The Windows 8 Start screen is a touch-based replacement for Windows’ old starter menu that is rich with features. It was created for use across the consumer and enterprise space – allowing users to keep tabs on various types of live information, from Twitter feeds to stock information.

Although appealing for consumers, this array of features and flexibility can be difficult for IT departments overseeing a diverse infrastructure to manage.

Microsoft’s release of a control of the Start screen control function last autumn acknowledges this potential difficulty and allows IT managers to set the layout of the Windows 8 start screen across multiple company laptops and desktops. For example, an IT manager might want to ensure that all company issued devices feature key apps, such as Internet Explorer, Office and the desktop icon and that these are easily accessible and in consistent locations.

Setting the Start screen in such a way is fairly simple to do. Once an IT manager has configured the screen they can use a PowerShell cmdlet to export this to an XML file, which is then applied to the users' PCs via the Group Policy Editor. The screen is then locked by enabling the setting and linking to the layout file the IT administrator exported via Windows PowerShell. This process prevents users from customising the interface and ensures consistency across individual workgroups or the company as a whole.

Different configurations for different groups of users are possible, and some user adjustments are permitted if required. Similarly, an IT department can distribute different layouts to different users by repeating this process and creating several different group policies via different layout files.

The resulting company-wide controls can prevent unnecessary confusion among users as well as help limit calls to the IT department from employees that can’t find the required apps or have become lost in a potentially complicated start screen.