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This is a good time to choose a different background color and pattern for the Start screen.
From the Start screen, press Windows key + I (that's a capital eye, not a lowercase ell) to open the Settings pane on the right. Click More PC settings at the bottom of the pane, then choose Personalize to display this set of options.
Choose a background color from the slider along the bottom and one of the size background patterns from the boxes above it. You don't need to do anything special to save your changes.
Tap the Start key to return to the Start screen.
When you install a new Windows desktop program, such as Microsoft Office, the installer adds your icons to the right side of the Start screen automatically. If you're setting up a new user account on a system where apps are already installed, you can add icons to Start manually by searching for them.
Tap the Start key to switch to the Start screen, and then begin typing to filter the list of available programs and apps, as shown here.
Right-click any program in the Search pane to display the app bar shown here. Because these are desktop programs, you have the option to pin them to the Start screen, or to the taskbar, or both. (The options for Metro style programs are more limited.)
Because you're going to spend much of your time in Windows 8 using the desktop, I recommend that you pin your most frequently used programs to the taskbar only. Avoid the temptation to clutter up the Start screen with desktop programs. You'll find it's much easier to simply click the Desktop tile and use your pinned taskbar icon to start or switch to the program you want to use.