Customize the Windows 8.1 Start Screen during MDT task sequence Enterprise deployment

Customize the Windows 8.1 Start Screen during MDT task sequence Enterprise deployment

For enterprises, Windows 8.1 delivers the control around the Start Screen that should have been there in Windows 8.0, there’s still no programmatic way to pin or unpin shortcuts from the Start Screen.

Windows 8.1 introduces a Group Policy method for distributing a Start Screen layout, but that’s a policy – i.e. it’s enforced that approach only makes sense in specific cases (e.g. schools, kiosks etc.). Note that Start Screen control is only available in Windows 8.1 Enterprise and Windows RT 8.1

Microsoft have an article available on TechNet that describes a number of ways that you can configure the default Start Screen experience that will work for Windows 8/8.1, Window Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2, but the choices are:
1.Create a reference image and use the CopyProfile setting in unattend.xml to customise the default profile including the Start Screen
2.Use the StartTiles setting in unattend.xml to specify a list of tiles to add to the Start Screen
3.Use SysPrep to generate AppsFolderLayout.bin and then copy that to the default profile

I suggest you use the Powershell cmdlets that provides a way of getting your custom Start Screen layout into the default profile. These works for all edition of Windows 8.1.

This approach is really about customising the default Start Screen experience (i.e. first logon). If you want control of the Start Screen (users receive the same screen every session) you will need Windows 8.1 Enterprise or Windows Server 2012 R2. You can use this method to customise a reference image, an unattended deployment.

High level overview:
1.Deploy and/or log onto a machine that has the applications that you want to pin to the Start Screen
2.Customise that Start Screen to your heart’s content
3.Export the Start Screen configuration with Export-StartLayout
4.Import the Start Screen configuration with Import-StartLayout

To Export the Start Screen layout in binary format, (Import-StartLayout won’t import XML files) see Export-StartLayout command below:

Export-StartLayout -As BIN -Path CustomStartScreenLayout.bin -Verbose

The documentation for Import-StartLayout indicates that this cmdlet only works against offline images (mounted with ImageX); however the cmdlet can be run against the current Windows installation which is ideal for MDT task sequence deployment. The following command will import the customisation into the default profile of the local system. This will need to be run from an elevated command prompt.

Import-StartLayout -LayoutPath .\Basic.bin -MountPath c:\