Options for Managing Go to Desktop or Start after Sign in in Windows 8.1

This post has been republished via RSS; it originally appeared at: Ask the Directory Services Team articles.

First published on TechNet on Apr 07, 2014

Hi, David here.  Over the past year we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from our customers about the pain of changing from older versions of Windows over to Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.  While it’s a great OS with a lot of compelling features, it’s a big change – and as any desktop administrator will tell you, change is a really scary thing for users who just want to be able to log in and get their work done every day.  Well, we listened, and in the update we’re releasing this week, we’ve made it easier for you to help manage the change for your users and make the transition to Windows 8.1 a little more friendly for them.  Below is some awesome information courtesy of the inestimable Warren Williams.

First, a quick history lesson.  Don’t worry, there’s not a quiz at the end.

Start Screen history

Starting with Windows 8.0 Start is the main application launch pad in Windows. Start replaces the Start Menu used in previous versions of Windows going back to Windows 95.

With each update of Windows 8.0, more control over Start’s configuration has been added.

Windows 8.0

The Start Menu was removed from Windows and replaced by Start. The default behavior in Windows 8.0 is that users always boot to Start. There was no Microsoft supported method of controlling the boot to Start behavior in Windows 8.0.

Windows 8.1

In Windows 8.1 Microsoft added the ability for users and administrators to control what environment would be displayed when the user logged on. The user can either boot to the Start screen or the Desktop. The behavior was still to always boot to the Start screen however the behavior could be controlled manually with a setting in the Taskbar Navigation properties. Administrators could use a new a Group Policy “Go to the desktop instead of Start when signing in” to specify what environment the user would see after signing in.

Everyone got that?  Ok, let’s talk about the new stuff now.

Windows 8.1 Update

In Windows 8.1 Update Microsoft added the ability for the OS to perform device type detection. After applying Windows 8.1.update Tablet devices will boot to the Start Screen and have modern application file associations. All other device types boot to the desktop and the desktop application file associations. The two preceding behaviors occur if the default setting for Taskbar Navigation properties have not changed.  Some things to note:

  • If customizations to the Start Screen behavior had been made by the user before applying Windows 8.1 Update those customizations will remain in effect.

  • Group policy will take precedence over Windows 8.1 update 1 default behavior. If the Boot to Desktop settings are controlled by Group Policy a user will not be able to makes changes to the Taskbar Navigation Properties.

How Device Type Detection works in Windows 8.1 Update

Device type detection in Windows 8.1 Update is accomplished by querying the value of Power_Platform_Role and taking action based on the value set. The value for Power_Platform_Role is set by the manufacturer of the device and cannot be changed. If the value for Power_Platfor_Role is set to a value of 8 the user will sign in to Start. Any value other than 8 will cause the user to sign in to the desktop, instead of the Start Screen.

The possible values for Power_Platform_Role are:



















Table 1Power_Platform_Role Values

See this MSDN page for more information: “ POWER_PLATFORM_ROLE enumeration

How to query a device’s Power_Platform_Role value

Run the following command at elevated cmd prompt

Powercfg /energyreport

At the top of the report look for Platform role field

To change the default behavior using Unattend.xml see the Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup | DesktopOptimization | GoToDesktopOnSignIn

Tablets that boot to the desktop

It is possible for a tablet device to boot to the Desktop if the tablet’s Power_Platform_Role was set to a value other than 8 by the manufacturer. Windows does not set the value of Power_Platform_Role nor can the value be changed. The value is set by the device manufacturer in the BIOS and is read by Windows at boot time and stored in WMI.

See: “POWER_PLATFORM_ROLE enumeration” - http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/desktop/aa373174(v=vs.85).aspx

Options to Control Sign in to Desktop Behavior in Windows 8.1 Update

Fortunately, you can change the behavior without having to be an OEM.

Manually - Taskbar Navigation Properties

To manually change the environment that the user logs on to perform the following steps

1. Open the desktop

2. Right click on the taskbar and select properties

3. Select the “Navigation” tab

a. If you want the Start Screen to load when a user logs on uncheck the box “When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start”

b. If you want the Desktop to load when a user logs on check the box “When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start”

Figure 4Taskbar Navigation Properties

Administrative - Group Policy

A Domain Administrator can use Group Policy to control the Boot to desktop behavior on many machines from a centralized location. If Group Policy is used to control this setting the user will not be able to change the Boot to desktop behavior. If an administrator wants users to be able to set the desired behavior they should set the default behavior in their image. The Group Policy is located in the this path

“User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Start Menu and Taskbar\Go to the desktop instead of Start when signing in”

Description of this Group Policy

“This policy setting allows users to go to the desktop instead of the Start screen when they sign in.

If you enable this policy setting, users will always go to the desktop when they sign in.

If you disable this policy setting, users will always go to the Start screen when they sign in.

If you don’t configure this policy setting, the default setting for the user’s device will be used, and the user can choose to change it.”

Figure 5Group Policy to control "Go to desktop instead of Start" behavior

Administrative – Deployment using a Unattend.xml answer file

Deployment Admins can specify if the user go to Start or the desktop after signing in using the DesktopOptimization tag in their unattend.xml file. This method allows admins to specify a default behavior and still allow users the ability to set their preferred Sign in environment.




For more information consult the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK) helpfile. The ADK can be downloaded from here. http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=30652

Hopefully this information helps all of you out there with giving your users a better experience on Windows 8.1.

- Warren “The Updater” Williams

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