Windows 10 Start Screen Cleanup is Easier Than You Think

It may seem trivial, but the Start Screen in the Windows operating system can be a big deal. When the start menu vanished for a while with Windows 8, users howled and demanded its return. Users like their Start Screen. The Windows 10 Start Screen is a valuable piece of real estate on your enterprise desktops.

Your users love the convenience. Some of them only know how to access an application by clicking its Start Screen icon. You want to put applications icons right in front of your users. In this way, they’ll know which applications they need to click to get their day or task started.

That’s one reason why you need to manage the Start Screen. It ensures that all of the encased icons consistently appear at every login. Be that as it may, the Start Screen is a challenge. It doesn’t make sense for everyone to get the same icons. As a result, you need to manage the Windows 10 Start Screen. Otherwise, you leave it up to the defaults, or worse, the users.

Your goal is a Start screen which is both standardized as well as flexibly customized. IT Professional Recognize the Challenge of Start Screen Management

Managing the Windows 10 Start Screen

Managing that piece of desktop real estate can be a challenge. A survey conducted last year by PolicyPak and set out to learn firsthand about the problems that businesses have today in their Windows 10 migration projects. One of the primary challenges outlined in the study was standardizing the Windows 10 Start Menu and Taskbar. Nearly 60% of respondents felt this was a priority.

The problem is: how can you manage the Start Screen for all desktops in your enterprise? Whether you use Group Policy or an MDM solution, neither of these tools can manage all of your Windows 10 Devices. What’s more, these and other tools such as SCCM and third-party tools all have their shortcomings.

Let’s start by saying that there is an “in the box” way to manage the Windows 10 Start Screen. There is a way to do many things using Windows native tools, but not all of them are especially user-friendly. The process of managing the Windows 10 Start Screen through Group Policy only is arduous and time-consuming. Here’s what’s involved:

  1. Create a golden machine with all of the necessary applications preinstalled
  2. Configure required Start Screen settings by putting them into your allotted groups
  3. Use PowerShell to export the Start Screen layout XML file
  4. Use Group Policy to ensure that designated computers utilize the XML file

So then one day you need to update an application or add a new one. That requires rebuilding the golden computer, more PowerShell commands to export XML files, etc. Today, you need a solution that is flexible, dynamic and quickly adapts to your ever-changing environment.

Deploy, Enforce and Standardize Windows 10 Start Screens

PolicyPak is a solution that allows you to deploy, enforce and standardize the Windows 10 Start Screen. PolicyPak is an entire suite of components, and one of them explicitly addresses the challenge at hand. The PolicyPak Start Screen and Taskbar Manager put you in total control of the Windows 10 Start Screen (and the Taskbar!). With PolicyPak, you can pin Desktop, Windows Universal and Edge tiles into a desired Start Screen Groups. You can even pin them to the Taskbar. In addition to this granular control, you can enforce and lock down these designated groups so users cannot work around them.
Adding a New collection in PolicyPak Windows Start Screen Manager

Full Control or Partial Control

PolicyPak knows that desktop culture is different within every organization. For some enterprises, internal IT wants exclusive control of the entire Windows Start Screen. This concept makes sense for institutions like hospitals. Doctors and nurses should instantly be able to find the same applications regardless of the computer to which they log in.
Other companies want to give users autonomy for Start Screen Groups. At the same time, they want to ensure that the remaining groups are standardized. Thus, the blended approach creates a balance of power.

This idea is great for schools and many businesses. In this way, you get the most important items front and center (and locked). However, you also give users the ability to make groups for their applications if needed.

Just like when you create GPOs for your domain, settings are created with PolicyPak and deployed through the use of policies. IIn this instance, it starts with the creation of what we call a collection. That collection contains the Start Screen groups you want to manage.

When adding a new collection, you have the choice between Partial (Preserve) and Full (Replace):

  • Choose Full (Replace) as your Layout Mode to remove any user-created groups. This mode also prevents users from making changes to the groups that you define.
  • Partial (Preserve) gives users a bit more freedom and merges default and user-created groups with those defined by PolicyPak. See an example below.

Adding a New Collection with PolicyPak Windows Start Screen Manager

Selecting Tiles for Your Users

Once you make a collection, its time to start adding your desired tiles. As you can see below, PolicyPak integrates with and utilizes the Group Policy Management Console. In this way, you can create all of your policies with a single pane of glass. It also works with SCCM and your preferred MDM solution as well. In the below example, we are adding to our newly created collection called “Work Stuff” by adding a Desktop Application Tile.
Adding a New Desktop Application Tile with PolicyPak Start Screen Manager

PolicyPak was designed to be intuitive for Windows admins to minimize the typical learning curve experienced by many solutions. The process of adding a new tile is completely wizard-based, so the entire progression is guided from start to finish.

Using a The Windows Start Screen Wizard to register an application

The wizard guides you through the process of selecting the desired application you are want to publicize on the Start Screen. In the example below, we are choosing Google Chrome.
Windows Stat Screen Desktop Application Tile Editor for Google Chrome

Customizing Tiles

The Windows 10 Start Screen is a lot more complicated than the legacy Start Menus from Windows 7 and Windows XP. These legacy operating systems just listed the user’s applications. PolicyPak Start Screen Manager lets you dictate the position and size of each tile in your managed Start Screen Groups. See an example below. Like so many of the PolicyPak solution components, you can enable Item-level targeting. This feature allows you to specify the exact granular conditions to apply your settings. Maybe you want to make a Start Screen that’s specific for laptops. With PolicyPak Start Screen & Taskbar Manager this is no problem.
You can also choose only to pin Start Screen tiles when a user meets a specific condition. For example, you can apply pins only when a user is on an RDP session or within an Active Directory group. PolicyPak offers all of the same targeting conditions you’ve come to know in Group Policy Preferences.

You can target the Start Screen settings to Windows 10, Windows 2016, and Windows 2019. In this example, we’re applying Start Screen tiles only when a user is in the East Sales Users group.
Here’s a video demonstrating the true potential of empowering Start Screen Manager with Item-level targeting here.
Using the Windows Start Screen Editor to Modify Google Chrome Tiles

You can create tiles for more than just Registered Applications, however. You can do so for Windows Universal Apps as well. Plus, you can import an XML file from a Windows 10 machine to enable the desktop experience. In this way, you can configure a Start Screen Policy for a Windows Server. You can also deliver and enforce Edge tiles for critical websites or cloud-based applications. In this way, you can provide simple one-click access for your users. You can watch a full video demonstration outlining all of these scenarios.

PolicyPak Makes You a Super Admin of the Start Screen

With PolicyPak, there is no debate on who controls the Windows 10 Start Screen. Whether you want full governing power or just partial control, PolicyPak can achieve whatever results you want.

You can use PolicyPak even when your computers are off-site or managed by MDM solutions. See how to manage the Windows 10 Start Screen with PolicyPak Cloud Edition and PolicyPak MDM Edition.

You’re in charge of your Windows computers. Use PolicyPak Start Screen Manager to take control.

Jeremy Moskowitz

Founder & CTO, Microsoft MVP in Group Policy, Enterprise Mobility, and MDM

Jeremy Moskowitz founded PolicyPak Software after working with hundreds of customers with the same problem they couldn’t manage their applications, browsers and operating systems using the technology they already utilized.

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