Windows 8.1 Boot to Desktop: Maybe the Designers were Right

Randy Guthrie – Microsoft Technology Evangelist

One of the new features in Windows 8.1 Preview is the much requested option to boot directly to the traditional Windows 7-ish desktop instead of to the Windows 8 Start Screen that features the tiles. In other words, when your computer starts up; after logging in the first screen you see can see this:


instead of this:

Screenshot (16)

Changing the settings isn’t hard, but it’s not something you’ll find just searching for it. Note: this only works with the 8.1 preview; it is not part of the production version of Windows 8.

Go to the Desktop, then right-click in the taskbar, and select “Properties”, then click on the navigation tab to open up this menu:


Check the box in the Start Screen list that says “Go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in”.  Then click the “OK” button.  Next time you start up you’ll go to the desktop first.  incidentally, the navigation part of the properties menu is new; some of the other options look interesting.  I may end up un-checking the “search everywhere” option since the results are sometimes too broad and include Internet search results as well. I’ll have to play with that one and see. 

When I first heard about this feature I enabled it on one of my laptops since I use it primarily as a desktop computer connected to a large monitor.  It doesn’t have a touch screen so I figured going to the desktop would save me a step. It turns out that more often than not, once I log in, I hit the Windows Key on the keyboard and go to the Start Screen to launch the apps that I want and then go back to the desktop.  Yes, I can pin the Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. ) and Visual Studio icons on the taskbar and not have to go to the Start Menu, but more often than not I end up wanting to go to the Start Screen first.  I like the live tile notifications that appear on my favorite apps, so for the way that I use the computer now, it works better for me to launch to the Start Screen instead of the Desktop, even though I don’t have a touch screen in front of me. I am starting to think that the Windows UX designers may have been right all along, and that over time this option will end up being one of the most requested and least-used features in the new release.

What do you think?






Comments (32)
  1. Simon says:

    Seems like a good option to have; most people use desktop icons to start apps instead.

  2. Anand Khanse says:

    You have a point. Even I have noticed that after landing on the Windows 8.1 desktop, I do end up opening the start screen to check the notifications and launch a few apps or programs. But then I suppose, old habits die hard and people just feel more comfortable when they see the desktop first. 🙂

  3. Longhanks says:

    People don't like tiles on Windows Phone, so Windows Phone has a low market share. Even Windows 8 sales say you f*cked it up and still you guys don't get the message.

    People don't like your tiles. No matter how often you compare yourself with other companies in stupid ads or try to force Asus, LG or any other company to ship Windows 8 with their devices. People just don't like them.

    Even your Surface sales are embaressing. People are requesting an option to boot to the desktop. You now offer this option, still you say people won't use it that often.

    Turn it on by default and look how many people will change the settings to boot to the start screen. Then you have your answer.

  4. When did the Windows UX designers talk about this? Do you have a link?

  5. Dave / Tampa says:

    Well yes, as long as there is no menu in the desktop mode – it is still gimped.   Stardock Start8 fixes this.  I never go metro, and even if I want to run a metro app, I run it in a window in the desktop.

  6. WindowsBlues says:

    I'm a desktop user for life. Reductionist mobile design paradigms have no place on the desktop PC.

    Any attempts to improve the new Modern interface and make it more productive or robust will only be re-inventing the desktop in a different skin, and we already have a perfectly functional desktop.

  7. Matthew says:

    That's the way YOU use it. I use keyboard shortcuts and pinned task bar apps primarily and don't care to get "live" information on my desktop that I've already received on my smartphone and tablet. If I were running 8 on a tablet I might go to the Metro screen first, but on a desktop I just don't. Otherwise I actually really like 8. And 8.1 is pretty decent too, though I wish I could make the start button go away because I use the buttons on my keyboard to switch between the Metro and desktop screens.

  8. Howard Abraham says:

    My favorite feature of Win 8.1 is the ability to run desktop apps side-by-side with Metro apps.  The start button and boot to desktop nonsense was neither required nor desired.

