start screen

My Windows Phone Start Screen

Earlier today, Paul Thurrott (@thurrott) tweeted a picture of his Windows Phone Start Screen ( As I like to share, I thought I’d show off mine too.

My Windows Phone Start Screen Top

So here’s the top half of my screen. In the top left corner, we’ve got my tiles associated with calling: Phone and Lync. Our company isn’t yet using Lync externally but we should be sometime soon so I wanted to get the icon in early. On the right side, I’ve got the People hub. Strangely, as I took the screenshot, Paul managed to work his way into the picture.

Back over on the left, I’ve got Rowi. I paid for the full version of the app because frankly, it’s worth supporting the guys at Hidden Pineapple because the app is great. To the right of this, I’ve got my SMS/MMS message box and my Linked Mailbox tile for my personal domain account and my work account. I love linked mailboxes as it means I see all of my mail and manage all my unread and flagged items from one view. Rowi and People Hub earn themselves large tiles as they have notifications and animations which deserve the size.

On the row below this, I’ve got four of my most used apps on the phone. These only deserve small tiles as they don’t give anything useful in terms of tile feedback and notification. From left to right, we’ve got Facebook, eBay, YouTube and the Music Hub. The new YouTube app is brilliant and so much better than the mobile site redirect which is what the old version amounted to.

One of the first things that I think is striking about my screen is how the People Hub and Rowi tiles are offset. This was my way of stopping the screen looking too uniform; a little bit of structured chaos.

The row below has my calendar exclusively. My calendar is heavily used with meetings for work and personal events such as kids lessons, appointments and birthdays, so I like to have this large as it means I get the subject and location of the meeting on the tile to save me having to crack into the full calendar app. It’s important for me to have the calendar here also as it means that I don’t have to scroll to see it; it’s there all the time on the first view of the start screen.

My Windows Phone Start Screen Bottom

Here we have the bottom half of my screen. I’m a simple to please person, with not too many apps installed on my phone and as such my start screen is pretty short – So much that you can see the top half of the screen on the bottom half.

At the top of the bottom (like that makes sense) we have the Internet Explorer tile on the left as a large tile. I use the mobile browser lots so I like to have the icon large to make it easy to just smash at anywhere on the screen. To the right of the IE tile, I’ve got four small tiles in a block. These are lesser used but still often enough to warrant a spot on the screen. In order, we’ve got the Unit Converter, OneNote, MediaHub and IMDB.

Unit Converter is simple yet effective. OneNote speaks for itself. I use SkyDrive to store all my notes so that they are available across all my devices. MediaHub is a great little app that I’ll leave you to discover for yourself and finally IMDB speaks for itself – I’m a bit of a film lover but I’m not very good at recognising actors and actresses so I like to be able to easily look them up to see what other films they’ve been in.

Photos is last on my screen and gets a full tile. I’ve got quite a lot of pictures of the kids on the phone so I like to see them from time to time.

Media Center Auto-Start on Windows 8

With my backend server update to Windows Server 2012, I was keen to get my media front-end up to Windows 8 also to take advantage of SMB 3.0 for improved performance of opening and accessing the media stored on the server. I rebuilt the front-end about two weeks ago, taking advantage of the free Media Pack upgrade prior January 31st. I had already tested the components I use to make my media center tick including Shark007 Codec Pack, MyMovies and MediaControl so I knew all was good.

After installing Windows, the software needed and configuring auto-login for the media center service account, I proceeded to copy the shortcut I used in Windows 7 to launch the Media Center application into the Startup start menu group for the account. In Windows 8, the Startup group can be found in %AppData%MicrosoftWindowsStart MenuProgrmsStart-Up. With the shortcut added, I restarted the machine to test the result.

In Windows 8, to help attract people to the new Start Screen, the Start Screen automatically opens at login of any account. What I found was that this screen would pop over the Windows Media Center application which is hardly seamless for a keyboard and mouse free front-end. Using the remote, I clicked the Desktop tile on the Start Screen and Media Center appeared as expected, but I couldn’t control it. The reason was that although the application was now visible, it didn’t have focus so any inputs were ignored. Attaching a mouse to the machine and clicking anywhere in the Media Center interface restored focus but short of writing an AutoIt macro to do that for me (which is a nasty hack) this isn’t what I wanted or needed.

Luckily, a colleague pointed me in the direction of a Group Policy setting used sometimes in Remote Desktop Services or kiosk computer scenarios where the Explorer interface is hidden and a default application launched in it’s place. The setting still existed in Windows 8, so I gave it a shot and guess what? It works perfectly. I’m in the fortunate position that I am using Windows Server 2012 Essentials in a domain scenario so I was able to apply the Group Policy from the server, however this fix will work equally well for a non-domain scenario.

The policy setting can be found under User Settings > Administrative Templates > System. The setting is named Custom User Interface.

Enable the setting and specify the name of the application you want to launch. In my case, it is %WinDir%eHomeeShell.exe /nostartupanimation /mediamode.

It’s highly recommended to use environment variables here and not local paths if you can as I have done above. This will also work for Windows XP, Vista and 7 along with working for XBMC, Plex and other media clients you may use besides Windows Media Center. The byproduct of this is that startup performance is actually improved as you are no longer waiting for the Explorer shell interface to launch, and it prevents a few processes from running on the machine, giving you a little more CPU and Memory available.

As you will see, I use a couple of switches with my Windows Media Center startup to control the behaviour of it, which I would also recommend. These two switches stop the animation of the Media Center logo upon startup which I find saves about a second in load times and the second enters Media Mode. In this mode, Media Center’s close and minimize buttons are disabled causing Media Center to always run full screen and cannot be closed unless you use the manual Exit Media Mode option in the menu.

In the next couple of days, I’ll try and get a YouTube video up demonstrating the process for configuring this setting both via Windows Server 2012 Essentials domain and locally using the Local Group Policy Editor.