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.