  9. Rocky Augustein says:

    I don't like the fact that you have to tie an e-mail account to your log in, and if you internet is down windows 8 & 8.1 does not let you log in.

  10. Jeff S says:

    I agree completely about the Start screen being the way to go with Win 8!

    It took me a week or two to get used to it during the first beta, but it absolutely makes sense when user actually USE it, instead of complaining about it simply being different.

  11. সাদ আহমেদ ফয়সল says:

    I'd like to see the desktop first. I have the favorite apps pinned in my taskbar and I like it that way most.

    It may end up that way but a desktop is meant to be desktop, and desktop should appear first.

  12. Andy Hinomiya says:

    A more efficent workflow would be to set up the most used desktop applications to autostart (IDE, web browser, etc.)  In this case, there's no reason not to boot straight to the desktop.

  13. Richard says:

    It sounds like what Microsoft did was adhere to the letter of the request instead of changing the experience back to something Windows 7-esque.  The whole point of going back to the desktop is because you already know how the desktop works and where everything is.  Giving Windows 8.1 customers a "desktop" that requires them to jump through additional hoops to get to the programs they want to use sounds to me like Microsoft saying "OK, we heard you, we'll give you what you want, just not the way you want it" and by default people will then pick the "easier" of the two interfaces (the Start Screen).  By doing that, people will fall right in line with how MS will do things OS-wise from now into the foreseeable future.  I think MS is just manipulating its customers into seeing things their way.

  14. adamaragon says:

    as a longtime windows user I've just not been able to get behind metro/win8 I always boot to desktop and then NEVER think about the tile interface. I've tried forcing myself to use it, but the dichotomy no desktop vs desktop eventually rears it's ugly head and something triggers desktop mode, and then I'm stuck switching between desktop / metro back and forth and eventually i go 'screw it' and just work in desktop mode again. The "Tile" interface is great for TOUCH devices, that's it, it's just not usable for real work, gaming, media, etc on a desktop.

  15. Mark W says:

    I think they got it half right.  They needed to also allow the option to bring back the Start button and everyone would be happy.  We purchased Windows 8 licenses at my work, but rolled out Windows 7 partially due to the interface changes (mass confusion for the users) and also due to it not being fully approved for compatibility with all our main applications.

  16. Dan says:

    On the contrary, I am in the same situation as you but I keep to the desktop icons. I also have switched to using "Apps View" instead of the start screen. Only modern-style apps update information; and I only use the weather one. so it is not really worthwhile. Not to mention tiles and full screen apps are a bit overwhelming on larger screens. I use the start screen on my  Surface RT and love it, but it has a specific place and that is with a tablet or other small device. I really like the ability to have an "apps view" instead of a start screen because I feel as if it is an update to the beloved start menu for people who have a mouse and keyboard environment.

  17. Mark says:

    I agree with you but I think most people who enable this option will probably install a Start Menu replacement utility also so they won't go the the Start Screen, they will just open a Start Menu on the desktop.

  18. Dimsdale says:

    I am staying with the start button approach: Win7 Is just fine.  Classic Shell is saving me on the single small laptop that I have that shipped with Win8.  Metro is too touch centric, and I am NEVER going to use a large touch screen at my desk.  I don't want to sit that close, and I abhor fingerprints all over my screen.  It is fine for a phone, a nightmare for a desktop.  No wonder businesses are avoiding this paradigm shift, although I am sure MS will eventually force them to change.  I will reserve further judgement until I see a shipping version of 8.1.

  19. @Dimsdale: I agree with you totally about a touch screen on the desktop. I bought one last year when 8.0 came out and never used it.  However, I donated it to my church's computer lab and it is great for showing someone how to do something because you don't have to commandeer the mouse.  I also have a Lenovo X1 Carbon ultrabook with a touch screen and there are times when it is faster to use touch.  I was in a meeting with a professor yesterday and had some reference materials queued up on my notebook and as we were talking, it was much easier and faster to use the touch screen to scroll through the document than to use the touch pad. Some of my colleagues agree with me, that in some scenarios, if you have a touch device, some actions are more natural and efficient using touch.  No cure for fingerprints though 🙁 .

