Windows 8 fixes every major desktop problem that you have. Seriously! Do you have laptops that occasionally won’t let a user login? People complain about how slow things load? Users need to access documents remotely? Your answer: Deploy Windows 8.
“But Joseph,” you say, “If Windows 8 is so great, why isn’t everyone using it. “My theory: that dang start screen. It is busy, tiles are flipping everywhere, and people start freaking out. You can fix that though. You can deploy a custom Windows 8 Start Screen with Group Policy and MDT!
Take a look at the screenshot below. This is the standard start screen that our teachers get. Any needed application is immediately available! They have a custom Web App for our attendance/gradebook software, access to their documents/network folder, etc.
Our job is to make technology simple to use. Let’s look at the two ways that you can control the Windows 8 start screen. Our first stop is MDT.
Setting a Custom Windows 8 Start Screen with MDT
This is my preferred method of editing the Windows 8 start screen. First, it works on Windows 8 Pro or Enterprise. Second, it can be considered a preference. Once the initial layout is set, users are free to change it. To get started, set up a Windows 8 machine and configure the Start Screen to your liking. Group, rename, pin apps, etc. You can pin folder/drives by right clicking on them in Windows Explorer.
If you want to create an IE web app, visit the website – create a gear icon – and select Add Site to Apps. Do you have certain apps that apply to specific users? Go ahead and pin them now. The Start Screen shortcut won’t appear unless the applications’ shortcut is in the Start Menu directory. This allows you to create a meshed together start screen without user’s having unnecessary applications.
Once everything is configured, launch PowerShell ISE and export your Start Screen layout like this:
Export-StartLayout -LiteralPath .\StartScreenLayout.bin -As BIN
Launch Explorer and browse to your DeploymentShare. Create a new folder within the Applications sub-folder. Name it StartScreenLayout and copy your StartScreenLayout.bin file into it. Create a batch file that contains the following:
POWERSHELL.exe -NonInteractive -Command Import-StartLayout -LayoutPath \\wds\deploymentshare$\Applications\StartScreenLayout\StartScreenLayout.bin -MountPath %SystemDrive%\
Edit your Windows 8 task sequence and create a new Run Command Line task in the State Restore phase. Your command will be the full path to the batch file that you created above.
Your local administrator account will still have the default start screen but all new accounts will have your custom layout. If you have already deployed Windows 8 and can’t re-image the machines, you have two options.
- Have the user log in with a new local profile
- Use Group Policy to replace the Start Screen
Using Group Policy to Set the Windows 8 Start Screen
Before we jump too far down this rabbit hole, let’s mention two conditions. First, this only works on 8.1 Enterprise, 8.1 RT with Sideloading, and 2012 R2. Windows 8.1 Pro is not supported. The second condition is that this is a policy. Your users will not be able to edit the Start Screen with this setting enabled. They won’t even be able to right click on any tile. For those who crave this absolute control and power, I know a good therapist.
Let’s start the same way. Fire up a Windows 8 machine and configure the Start Screen to a default layout. Launch PowerShell ISE and use the Export-StartLayout cmdlet (as we did above). You will need to save your file with an .XML extension and change the -AS parameter to XML. Save the exported layout to a network share that is accessible by your users.
Launch the GPMC and navigate to either Computer or User Configuration. Select Start Menu and Taskbar and enable Start Screen Layout.
This setting is only active when the start screen layout is assessable. If you have laptops, you will probably want to use Group Policy Files to copy the layout to a local folder. This will ensure a consistent Start Screen wherever the user goes. There is no escaping your power.
Have you started deploying Windows 8 yet? What other issues have you run into?