How to Use the Start Screen in Windows 8

Much of the buzz around Microsoft’s upcoming release of Windows 8 surrounds the replacement of the Start menu with an entire page of tiles known as the Start screen. This new page presents your applications as tiles, giving you at-a-glance functionality with compatible programs, and quick startup with others.

For many Windows users, the experience of switching from one interface to another can be rather jarring, though perhaps there is a method to Microsoft’s supposed madness? For example, you can use the Start screen to quickly locate and launch apps, settings, individual files, and even specific components of various programs. You can even search a stock number and have it pull right up in the Finance app.

So, what are the advantages of the new Windows 8 interface, and how can we put them to work for us?

Quick Search

Accessing your system’s search feature used to be a matter of clicking the Start button and typing a search query in the field. Now, you can access the same (if not more powerful) search feature by doing little more than hitting the Windows key and typing the first few letters of whatever app it is you wish to launch. Pressing Enter will launch it right away.

If you want to check the weather in a specific city, just hit the Windows key, start typing the name of the city, and click on the Weather app as it appears in the sidebar to the right of the screen. In a sense, checking the weather forecast takes less than a few seconds as opposed to the longer and more drawn out process of opening a browser or entering the city’s information in a weather gadget.


Sorting your apps into columns and making them easier to see and select is another advantage of the Start screen. For example, the old Start menu had a limited number of programs which could be displayed (or pinned) to the Start menu. For everything else, you needed to navigate through the All Programs area and find the executable you were looking for. Yes, you could search, but that part is covered in the paragraph above.

Simply moving your mouse to the lower-left corner and clicking will reveal the Start screen, which features all of your apps in an easily navigable interface from which you can launch them. For a more detailed list, right-click and select All Apps for an entire listing of executable programs that you can choose. You can even pin these programs to the Start screen if they don’t already exist there.

It took more a few minutes to lay out all of my programs in columns that made the most sense to me. I have an area for games, productivity apps, news, and one dedicated to photo and image manipulation apps. Pretty much everything I need is accessible with a single click. While the experience may be a bit jarring at first, I’ve found navigation through the Start screen to be much faster and easier to work with.

Apps Vs. Programs

The Start screen gives you another advantage over Gadgets or quick links in the old Start menu. Apps on Windows 8 take advantage of the tiled interface to give you at-a-glance functionality. A news app may rotate photos from various stories pulled throughout the day while a weather app may give you a quick forecast, all without having to leave a single screen.


Accessing your system settings no longer requires you to navigate through menus to find the Control Panel. All you really need to do is move your mouse to the lower-right corner of the screen and slide the cursor up until you land on the “Charm” you wish to activate.

For example, if you want to personalize your Metro experience, you can select the Settings Charm and hit Personalize. You can also navigate through Network, Ease of Access, Privacy, Updates, and other general settings with only two clicks instead of opening each sub-program in Control Panel individually.

Again, this takes getting used to, but the end result is a faster overall experience.

Final Thoughts

While it’s hard to get past all the hate flying around the Internet (especially the angry messages posted by people who have never even tried Windows 8), the fact remains that Microsoft has big changes in store for its flagship product. Windows has been a majority cornerstone operating system for decades, and while the interface originally introduced in Windows 95 has grown on us, perhaps change is inevitable.

Windows 8 is intended to provide a seamless experience from the desktop to your smartphone, with tablets existing as that middle ground between the two. Whether or not Microsoft will succeed or fail with this recent initiative remains to be seen, though perhaps there really is something to Metro worth taking an optimistic look at.

After all, do we really want to continue with the same basic UI that we’ve been using for the past 20 years?

What is your opinion? Does the Metro UI help or hinder your productivity in Windows 8?

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • LaurenLCD

    I find that I can get things done/found much faster. It’s much more productive than having to use a 3rd party program such as Rocketdock and the stacks add-on to get to my programs when I can just go to the menu and have what I need found in a matter of 1 click and less processes running.

    • Stephen Floyd

      I’ve had almost the same experience. I used to install Fences on every PC I used So I could organize all the games and apps I needed in way that made sense to me. The start screen in Windows 8 does that and more. With one click of a button I have all the apps I need organized exactly how I want them, plus I get the “live tiles” glance to see what’s new on Facebook, if I have any emails, what the weather is like, ect, ect. I think if people actually take the time to learn the OS, they’ll find they can do a lot more, in a lot less time.

  • MrVulcan

    “Do we really need to continue…”? I think so, because I thought there was nothing wrong with it.

