Microsoft begins testing updated Start menu UI with latest Windows 10 preview build

Theme Aware Start menu
Theme Aware Start menu (Image credit: Microsoft)

What you need to know

  • Changes to the Windows Shell are top billing for today's build.
  • Start, notifications, and Taskbar all getting updates.
  • A focus on improving UI designs.

Microsoft has released a brand new "active development" build of Windows 10 in the Insider Dev Channel today, and with it comes a handful of notable new features and changes to the Windows Shell, including the Start menu and Notifications UI. This is the first set of notable new features Windows 10 has received this year, and hopefully it's a sign of more things to come.

Today's build is 20162, and it's focused mainly on UI improvements and changes. The Start menu Live Tiles are getting unplated backgrounds that match your system theme, which should make the Start menu itself look much cleaner when using light or dark mode. In addition, notifications are now using the same UI layout as found on Windows 10X, which is much cleaner.

Microsoft is also changing the default taskbar layout for new installations. If you sign-in to a Microsoft Account when setting up a PC, depedning on whether you have an Android phone already linked, or if you're installing Windows on a "gaming PC," the taskbar will automatically pin either the Your Phone app or the Xbox app to the taskbar.

The full changelog is below:

Theme aware Live Tiles in Start

We are freshening up the Start menu with a more streamlined design that removes the solid color backplates behind the logos in the apps list and applies a uniform, partially transparent background to the tiles. This design creates a beautiful stage for your apps, especially the Fluent Design icons for Office and Microsoft Edge, as well as the redesigned icons for built-in apps like Calculator, Mail, and Calendar that we started rolling out earlier this year.

This refined Start design looks great in both dark and light theme, but if you're looking for a splash of color, first make sure to turn on Windows dark theme and then toggle "Show accent color on the following surfaces" for "Start, taskbar, and action center" under Settings > Personalization > Color to elegantly apply your accent color to the Start frame and tiles.

ALT + TAB between apps and websites

Are you a multitasker? We have exciting news for you! Beginning with today's build, all tabs open in Microsoft Edge will start appearing in Alt + TAB, not just the active one in each browser window. We're making this change so you can quickly get back to whatever you were doing—wherever you were doing it.

If you'd prefer fewer tabs or the classic Alt + TAB experience, we've added some settings for you under Settings > System > Multitasking. You can configure Alt + Tab to only show your last three or five tabs or choose to turn this feature off completely.

A more personalized Taskbar for new users

Personalized Taskbar Newpc

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

We want to help customers get the most out of their PCs from day one, and that starts with offering a cleaner, more personalized, out-of-box experience to give you the content you want and less clutter. This provides us with a flexible, cloud-driven infrastructure to test customer reception of default Taskbar content and tailor these layouts based on user and device signal.

We will evaluate the performance of individual default properties, monitoring diagnostic data and user feedback to assess an audience's reception. Using this information, we will tune default layouts to minimize clutter and perceptions of bloatware.

Improving the notification experience

We are making some changes to improve the notifications experience in Windows 10. First, know where your toast is coming from by checking out the app logo at the top. Done with the notification? Select the X on the top right corner to quickly dismiss and move on with your life. And second, we are turning off the Focus Assist notification and summary toast by default, so we will no longer let users know that Focus Assist has been turned on through an automatic rule via a notification. This can be changed back to the previous behavior via Settings.

Making Settings even better

We're continuing to work on bringing capabilities from Control Panel forward into Settings. As part of this ongoing effort, we are migrating information found in Control Panel's System page into the Settings About page under Settings > System > About. Links that would open the System page in Control Panel will now direct you to About in Settings. We are also bringing new improvements like making your device information copyable and streamlining the security information shown. And don't worry—if you're looking for more advanced controls that lived in the System page in Control Panel, you can still get to them from the modern About page if you need them!

Improving the tablet experience for 2-in-1 devices

Previously, when detaching the keyboard on a 2-in-1 device, a notification toast would appear asking if you wanted to switch into tablet mode. If you selected yes, you would switch into tablet mode. If you chose no, it would give you the new tablet posture experience introduced in the May 2020 Update (or simply the desktop on earlier versions of Windows 10). We are further updating this experience by changing the default, so that this notification toast no longer appears and instead will switch you directly into the new tablet experience, with some improvements for touch. You can change this setting by going to Settings > System > Tablet. Some users may have already seen this change on Surface devices.

