i get to my desktop, i have to wait another few minutes before internet explorer will open up.

        Of course, i upgraded (not clean install) from previous version of windows, though not intentionally (I wanted to leave my existing installation untouched and install to 2nd partition, it never prompted me).
        • Your problem on a computer with similar specs doesn't have that problem....

          I tried it on my 4 year old HP Elitebook and it wakes up literally between 12-15 seconds. (not my 8-month-old HP Elitebook with 16GB and 256 Vertex III SSD that basically loads instantly).

          I think you may have to play around with your Bios about what to start.
          Kevin Lozandier
      • @robwilkens

        Do a clean install using the ISO, not the web installer. The web installer only does the upgrade. Use the ISO to do a clean install, you'll see better results.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • agree with you

      you are right but there are just too many Windoze fan boys and they've always been in dark and never used Mac
      • Right...

        And that doesn't go the other way?
    • Get back on track, Ricky

      this blog is about Metro, not you.
      William Farrel
  • It's funny...

    for me, the Desktop changes are okay, the new Start Screen is great, but the Metro apps worry me, long term.

    My typical workflow sees me using 4 or 5 windows, with most visible with reference material, whilst I work in another - mainly technical documentation, presentations, product concepts etc.

    Metro feels like Microsoft are dropping off the "s" in the name, are we getting Windows 8 or Window 8? For me, the multi-windowing environment is what I need and love, and one of the reasons I just cannot take a tablet seriously as a general purpose work tool. I can see it being useful in vertical markets and for consumption, but for the type of work I do, a single window interface is a non-starter.

    If the apps I use "go Metro" in the future, that leaves me being a lot less productive, switching between screens, as opposed to glancing at windows (little w).

    I like the look of Windows 8 on a tablet, but the Contact, Calendar and Solitare Metro apps look quite frankly ridiculous on a 1920x1080 or 2560x1400 24" or 27" display - blowing up the fonts and images by 210% over a 10" tablet doesn't make a good experience!

    I can see where, for example, a OneNote Metro app would be great when out and about, for collecting information and making notes, for when I get back in the office. But once there, I need OneNote in a window in the corner of the screen, along with other windows, so that I can transpose my notes into a finished document.

    IF that is the way forward, I am happy with Windows 8. If the Windows desktop is slowy getting killed off for a less productive Microsoft Window screen product, I am either going to be left in Windows 7, with aging software, or I am going to have to look for a new platform that lets me work effectively.

    Unfortunately, both Apple and Ubuntu seem to be going in the same direction. Let's hope that not all GUI environments shun the major advantage they had over old DOS single screen apps...
    • exactly

      That is the exact comment I made to my coworker after CP came out. I told him I'm calling it Window 8 from now on.