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Configuration options for Windows 10 startup

Startup in Windows 10 is a little different than Windows 8. The Continuum feature alters how the OS behaves depending on what kind of device it's running on.

Since it was first introduced, Windows 8 has been widely criticized for its interface. Microsoft has made some GUI improvements in Windows 10, but continues to tweak them in preview releases.

Most people seem to consider the Windows 8 Start screen an annoyance. Microsoft attempted to appease angry customers in Windows 8.1 by giving them the option to boot to the Windows 8 desktop, skipping the Start screen altogether.

For those who have never enabled the boot to desktop feature, it is really easy to do. Simply right click on the task bar and choose the Properties command from the shortcut menu. When Windows displays the Taskbar and Navigation Properties dialog box, go to the Navigation tab and select the checkbox that says, "When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start" (Figure A).

You can configure Windows 8.1 to boot to the desktop.
Figure A

Because Microsoft is doing away with the Start screen in Windows 10, it stands to reason that the option to boot to the desktop will also be gone, but there are some other options for configuring Windows 10 startup behavior.

Figure B shows Windows 10’s Navigation tab. The dialog box has been renamed Taskbar and Start Menu Properties. You will also notice that in the preview release available as of this writing, the Start screen portion of the tab still exists, but most of the options have been removed.

This is Windows 10's Navigation tab.
Figure B

So that’s the end of the story, right? Not quite. The screen capture shown above was taken from a Windows 10 deployment running on a Hyper-V virtual machine, but Windows 10 is designed to run on a variety of device types including PCs, tablets and smartphones.

In designing such a diverse OS, Microsoft realized that the operating system needed to behave differently depending on what type of device it was running on. For example, most PC users probably want the interface to behave more like Windows 7 than Windows 8. Conversely, the Start screen probably makes more sense for touch-only devices, such as smartphones.

Interface based on form factor

Rather than forcing users to toggle back and forth between Desktop mode and the Start screen -- as was necessary in Windows 8 -- Microsoft wanted to make the Windows 10 interface act in a manner appropriate based on device type. To achieve this goal, Microsoft introduced a feature called Continuum.

Continuum automatically puts the OS into the mode that makes the most sense at the moment. For PCs, this means always booting to the desktop (which now has a Start menu).

Continuum works a little bit differently on tablets and convertible devices. When Windows 10 starts, it checks for the presence of a keyboard. If no keyboard is detected, then the device will boot into tablet mode, which looks a lot like the Windows 8 Start screen. If a keyboard is detected, then Continuum will cause the operating system to boot to the desktop.

But Continuum isn’t just a boot-time feature. It constantly monitors the system’s status and makes changes to the operating mode when necessary. For example, if you attach a keyboard to a tablet device, then Windows will instantly switch into desktop mode.

Of course this raises the question of what happens if you don’t like the mode that Continuum forces you into. The first Windows 10 preview build contained an option to use the Start menu instead of the Start screen. You could effectively disable this option and use Windows 10 in a way that was similar to Windows 8.

This option has been removed from the current Windows 10 preview. If you like the Start screen, you can access a pseudo Start screen in Windows 10 by opening the Start menu and clicking on the icon that looks like four arrows. Doing so makes the Start menu go full screen (Figure C).

The Start menu can be used full screen.
Figure C

Curiously, the Navigation tab still contains a grayed out option labeled "Don’t show Start after I sign-in. It is possible that this option is only enabled on tablets.

Next Steps

Is Windows 10 ready for the enterprise?

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What you can do to optimize Windows startup

This was last published in March 2015

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