The Windows 8 Start Screen gets a bad rap, but with the right tweaks and a couple of downloads, it can actually be useful. Here's how to make the Start Screen into something you'll want to use.
Add Useful Widgets And Shortcuts With Start Screen Unlimited
Microsoft's built-in desktop gadgets were removed in Windows 8, but that doesn't mean you can't get a few essentials back with third-party software. Previously mentioned Start Screen Unlimited adds several widgets to the Start Screen, including at-a-glance battery stats, Wi-Fi information, shutdown and restart shortcuts.
This tool has a lot of baked in functionality that you can customise. One of the most useful is the power menu. From here, you can shut down, reboot, sleep or hibernate your computer with the tap of a button. Until the 8.1 update, this functionality was confusingly hidden in the Charms menu, and Hibernate still isn't available. Start Screen Unlimited puts it front and centre.
Another useful feature is the ability to quickly jump to the Control Panel or other key locations in Windows from the System menu. The Control Panel remains an important location in Windows 8, but getting to it usually involves searching. With Start Screen Unlimited, it's one button and two clicks away.
Keep Your To-Do List Visible With To-Do Prime
As of Windows 8.1, you can now resize live tiles on the Start Screen. This is particularly handy for applications like to-do lists. While some of our preferred services like Wunderlist or Google Keep don't have official apps, To-Do Prime picks up some of the slack with a powerful to-do list application. Where it really shines, though, is that you can pin to-do lists to a live tile and give that tile a hefty chunk of real estate, so your tasks are never more than a Windows key press away.
Add Your Google Calendar To A Live Tile With Gmail Calendar
Windows 8's built in Calendar app is fine if you live in Microsoft's ecosystem, but for those of us who prefer Google Calendar, we can use Gmail Calendar. This Windows 8 app adds a live tile for your events to the Start Screen so you can see what's coming up at a glance. If you'd prefer not to install an entire app for this function, it is possible to integrate Google Calendar with Windows' Calendar app by following the instructions here. Unfortunately, this method doesn't allow you to add events via Windows, only to view them.
Stay Aware Of Your Laptop's Charge With Battery Level
Not every laptop has a very detailed way of keeping you informed of how charged your device is or how long you have until it's depleted. Battery Level adds a handy live tile with a percentage readout so you can see how much power you have by simply going to the Start Screen. The app requires Windows 8.1, which means you can resize the tile as you see fit to take up as much or as little space as you want.
Give Microsoft's Built In Live Tiles A Chance
We've discussed whether or not Windows 8 has improved recently and there are conflicting views on this, even among Lifehacker writers. However, one of Windows 8's key features, live tiles, are probably more useful than we give them credit for. Microsoft's built-in email, messaging and calendar apps can provide at-a-glance info (and system-wide notifications) for a variety of services. It's not perfect for everyone, and it may lead to a weird hybrid experience with some tasks being done in a "modern UI" style and others in the traditional desktop, but the Start Screen genuinely can provide more information and do more things than the Start Menu could before. It's not for everyone, but it may be worth the effort for some users to try out those don't-call-it-Metro features we've all been ignoring.