Taming the user interface in Windows 8.1 for enterprise users
It is no secret that there are challenges related to the user interface in Windows 8.1. It is no secret that it has raised a lot of feelings – both good and bad. It is no secret that Microsoft is aware of the issues and they are bit by bit working on addressing them.
Windows 8.1 is without doubt the greatest and best operating system from Microsoft to date in terms of features and when it comes to security, performance, stability and responsiveness. Add to that an active development and continious distribution of fixes makes which Windows 8.1 the most dynamic Windows release to date.
However, not many enterprises use modern apps on their desktop/laptop machines and will not do so for quite some time. This blog post is intended to show you how you can make Windows 8.1 behave well in enterprises if you want your users to recognize themselves in the new user interface in Windows 8.1.
Boot to Desktop
The option for the user to instantly get to the desktop is imperative when matching the user experience to what they are used to. This means that instead of landing on the start panel after login, the user is taken straight to the desktop. Another issue with the user interface in Windows 8.1 is that if the user for instance open a PDF file from a desktop application, the PDF file will open in the Reader app (that is if Adobe Reader or another PDF reader has been installed). However, after closing the modern app the user is not brought back to the desktop application, instead lands on the Start panel. The below group policy setting solves these two “issues”.
In the Group policy Editor, locate the setting “Go to the desktop instead of Start when signing in or when or when all the apps on a screen are closed” located in User Configuration > (Policies) > Administrative Templates > Start Menu and Taskbar and set it to Enabled.
Desktop background on start panel
A small but never the less important setting that will make your users recognize the desktop is the setting to make the desktop background image being present in the start panel.
Activate this setting by creating a User Group Policy Preference registry item with the following information:
Value name: MotionAccentId_v1.00
Value type: REG_DWORD (32-bit)
Value data: 000000DB (Hexadecimal)
File extensions for modern apps
In Windows 8.1 images there are a bunch of modern apps included, which are installed the first time a user log in to a Windows 8.1 machine. You can when building your Windows 8.1 image remove all provisioned modern apps which will not only speed up the first login to a machine but also prevent users from opening for instance pictures in the modern app picture viewer and instead open them in “Windows Photo Viewer” on the desktop.
Solution 1: Remove all provisioned apps by using Ben Hunter’s excellent script for this, see http://blogs.technet.com/b/deploymentguys/archive/2013/10/21/removing-windows-8-1-built-in-applications.aspx. In the scripts you see the relevant commands which can also be run manually, removing one modern app at a time. See the PowerShell cmdlets Get-AppxProvisionedPackage and Remove-AppxProvisionedPackage.
Solution 2: If you do not want to remove the provisioned apps, you can use Michael Niehaus’s great guide to remove the file associations from the modern apps. Michael also show how to deal with this dynamically at deployment time as you probably want to have this configuration dynamic if you are using Windows 8.1 on touch enabled devices. The blog post is located at http://blogs.technet.com/b/mniehaus/archive/2014/01/10/configuring-file-associations-in-windows-8-1.aspx
Customizing the start panel
Well, there are PowerShell scripts which you can use to export a start panel layout and then send it out to multiple users using group policy settings. However, your users will not be able to actually modify it which kind of make this feature useless to say the least. What you can do to customize the start panel, awaiting better and more dynamic means to centrally manage the layout, is image customizing the layout of the start panel in your Windows 8.1 image, and then use the CopyProfile=true method to make that start panel layout the default for all new user profiles. This will present a default layout of your choice which the end users will be able to modify to their liking.
Remove the (annoying) help guidance arrows
The help arrows that appear the first time a user sign in to a Windows 8.1 machine are important for the users to learn how to reach the charms menu and navigate in the new user interface, when they actively or mistakenly end up there. However these little helper arrows tend to become rather annoying after time and you will be glad to see that there are ways to turn them off.
Create a User Group Policy Preference that adds the following registry:
Value name: DisableHelpSticker
Value type: REG_DWORD (32-bit)
Value data: 1
The power of search
I have been involved in many deployment projects with Windows 7 and my simple conclusion is that users tend to love not to use the built in search box in the start menu in Windows 7. Moving to Windows 8.1 is not going to change that and especially not as the users have no idea that they can just type anything while on the start panel and a search will be performed. I’m still waiting for a group policy setting that will make users use search instead of clicking and clicking and clicking but until that arrives instruct your Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 to use the built in search feature.
Well, by taming how the user interface behaves and my modifying or totally removing the modern apps the start panel goes back to just being the search feature and the new user interface is acting pretty much as it always have traditionally in Windows. And at the time of this writing we know that there will be an update in April 2014 that will present even further improvements to the UI. Things are improving but rest assured, the good old start menu as we know it since Windows 95 will not be back.
Follow up: User profile and user data changes in Windows 8 vs primary computers
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I'm Andreas Stenhall and my work passion is Windows 10 and 11 in combination with Microsoft 365 security and management services. I do consulting, I produce and teach my own courses, I lecture and I present and my formal work title is senior workplace advisor and architect at Coligo in Stockholm, Sweden. I'm also proud to be an Microsoft MVP since 2009. I have presented at BUILD, TechEd in the US and Europe and regional TechDays. Follow me on twitter @AndreasStenhall. Phone +46707894758.