  • wwinter86

    Hinder, it’s just clutter and looks like one big pop-up ad.

  • Russell Sattari

    Metro is more efficiency driven. Live-Tiles are a really good idea. I have tried the current Win8 version and must say it works like a charm on tablets. I am just not sure if MS will make it into the tablet world at this point. Not only has Apple a broad and loyal consumer group, but the Ipad 3 is to go on sale right before MS-Tablets are to hit shelves as well. So Apple will take all the Apple-consumers PLUS a whole bunch of new customers with the new Ipad 3. So MS will only get very few people to buy their product. Android based tablets have also established themself to a degree. So it means even more competition for the Win8 tablets.

    No question: Win8 is powerful! But will it be sold enough to actually give it a chance? Are consumers not at some point fed up with all the “not-so-great” MS-products?
    We will see…
    but one thing is sure: Win8 will open a door for MS into the future or be the end of MS’ future.

  • Ralph Joe Hanice

    Well windows 8 sure seems good for now. Playing around with the apps is fun for now, but what about when I get down to work and need desktop programs.

    • Joeheveran

       Exactly. Here’s an example. I work with Photoshop a lot. When I try to learn something new I can arrange my Desktop so that I view several applications at once (.pdf file that has a tutorial, YouTube video, etc.). I can easily do this with Windows 7. I tried doing this with Windows 8 and it is one big headache. Not very productive!

      Microsoft, you are better than this.

  • johnwerneken

    anything at all that involves mice or gestures, except mice to click one of a forest of check boxes or to select one of a forest of drop downs, is a PITA and unreliabe as hell. I am aware that to some people such things as facial exprtessions voice tones spoken language pointing devices gestures and “touching” (literally or figuratively) provides something of additional value to typed words or keyboard keystrokes, but not to me.

  • Chris E. Avis

    I am a Microsoft employee and I of course drink the Kool-Aid. I am converting from Windows 7 to Windows 8 as my primary work machine. I am not doing this because I have to, I am doing this because I want to. I am using the same build downloaded by everyone else so I will experience the same trials and tribulations as the rest of the world. I am confident though that I will be able to do my work though which is why I am making the jump. I am part of the way through getting all of my critical apps installed and down to getting a few extras done. I will blog about it at

  • Antim Evtimov Batchev

    I like the new Ui i just dont like that giant amount of color on the start screen i prefer a cleaner start screen with just one or two colors 

  • supertweaker

    From purely a Desktop user’s perspective and being a remote desktop support specialist for home computer users, I was able to master the current UI without any problems. However, I do see the need for an option to show the traditional Start Menu and Desktop on start-up. Why?  Because many of us instantly right click the desktop, choose resolution to edit videos or play games in a higher resolution.  I switch resolutions at least 10 times a day. That’s just one point about seeing the traditional desktop right away.
    The traditional Start Menu:  This is so very necessary for sending shortcuts to the traditional Desktop with a quick right click, send to desktop, create shortcut.  I would say that most of us who are experienced Windows users have shortcuts directly to document files that we need access to right away, likewise with folders.  The Metro Start Screen is not conducive to fast and efficient organizing of the traditional shortcuts.
    Pinning:  I am not a fan of Pinning anything to the Taskbar.  I activated the Quick Launch Area in Windows 7 right away.  Why? Because I can have shortcuts to files, folders and apps without needing to use the Jump List.  I don’t find the Jump List all that exciting either. Plus I can add a ton of shortcuts to the QLA.
    IT professionals supporting many PC stations in the work place, this new UI is going to be a real PITA (IMHO).  I also think that with the new start menu could lead to RSI.
    I do not own any PDA.  Like Chris, I have multiple monitors at my PC Station in my home for conducting remote help for home computer owners around the world. When I am outside of my home a cell phone for voice and text messaging is all I need. However,  I see Windows 8 Metro Start Screen as being a potential competitor for iPad due to it’s diversity to work in most any PDA.
    I think Microsoft simply needs to make it easy to bypass Metro and activate the traditional Start Menu for workstation PC users and gamers. Options, just like the Quick Launch Area.  It’s there and it’s easy to activite. So should the traditional Start Menu and boot to traditional Desktop.
    I have W8 installed on a partition on my main SSD.  It works fine and I am curious to see what will come with Windows Updates since feedback on these two issues are in the forefront of most everyone’s critique who uses a desktop or laptop with a mouse and keyboard.

  • Jbg2