As part of a setup for a client, I used a controlled Start Screen through Group Policy for their computers. Not only did this prevent end users from modifying the Start Screen but it also allowed all of the commonly used apps to be pinned and organized consistently across the organization. I was a little disappointed to find out that the Start Screen functionality stopped working through no fault of my own.
I followed my previous steps of configuring a Start Screen and exporting it with PowerShell. I then made the .xml file available on a readable share and configured the path in Group Policy. The setting is located at User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Start Menu and Taskbar\Start Screen Layout
Using this setting gives something nicely organized and controlled such as this image:
This worked great for this client up until some point where it reverted to a very default Start Screen. It has the Desktop, PC, Control Panel, and other default tiles.
To troubleshoot, I looked through Event Viewer but didn’t find any errors. I verified the path to the file on the share and the permissions made it available. I re-exported the configured Start Screen and updated the Group Policy setting but it still failed to work.
Doing some research, I found a thread in a Microsoft TechNet forum that elaborated on the same issue. One day the Start Screen was working, one day it wasn’t. The change was narrowed down to Windows Update KB3000850. This was confirmed by noticing the issue with the update installed and while uninstalling the update allowed the Start Screen to be customized centrally again. KB3000850 is the November 2014 Update Rollup for Windows RT 8.1, Windows 8.1, and Windows Server 2012 R2. Given its size and the number of fixes it includes, it is hard to justify going without the update for the Start Screen control to work.
A response in that thread later clarified why the update broke the Start Screen control through Group Policy. That feature is a Windows 8.1 Enterprise feature only. While Windows 8.1 Pro previously had the capability, Microsoft fixed the “bug” in KB3000850 that allowed in to work in Pro.
Here it is, it took a paid support call to MS but the answer is……… it’s by design.
The key part here is Windows 8.1 Professional vs Windows 8.1 Enterprise
Prior to these updates, the policy to apply start screen layout via policy worked on Professional and Enterprise.
The fact it did work on Professional was a BUG, it was ONLY intended to work in Enterprise.
The update rollups fix the bug, and hence break a previously working solution for 8.1 Professional users.
You will notice in the TechNet documentation for Customize Windows 8.1 Start Screens by Using Group Policy that it does specify Windows 8.1 Enterprise.
In Windows 8.1 Enterprise, you can use a Group Policy Object (GPO) to deploy a customized Start screen layout to users in a domain.
However, the Customize the Start Screen documentation includes domain-joined Windows 8.1 Pro PCs for initial Start Screen customization but not through Group Policy.
You can customize the Start screen for Windows® 8 Enterprise, Windows Server® 2012, or a domain-joined PC running Windows® 8 Pro.
That article points to copying the AppsFolderLayout.bin file to the default profile from C:\Users\TestProfile\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\AppsFolderLayout.bin
The TechNet forum thread also points out a similar workaround by copying c:\usersusername\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\appsFolder.itemdata-ms and c:\users\username\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\appsFolderLayout.bin from a working user to a non-working user in a log-off script. You could also copy these files to the location in a mandatory profile. While the workaround restores this functionality, it is still disappointing to move from an elegant, manageable solution to a workaround. Alternatively, you may upgrade your licensing to Windows 8.1 Enterprise and re-image the computers.
This granularity will be something to watch for when deciding between the Windows 10 editions.