Group and Organize Your Start Screen Tiles in Windows 8

(Jill Duffy PC Mag) Keeping your computer organized and your desktop clutter-free can be pretty difficult. And with last week's official release of Windows 8, users have another screen they need to get used to organizing—the new Metro-style Start Screen. It uses large rectangular or square tiles in place of the standard icons you've seen on older Windows operating systems. For better organization and grouping, you can group similar items onto a page (similar to many smartphones), you increase or decrease the size of any particular tiles, and you can remove tiles that you rarely use

For better organization and grouping, you can group similar items onto a page (similar to many smartphones), you increase or decrease the size of any particular tiles, and you can remove tiles that you rarely use.

All of these options and more are showcased in the video below.



Even though I am not new to Windows by any stretch—it's an operating systems with which I've developed a deep and complicated love-hate relationship since the mid 1990s—I have been struggling with not only how to arrange the tiles on Windows 8 thematically, but also physically how to do it.

Get OrganizedThat's all to say that this article takes a pretty elementary approach. If you consider yourself a Windows power user, stop reading here and instead check out Michael Muchmore's Super Guide to Windows 8.

Windows 8 Tile Organization

Background. Windows 8's user interface looks remarkably different from prior versions of Windows. Instead of clicking on desktop icons to get to your favorite programs, you'll find "tiles" on a new Start screen. You can rearrange these tiles, just as you can organize app icons on most smartphones.

Download and install apps before organizing existing ones. Before you start rearranging the placement of tiles to your liking, I recommend downloading a few apps first. The reason? Some apps are one-by-one squares, while others are rectangular and twice as wide as they are tall. See the image above. Notice how the tiles for Wikipedia, StumbleUpon, and Goals are twice as wide as any of the others. You can shrink a rectangular tile to the square dimensions to make it fit more neatly if you like (which I'll explain how to do on the next page).

Plopping a double-wide tile into an organized set can throw the whole thing off. So try to get a bunch of tiles on your plate before you start moving them around.

Tip: Any time you can't find something, try hovering on the right side of the screen, or swiping from right to left on a touch-screen tablet or PC, or use Windows key+C on the keyboard to uncover "Charms," which notably include the Search button.)

Organize by themes or workflow? Some people like to organize their apps by theme, grouping together programs that accomplish similar feats, but I think a better rationale is to group by workflow.

On all my devices, I tend to cluster apps according to how often I use them and which ones I use in conjunction with others.

Methods for arranging tiles on the screen. There are many ways to organize your apps, and I'll explain three of them here.

First I'll share the way I do it. I put high-use apps onto "hotspot" sections of the screen, or areas where I am likely to put my fingers or reach with my mouse first. For me, these areas tend to be in the lower left and upper right corners. For many touch screen users, the hotspots are vertical areas along the left and right sides, near your thumbs when you're holding the device.

Another way to order your apps is to slot them by use in grid formation, left to right and top to bottom.

A third solution: Cluster by workflow. For example, set all your office tiles together, maybe adding the "print management" tile to that group, too. Another example would be to group leisure apps, like games and Web discovery tools, together but also out of sight so that you're not distracted by them when you're trying to be productive.

You can arrange your tiles however you like, of course.

Which brings us to this question: How do you physically move tiles around the Windows 8 Start screen? It's not completely intuitive on a touch screen device.

How to Move Windows 8 Tiles

On the previous page, I recommended downloading some apps before you start arranging them. As you download them, some appear as tiles on your start screen and others do not. So where are the rest?

Windows 8 Find missing tiles. To see all your tiles, go to the start screen and swipe up. A blue-green bar will pop up at the bottom. Press the "All apps" button.

Add tiles to the start screen. Find the program you want to add to your start screen. Gently press it, pull down, and release it (have patience, as it takes practice to get this rhythm right). A check mark will appear, and the app will be highlighted in a blue-green rectangle. Another bar appears at the bottom of the screen. The leftmost button says Pin to Start (or Unpin from Start if it's already on the start screen). Press that, and viola.

Make rectangular tiles into squares. To change a double-wide rectangular tile into a square, gently press, pull down, and release the tile, then look for the button on the bottom that says Smaller. You can revert back to the rectangular shape using the same action. Not all tiles can change dimension, although rectangular tiles can always become squares and can always be restored to the rectangular shape.

Rearranging tiles. Back on the start screen, you'll use the same motion as before—press gently, pull down, release—to rearrange your tiles. Tiles again have a blue-green highlight and check mark on them when they're active and ready to be dragged around to a new place. To move a tile to an area that's not visible on your start screen, just drag it all the way to the edge of the screen, until the viewer slides over.

Rearrange grouped tile sets. As you arrange your tiles, you'll notice they cluster into sets. You can tell a set because it's defined by a larger margin area. To move these tiles en masse, first zoom out by pressing Ctrl- or holding Ctrl while using the mouse wheel (or "unpinch" on a touch screen). Again, use that three-step motion—gently press, drag down, release—to select the group. You can now drag it wherever you like. You can also name each group using the bar at the bottom.

Finally, to create new group, swipe up on a tile and drag it right past all existing groups.

More Windows 8 Info

Whether you dig the new Windows 8 or not, tiles are central to the experience (although there are third-party apps that can suppress the new Start screen if you really dislike it). So set them up into organized groups that make sense for you, whether by theme or some other logic.