Dell recommends Windows 8.

Providing a Consistent Experience for Windows 8 Users

Brien Posey, Freelance Writer and Former CIO | 7/18/2013 | 19 comments

Brien Posey
One of the problems that early adopters of Windows 8 have experienced is the lack of centralized control over the Windows 8 Start screen.

Although administrators might initially populate the Start screen with specific tiles, it was way too easy for users to delete or rearrange those tiles. Until recently there was also no easy way to provide users with a consistent Start screen layout across devices. Thankfully, this is changing in Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2.

Soon administrators will be able to define standardized Start screen layouts and enforce that layout on all manner of Windows devices.

The process begins by manually configuring the Start screen to achieve the desired layout. Once the administrator has done this, the next step is to export the Start screen layout. This will be possible through a new PowerShell cmdlet that is being provided in Windows 8.1. The cmdlet is called Export-StartLayout, and it is used to dump all of the information needed to reproduce the Start screen into an XML file. The actual cmdlet usage might look something like this:

Export-StartLayout –Path \\MyDC\Layouts\Marketing.xml -- as XML

There are a couple of things that are worth noting about the command shown above. First, check out the path. Rather than providing a local path, I am using a share on a domain controller. The reason for this is that the CML file will be enforced through Group Policy settings. As such, it will be necessary to replicate the XML file to the various domain controllers throughout the domain.

The other notable thing about the command shown above is the exported file's name. Obviously, you can call this file anything that you want, but in this example, I am using Marketing.XML. The reason I chose this particular filename was to illustrate the point that you are not stuck using a single, global Start screen configuration. You can use a different Start screen for each department if you want to.

The only thing that really limits your usage of XML files is your Group Policy structure. For example, if all of your users are lumped into a single organizational unit within a common domain, then it is going to be tough to deploy department-specific Start screen configurations.

Once the XML file has been created and has been written to a location where it can be replicated among your domain controllers, you can make Group Policy aware of the XML file. To do so, open the Group Policy Editor on a Windows Server 2012 R2 domain controller and navigate through the Group Policy tree to User Configuration | Policies | Administrative Templates | Start Menu and Taskbar. Next, double click on the Start Screen Layout setting. When the Start Screen Layout dialog box appears, you must enable the policy setting and provide the path and file name of the XML file that you created earlier.

Now, the user will receive a consistent Start screen whenever they log in. It is worth noting, however, that because this technique is dependent on Group Policy settings, it only applies to logins from domain-joined devices. This means that users will receive the consistent Start screen when they log in from Windows 8 PCs or from Surface Pro tablets, but not from Windows RT devices or Windows Phone 8 devices.

If you do want to provide users with a consistent Start screen on Windows RT devices as well, then you could theoretically use the device's local Group Policy settings to reference the XML file. Because Windows RT 8.1 has not been released yet, that technique cannot be verified yet.

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michaelsumastre   Providing a Consistent Experience for Windows 8 Users   8/31/2013 8:19:37 AM
Re: Start Screen + Loopback
I think adoption is more or less the same as Windows 7. The biggest problem is that the changes in the interface appear so radical to a lot of people they are more vocal about their resistance to the updates. I'm pretty sure a lot of people like the changes, but their voices are drowned by those who don't. Also it doesnt help the fact Windows 7 is stil a very good OS, and the standard for mobile computing is sadly not a Microsoft product. It is an uphill climn for Windows but they have the resources to make it work.
Randomus   Providing a Consistent Experience for Windows 8 Users   8/30/2013 11:22:00 PM
Re: Start Screen + Loopback
Michael: At this point, I don't know what it would take for Microsoft to get users onboard with Windows 8.  The company recently began shipping 8.1 to OEMs, and it doesn't seem the OEMs are overly optimistic that it will suddenly help boost laptops – and especially PCs – without serious price cuts.
michaelsumastre   Providing a Consistent Experience for Windows 8 Users   8/28/2013 9:53:36 AM
Re: Start Screen + Loopback
Windows 8 especially makes this idea possible. Certain detailsof your Microsoft account and by extension, your pc settings and certain apps, are stored in the cloud. Hence it is possible to use any connected Windows 8 pc to log in to your account. Okay the current pc number is limited but this limitation can be easily retrofitted to fit the needs of many companies.
Randomus   Providing a Consistent Experience for Windows 8 Users   7/28/2013 4:37:47 PM
Re: Start Screen + Loopback
Trek: Microsoft and so many vendors are pushing cloud-based solutions, so it's something that is completely possible. Mobile users especially have wired, WiFi, cell coverage, and other manners to access the Internet, which gives them access to their personal clouds.
anthony.nima   Providing a Consistent Experience for Windows 8 Users   7/28/2013 12:19:26 AM
Re: Start Screen + Loopback
@Marif: I have my doubts on how user friendly it will be still. Anyway fingers crossed
Marif   Providing a Consistent Experience for Windows 8 Users   7/26/2013 12:42:45 PM
Re: Start Screen + Loopback
@Trek: I apologize as wel for not understanding, as I took it into the context of win8 mobile OS. And personalization of start screen via cloud would be an advantage for the users.
Trek   Providing a Consistent Experience for Windows 8 Users   7/25/2013 1:30:19 PM
Re: Start Screen + Loopback
@ Marif,  I apologize, I should have been more clear.  When I said 'mobile start screens', I meant the ability to use any laptop or P.C. at work, and the ability for the employee to  bring up your their customized start screen via the cloud.
Marif   Providing a Consistent Experience for Windows 8 Users   7/25/2013 1:22:14 PM
Re: Start Screen + Loopback
@Trek: For some people I think it matter. If we look at the download count of the personalization apps for the smartphones (especially android) they are huge in number. So people like to customize their phones as per their liking. 
Trek   Providing a Consistent Experience for Windows 8 Users   7/24/2013 7:53:05 PM
Re: Start Screen + Loopback
I wonder if with the cloud and mobile startscreens, how much this really matters. Pretty much, any employee could go to any computer and log into their own unique start screen. It's the same applications, just in the order the employee wants it. 
JosephMoody   Providing a Consistent Experience for Windows 8 Users   7/23/2013 8:20:11 AM
Start Screen + Loopback
As we start testing out PowerShell 4 and this feature, we faced the limitation that Brien mentioned:

"The only thing that really limits your usage of XML files is your Group Policy structure. For example, if all of your users are lumped into a single organizational unit within a common domain, then it is going to be tough to deploy department-specific Start screen configurations."

Because all of our users a lumped into large OUs, we are testing the use of Loopback Policy Processing and applying these to computer OUs. So far, our small test is working!
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