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Mastering modern apps: 4 ways they can work for you

Alex Castle | March 6, 2014
It's time to give Windows 8's modern-style apps some respect. Admittedly, some Windows Store apps are inferior to their desktop cousins. But many others take advantage of the full-screen modern (also known as "Metro") interface to provide a different and better experience. With an open mind and a little TLC, your Start screen can be a great resource. Here are four ways you can get the most out of modern apps.

Master the basic controls for moving around Metro tiles. Click, hold, and drag to rearrange tiles. As you move them around, you'll see that the Metro interface automatically tries to keep your tiles bunched together in vertical groups. If you want to start a new group or have an icon in a column all by itself, drag the tile into the space between two columns. You'll see a light-gray vertical bar appear, which means a new column will be created.

By default the Start screen doesn't include any labels, but you can create text headings for each group of apps. To do so, right-click once on any tile, or right-click on empty space and then click on the Customize button. This will show you the label fields for each of the tiles groups.

When you right-click on a tile, you also have the option to resize it, from the miniscule "small" to the double-wide-and-tall "large." You could make all apps in a particular group the same size, but throwing in a few larger tiles breaks up the grid and makes it a lot easier to navigate the Start screen at a glance. Also, note that apps with data-heavy live tiles benefit most from the larger tile treatment.

4. Create Live Tiles for desktop applications

With Windows 8.1, developers can create Modern tiles for any program, but almost no traditional applications take advantage of this ability. You're pretty much stuck with bland, ugly little icons that you can't resize.

There is a way to spruce up your legacy software's live tiles. It's a free, compact app called OblyTile. You don't have to install anything, just download and run the executable. You'll see a number of fields that allow you to create custom tiles of any size for any application, folder, or website. Enter the address you want the tile to launch into the "Program Path" box, then add an image to display as the tile. You can add a different image for each tile size. Alternately, you can just enter one for the size you intend to use, and OblyTile will try and squash and stretch the image as best it can for the other sizes. Once you're done, click "Create Tile," and your new, custom live tile will be placed directly onto the Start Menu.

Incidentally, if you ever want to do just the opposite — create a desktop shortcut for a Windows Store application — OblyTile can do that too. Just click on the button toward the left of the top row that looks like the Windows logo. You'll see a list of the Windows Store apps installed on you system. You can choose any of them and click a button to add a shortcut for that app to your desktop or taskbar.


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