We are all used with the old and familiar desktop shortcuts on our Windows computers. But with the new Windows 8, we got a new way of launching and organizing things: it is named tiles. What are they, what do they do, what’s the difference between them and the classic desktop shortcuts and what are the options for customizing them? These are the questions I will answer in today’s article.
Understanding the Tiles in Windows 8
The classic shortcuts that we are used to, are simple icons that point to applications (files), folders, network locations or libraries.
They are still present in Windows 8, but now they are not the only kind of shortcuts we can use. In Windows Phone and now in Windows 8, Microsoft introduced this thing called tiles. These tiles are still shortcuts but with some important differences and characteristics:
- They are non-transparent rectangles or squares - larger than normal sized icons used for the shortcuts found on the Desktop.
- They are placed in a grid ONLY on the new Start screen. They won’t be found on the Desktop.
- They can point only to Windows 8 apps and not to desktop applications, files, folders or libraries.
- In general, they perform the same task as the old shortcuts: if you click or tap on a tile, the result is that the application to which it points will be launched. For example, if want to open the Music app, then all you have to do is click or tap it’s tile.
- Unlike shortcuts, tiles are designed to also display information in real time from the application they point to.
- The information displayed can be presented in various forms, depending on how the tile was designed, ranging from simple text to an image or even a set of images. For example, if you take a look at the People app tile, you will see a slideshow that presents sets of images of all your friends.
Another nice example is the Mail app. Its tile will sequentially display your latest received e-mails and, in the bottom right corner, it will display the number of your unread messages.
Before getting to the next section of this article, I would like to make sure you remember this very important idea: tiles work only for Windows 8 apps. Yes, you can place shortcuts to desktop applications on the Start screen. Also, these shortcuts are shown inside squares that look like tiles, but they are not tiles. They are simple shortcuts placed on the Start screen. Apart from being square, shortcuts don’t share other properties with tiles.
How to Select a Tile
The first step in the process of customizing a tile is, of course, selecting it. To select a tile, simply right-click or press and hold on it (on a device with touch), while slightly dragging downwards. Upon selection, a bar with the options available for this tile will be displayed on the bottom of the screen.
If you select the shortcut of a desktop application found on the Start screen, instead of a tile, you will notice that the contextual options available on the bottom bar, are very different.
You can also try to select multiple tiles at once. For this, you just have to continue right clicking all the tiles you want to modify (or press and hold on them until they become selected). However, the options available will narrow down.
How to Customize a Tile
With a tile, you can do the following: Unpin from Start, Uninstall, make it Smaller/Larger, Turn live tile on/off.
These options do exactly what their names imply:
- Unpin (remove) the tile from the Start screen, without removing the application it points to.
- Uninstall the app to which the tile points and remove its tile from the Start screen.
- Display the tile as a small square or as a large rectangle, depending on what you choose.
- Choose if live data from its app is displayed or not. If you turn off the live tile, the tile will be a static square (or rectangle), showing just the name and the icon of the app.
If you make multiple tile selections, a Clear selection option is available alongside Unpin from Start.
Working with tiles is a new and interesting way of interacting with Windows 8 apps. Personally, I find tiles refreshing and useful - one of the cool novelties about Windows 8. Hopefully, with this article, I managed to explain clearly what they are and how they can be used. For other cool tips about Windows 8, don’t hesitate to read the articles recommended below.
Introducing Windows 8: Group Shortcuts on the Start Screen and Name Them
The Complete Guide to Pinning Everything to the Windows 8 Start Screen
Seven Ways to Access the Start Screen in Windows 8
The Desktop Tile Missing from the Start Screen? How to Add it Back