Microsoft makes a lot of corrections in Windows 8.1 that makes for a pretty good operating system. One of the bigger improvements is that they gave some control over the new features back to individuals and IT Pros.
Configuration of the Start Screen was one of the more disputed areas. At the same time Microsoft was giving more control, they removed all programmatic access to pin things to the Start Screen. This rendered several Windows 8 apps useless on Windows 8.1. It’s also a big difference compared to Windows 7 and earlier version where you could simply modify shortcuts in a folder to customize the Start Menu.
Microsoft published a blog article at the end of October touting the new feature of Start screen control. This feature is nice and could make sense for a locked down environment. Essentially you configure your Start Screen layout and then you assign it over Group Policy. As a result, the Start Screen cannot be changed. That would be very annoying in most cases though.
Another change between Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 was the Start Screen behavior with new installs. With Windows 8, new installs would automatically get their icons added to the Start Screen. With 8.1, icons are not added by default. You have to search for them and pin them to Start yourself.
I wanted to customize our installs of Windows 8.1 with an initial Start screen. Users can feel free to modify it however they want but at least it would be starting off with some of our default apps pinned and other conveniences like the Control Panel, This PC, and others pinned and organized well.
Instead of following Microsoft’s guide to export the Start Screen layout as an XML file and assign it via Group Policy, you can use the same PowerShell cmdlet to export it as a .bin file. From there, you can import it different ways.
To start, make your customizations to the Start Screen so that it looks exactly as you want.
From PowerShell, run this command:
Export-StartLayout -As BIN -Path C:\StartLayout.bin -Verbose
This will export the Start Screen layout to C:\StartLayout.bin (or wherever you told it to export in the previous command)
You can import this Start Screen layout to the default user account of the computer you are on. This way, any new profiles created will get your Start Screen. Run this from an Administrator Command Prompt.
POWERSHELL -NonInteractive -Command Import-StartLayout -LayoutPath C:\StartLayout.bin -MountPath %SystemDrive%\
Alternatively, if you are working with an image, you can mount the .wim file and specify that as your MountPath. Then run the command:
POWERSHELL -NonInteractive -Command Import-StartLayout -LayoutPath C:\StartLayout.bin -MountPath C:\Mounted\
This will apply your custom layout to the image’s default account and new installs will get your custom Start layout while still being able to change it as they please.
If your Start Screen has application shortcuts that don’t exist on the computer, they won’t appear until the application is available. If you use user specific shortcuts, be sure to use variables like %userprofile% so they exist for others.