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How to tame the Windows 8 Metro Start screen

With dozens and potentially hundreds of tiles stretching across the new Start screen, organizing them all can be a chore, but one that's doable.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

The Windows 8 Metro Start screen can quickly get overrun with a huge number of tiles, making it hard to find the app you need. How can you manage this mishmash?

Users who have taken the Windows 8 beta for a spin already know that the Metro Start screen poses certain challenges. For every app you install -- Metro or non-Metro -- one or sometimes several tiles are plopped onto the Start screen. Each Web site you pin gets its own Start screen tile. Displaying features such as Administrative Tools adds even more tiles.

Windows 8 is designed with a tablet in mind, so the vast array of tiles spread out horizontally rather than vertically. And since Metro doesn't support folders, you can't neatly tuck a group of tiles into their own individual homes. I've been using the Consumer Preview for the past month and a half, and I already have to navigate through countless screens worth of tiles.

Although you can't change the behavior of the Start screen, you can work with it to keep your apps better organized and easier to find.

First, any Start screen tile for an app you don't regularly use can be deleted. Simply right-click on the tile, and choose the Unpin from Start option. If you ever want the app back on your Start screen, you can always find it in the Apps menu (right-click on an empty area of the Start screen, and then select the option for All Apps. Right-click on the tile, and choose the option to Pin to Start).

Large tiles can be made smaller to take up less space. Right-click on any large, rectangular tile. You'll see an option at the bottom to make it smaller, turning it into a tiny square.

Next, you can move tiles around the screen to organize them according to your tastes. Just drag and drop each tile to its new spot until each one is arranged properly.

You can also move tiles away from each other by putting them into individual groups. Drag a tile to the right or left of its current group until you see a transparent vertical bar. Dropping the tile creates a visible space between it and its former group. You can use this method to organize tiles into their own unique categories.

Taking that a step further, you can move entire groups of tiles to organize them. Click on the Zoom icon in the lower-right corner of the screen. The Start screen will zoom out to give you a wider perspective. Hovering your mouse over an individual group will highlight every tile in the group. Drag the group and move it to another location. When done, click anywhere on the screen to zoom back in. As an example, you can position groups of tiles for frequently used apps toward the left and those for lesser-used apps further to the right.

As one more step, you can name each individual group to easily identify it. Again, click on the Zoom button. Right-click on the group you wish to name. Click on the Name Group option at the bottom of the screen, and enter a name for the group, such as Metro Apps or Web Sites.

Grouping tiles also makes the Metro Start screen a bit easier to navigate on a PC. Instead of using your mouse's scroll wheel or keyboard arrow keys to move to the right or left, press the Page Down and Page Up keys to jump from one entire group to another.

After this initial organization of the Start screen, most of the labor is done. But each new app you install places its tile all the way at the right end of the screen. So you'll likely want to drag it to a better spot or an appropriate group.

With the Windows 8 Release Candidate and final version, Microsoft may offer better ways to organize the Start screen. But for now, a little bit of work up front can turn that potentially huge mess of tiles into a more manageable and friendlier environment.