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Start screen customization options
The bright tiles introduced in Windows 8 are still there, but the Windows 8.1 Start screen packs a lot of changes, many of them shown here:
- You have four tile sizes instead of the two in Windows 8. That means you can shrink utilities to roughly the size of a desktop icon and pack four into the space previously taken by one small tile. The new Large tile size allows more information in live tiles for information-rich apps like News, Weather, and Mail.
- The Start screen background can be set to the same as the desktop, making the transition to the Start6 screen less jarring.
- The tiles for desktop apps, like the Office programs in the second group on this screen, now pick up the color of the program icon.
- You can quickly select multiple tiles and resize or move them as a group. Windows 8 made you perform each of these actions one tile at a time.
- New programs aren't automatically added to the Start screen. That's s small victory over the forces of chaos and clutter.
And as you'll see on the next page, there's an alternative to the Start screen.
(PS: If you use desktop apps exclusively and hate the new-style Start screen, a few small tweaks can change your experience for the better. See The Metro hater's guide to Windows 8.1 for details.)
All apps at a glance
This Apps view is all new in Windows 8.1. By default it shows your Windows Store apps and pinned Start screen items in a group on the left, with desktop programs arranged in groups equivalent to Start menu folders on the right. A few changes are noteworthy:
- See the Search box in the upper right? Type a letter or two to instantly filter the list of programs showing only those that match your input.
- You can right-click to select a single item, then click to select additional tiles. (A check mark shows which items are selected.) This lets you pin a group of programs to Start or to the desktop taskbar using one click on the app bar at the bottom of the screen.
- You can easily uninstall a group of apps if you're certain you won't need them and you don't want the clutter.
And if you prefer this view to the regular Start screen, you can configure Windows 8.1 so that clicking Start on the desktop or tapping the Windows key takes you here directly.
SkyDrive built in
When you sign in with a Microsoft account, SkyDrive is set as the default storage location. (You can change this default easily if you're cloud-phobic.) Any file you open from SKyDrive is automatically synchronized with your local files so you can open it again even if you're offline. In addition, from File Explorer or from the SkyDrive app you can designate individual files and folders, or your entire SkyDrive collection, to be available offline.
The search box in the upper right corner is new, as are many of the more fine-grained management tools in the app bar below the window.
Synchronizing with SkyDrive doesn't require installing a separate desktop utility as it did in Windows 8. Control freaks might be dismayed to learn that the built-in Windows 8.1 SkyDrive utility offers no easy status indicators and no way to move the default local storage folder.