  20. Thomas B says:

    I agree completely. It is more convenient to be able to find things on the new Start Menu or Metro like screen. By pinning frequently used apps there, you don't really need desktop shortcuts. More often then not I just type in what I want to run anyway. It does depend on what you want to do though and it is a change to the way things were done in the past. People don't like change, and thus the negative reaction is the result.

  21. Steve D says:

    Just want to use the Desktop with Start Menu like Windows 7 and older version. because it is much quicker and easier to find apps directly from start menu in desktop.

  22. rock says:

    no matter how MS says about the new UI, it is a confusing system when you have Metro UI and desktop UI mixed all together. if MS are brave enough and if they can have all apps running in metro, they can remove the desktop and run everything as a metro app. but now, you will have to jump between metro and desktop. even you open MS office-word from START screen (metro UI), you will find your self land on the desktop when the word program actually starts. moreover, after you are done with Word and close it, you stay on the desktop. want the new UI? go to click start button. but why we need to jump between these two? Win8 is a half-cooked pie……

  23. Claire says:

    How do I do this if I do not have an 8.1 I just have 8???

  24. abdo says:

    Windows 8.1 2014 Update Build Leak screenshot's :Boot to desktop option selected by default…/windows-81-2014-update-build-leak.html

  25. Jay Jayson says:

    There are more baby boomers still using Windows 7 that like me will NOT switch to Windows 8. As had been stated Windows8 is for phones and tablets. My mother is 82 and threw her new Toshiba satellite in the trash..this took place after speaking with Toshiba rep for 2hrs giving the poor girl a good reason to change her occupation. In the end I was forced to rebuild her HP Windows 7.

  26. Morvael says:

    Old post I know but I'm really confused as to how the new Windows 8 Start menu can be seen as anything other than a replacement desktop that has some nice features (live tiles) but is essentially just a desktop with less functionality than the other desktop.

    Why not just have live – monstrous – tiles on the actual desktop that open the applications. Essentially these tiles are just shortcuts to executables, the same as the shortcuts on my desktop.

    I still just pin my most commonly used applications to a custom toolbar to the right of the start button just as windows XP did it. They are always there – never change location and should I want to open multiple applications at one I can quickly and easily do so.

    Some people say people are just resistant to change, but I tried windows 8 for 9 months, about 3 months in I installed Start8 to put my start menu back but eventually found that the Metro Apps directory was locked to the C drive and virtually impossible to clean up (remove old apps) so rebuilt my PC and went back to Windows 7.

  27. Teresa N says:

    Would work great if there were actually such thing as a "Navigation tab"

  28. Bill D says:

    The tiles were just another example of Microsoft's UI incompetence and hubris in pushing their customers into the mud while trying to teach them to not use the path they prefer.  Windows 8 was SO bad that they won't name anything Windows 9 – just go to 10 to avoid the Vista-like stink of 8.

  29. @Bill D, IMO the tiles weren't the problem, the lack of affordance was. There was no way to figure out how to use Windows 8 if you were a Windows 7 user.  I am seeing more and more "tile" type designs everywhere, including iOS and Android, so the concept of tiles was actually leading edge. Windows 10 fixes the affordance issue pretty well from what I have seen in the technical previews. My wife struggles to use a computer (her brain visualization and wiring is very different from mine) and I upgraded her computer from Windows 7 to Windows 10, and she has had almost no trouble (she hates having to learn Outlook but that is another issue not relating to the UI) using it, and it has the tiles on the Start Menu in a way I really like.

  30. Derek says:

    It would be better if you could go straight to the sign in screen instead of having that useless screen that you have to click on an icon to go to sign in, and then go to the desktop.

  31. @Derek.  I'm right there with you. I think the screen is a soft replacement for Ctrl-Alt-Del that sort of prevents login spoofing so people aren't tricked into entering login credentials. I could be wrong though.

  32. Veronica says:

    Your article is very helpful. The tiles is just too much for me. Thanks a lot!

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