Sunday, October 20, 2013

Windows 8.1 - User experience customisation

Since Window 8, Microsoft has introduced new look and feel for Windows Operating Systems. This new look and feel has changed and improved user experience in Windows 8.1
In Windows 8.1 Microsoft has made changes in three main areas – look and feel of Start screen, changes around PC settings and Desktop. In this new operating system Microsoft has introduced more customisation options then its predecessor Windows 8 which means, we can adopt those customisation into our managed operating environment and deploy to our end user devices.

Start Screen (Not really a Start menu):
One of the important feature of windows 8 and windows 8.1 is the start screen. The start screen gives a fresh and refine look to the OS. Initial start screen has multiple tiles in various sizes. Basically we can define these each tile as a shortcut to an application or gadget. Some of the tiles are static and some of them are dynamic which updates and get refreshed automatically. If we install an application it will create /add tiled shortcut on the desktop. This means all the start menu program files are replaced with tiles in Windows 8 and 8.1.

Charm Menu:
In Windows 8.1 each corner of the display has a significant defined function. If we hover the mouse on the ride side of the display / screen, we will get a bar with Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings. This is called Charm menu. We can bring the charm menu moving the mouse on the top or bottom right corner of the screen. We can even access the charm menu from any application by simply going the top or bottom corner of the right side of the screen.

Using the charm menu Search (which is a search charm), we can search anything on the device. By default the search charm will search everywhere on the local device.
The Share charm will let us share the contents using screen shot and mail.
Start charm will get you the start screen which is the landing screen for windows 8 and windows 8.1.
Devices charm will let you play, print and project.
Settings charm is one of the important charm, where you can customize all your pc settings and apply desired personalisation. We can also access PC Settings from Apps view and we can pin to Start.

Apps view:
As mentioned above, in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 all the apps are displayed on the tiled form on the start screen. If we required to move into completed Apps view, move the mouse towards the lower left corner of the Start screen, where a down arrow appears when we hover the mouse.

In Apps view we will able to see all installed applications. New programs are no longer pinned to start as part of the installation process. Instead they appear in the App view.
We can re-arrange the installed applications using –
             By Name
By date installed
By most used and
By category

Windows 8.1 includes significant improvements in multiple-monitor support then any of its predecessors. The important new features is, if we have two different size screens we can set two different screen resolutions which suits for the screen sizes and supported resolutions based on the monitor specifications. Where as In Windows 8 and earlier versions, the same scaling is used for all monitors. Windows 8.1 automatically adjusts the scaling factors individually.

The biggest change in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 desktop is Start Screen. Even though most of the desktop made of the tiles still works as any other windows operating system, including the task bar and notification area along with its icons. What we will miss is typical classic start menu and start menu programs. If we want to access some of the classic start menu functions, we can still access them by using Windows Key + X. This short cut key will provide a useful start menu functions as below:

Installed applications and other administrative tools works same as its predecessors. Accessing Taskbar is same as in other Windows operating systems. But in Windows 8.1 there are some new tabs (Navigation) added to Taskbar properties. By access Navigation tab, end user can customise the corner navigation and start screen behaviour.

Corner Navigation tab allow us to enable or disable the hot corners at the top of the screen. These options are useful for users who want to avoid accidentally triggering the menu or the app-switching bar. If we clear one or both check boxes, the bottom corners continue to work, but moving the mouse pointer into one of the top corners has no effect. The third option, also enabled by default, sets Windows PowerShell as the default command-line environment on the Windows key+X menu. Clear this check box if you prefer to use the traditional Command Prompt (Cmd.exe) instead.
Options under the Start Screen heading allows us to configure the Start screen and its behaviour.
Go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in this option will bypass the Start screen after signing in and go directly to the desktop.
Show my desktop background on Start this option replaces the normal background colours and patterns for the Start screen and uses the same background as the desktop. Changing the desktop background in Personalization options changes the background for the Start screen as well.
Always show Start on my main display when I press the Windows logo key this option is useful on systems with multiple monitors.
The final three options in this section allows us to set up Apps view to match our preferences:
Show the Apps view automatically when I go to Start With this option selected, clicking the Start hint on the taskbar will takes us to the Apps view, bypassing the Start screen and its tiles.
Search everywhere instead of just my apps when I search from the Apps view this option is available only if the previous option is selected and changes the default search scope to Everywhere when you start typing from the Apps view.
List desktop apps first in the Apps view when it’s sorted by category this option flips the order of the two groups of apps in the Apps view, showing desktop apps on the left, with Windows Store apps arranged to the right of desktop apps. Again, this option is most useful for users who prefer desktop programs and want to see a comprehensive list of those apps instead of Windows Store apps.

Customizing the Start screen for better user experience:
In a managed environment, creating a standard Windows 8.1 image for deployment involves the same set of actions as customizing an individual user experience. For a normal PC user most of the Windows 8 apps are useless and do not add any value to the business. It may be worthwhile considering removing all the installed application’s and only keeping the required application what actually needed to the end user and productive to the organisation.
We can customise the start screen in various ways such as moving tiles, re-arranging tiles into groups, pin and unpin tiles, configuring live tiles and uninstall windows store apps. There are many more ways to do the customisation but these are the starting point.

Managing the user experience:
If we are using a PC for home use or home users, we don’t have to worry too much. Whereas for business especially corporate world managing the OS consistency and retaining the look and feel of the Operating System is an important task. Luckily Windows 8.1 includes a collection of new Group Policy options we can use to control the desktop experience in a standard configuration. These policy settings are found under the following two Group Policy paths:

User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Edge UI Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings don’t appear when the mouse is pointing to the upper-right corner of the screen If we enable this policy setting, the (Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings) no longer appear when the mouse pointer is in the upper-right corner. They are available if the mouse is pointing to the lower-right corner.

Do not show recent apps when the mouse is pointing to the upper-left corner of the screen If we enable this policy setting, the user is no longer able to switch to recent apps using the thumbnails of the last app and currently running apps that appear in response to this mouse gesture. Touch gestures, keyboard shortcuts, and the Start screen still work for app-switching purposes.

Prevent users from replacing the Command Prompt with Windows PowerShell in the menu they see when they right-click the lower-left corner or press the Windows logo key+X This policy setting allows us to prevent users from replacing the Command Prompt with Windows PowerShell in the menu they see when they right-click the lower-left corner or press Windows logo key+X. If you enable this policy setting, the Command Prompt will always be listed in that menu, and users won’t be able to replace it with Windows PowerShell. Users will still be able to access Windows PowerShell using other methods—from Apps view or from a shortcut, for example.

User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Start Menu and Taskbar Go to the desktop instead of Start when signing in If we enable this policy setting, users will always go to the desktop instead of the Start screen when they sign in.

Show the Apps view automatically when the user goes to Start If this policy is enabled, Apps view appears whenever the user goes to Start. Users are still able to switch between the Apps view and the Start screen.

Search just apps from the Apps view this policy setting prevents the user from searching apps, files, and settings (and the Web if enabled) when searching from Apps view. This policy setting is ignored unless Apps view is set as the default view for Start.

List desktop apps first in the Apps view with this policy setting enabled, desktop apps are listed first in the Apps view when apps are sorted by category. Other sorting options are available, and the user can choose to change their default sorting options.

Show Start on the display the user is using when they press the Windows logo key this policy setting applies only when using multiple displays. With this policy setting enabled, the Start screen appears on the display the user is using when she presses the Windows logo key.

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