And to address confusion with some users getting stuck in tablet mode on non-touch devices, we are removing the tablet mode quick action on non-touch devices.

In addition, new logic is incorporated to let users boot into the appropriate mode according to the mode they were last in and whether the keyboard is attached or not.

General fixes

  • We fixed an issue resulting in Insiders experiencing bug checks when connecting and interacting with an Xbox controller.
  • We've fixed an issue causing some games and applications to crash at launch or fail to install.
  • We fixed an issue resulting in Microsoft Edge not navigating to websites when WDAG was enabled on the last 2 flights.
  • We fixed an issue which was increasing log off time in recent builds.
  • We fixed an issue with the Chinese Pinyin IME where after setting your preferred IME toolbar orientation, you may not be able to change it again after rebooting your PC.
  • We fixed an issue causing Reset this PC to always show the error "There was a problem resetting this PC" when launched from Settings in the last few builds.
  • We fixed an issue resulting in some Bluetooth devices no longer showing their battery level in Settings in the last few builds.
  • We fixed an issue where Settings would crash if you went to Settings > Privacy > Microphone while a win32 app was recording audio.
  • We fixed an issue where if Sound Settings showed "no input devices found" in the input dropdown and you clicked it, then Settings would crash.
  • We fixed an issue where when adding a printer, the dialog might crash if you navigated through to the "Add a printer driver" dialog in recent builds.
  • We fixed a graphics related issue resulting in some users experiencing bugchecks.

As always, you can check out the full changelog at the Windows Blog, including a list of known issues.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

77 Comments
  • I'm glad the tile is finally gone in the app list.
  • Actual changes in an Insider build? And optical changes at that? What is this? In all seriousness, this looks good, definitely a marked improvement.
  • The start menu update is definitely a welcome change. Hopefully this is just the first step into implementing the design from the 1 billion users celebration video.
  • Sad to see that Microsoft, a company that prides itself on accessibility, is making the start menu harder to use for those of us with poor eyesight. I rely on the colors of individual tiles to tell apps apart. Making them all the same means that my app list becomes unusable. Shame on Microsoft for claiming to be accessible, then turn around and make life harder who are less-abled.
  • While it may be disappointing to you that the new default look might be harder to see, it is a design win for the vast majority of other users. I would recommend leaving a suggestion to make this optional in the Windows feedback tool so that your opinion is heard through official channels. I'll even add an upvote if I see your feedback!
  • Stairs are a design win for the vast majority of people (cheaper to construct than elevators or ramps and require less space to implement), but no one is recommending replacing all building ramps and elevators with stairs. Open office plans are a design win for the vast majority of people (less construction cost, easily adaptable to an organization's needs), but are detrimental to individuals who neuroatypical that get ticks from over-stimulation (eg. autistic people). Downward facing lights are a design win for the vast majority of people (more light per bulb being directed at living space, standard and therefore cheap construction), but provide harsher light than upwards facing light and cause a mental drain on people who rely on visual cues for all communication (eg. Deaf people). Instead of picking something that's a design win for the vast majority of people, why not pick something that's a design win for all people? (If you've ever been to Gallaudet University, the American Deaf university, you'll see that new and renovated buildings are being constructed with all-inclusive design choices rather than vast-majority-inclusive design choices). Anyways, I've posted feedback at https://www.windowscentral.com/e?link=https2F%2Fclick.linksynergy.co... thanks for mentioning that this was an option (completely forgot that the Feedback Hub exists)!
  • You're what's wrong with society. Advocating to the lowest common denomenater or the slowest people.
    Just like the school system now where teachers prioritize the worst students, giving them the most time and adjusting the curriculum down to their level to not let them fail, while the best students and fastest learners stagnate and never progress. Why not put these weak students in remidial classes most will say. No the advocates shout. That will hurt the weak students self-esteem and isolate them. Of course the best students as are isolated but who cares of them. As well as the vast majority would benefit from harder material, learn more we are hurting the majority to accommodate the minority. It's time to move past PC culture and stick the slow kids in a group of their peers, while lifting up the good students to more appropriate learning opportunities.
    Same goes for your ramps, open floor plan, lights and every other regressive policy that hurts the best, more capable and compatent employees or citizens. If the weak, slow incapable people need special facilities or changed spaces let them go searching for a facility that wants worse performance. Stop with this one size fits all bs that hurts so many to help so few.
  • I can't tell if this is a parody or what....
  • Woah easy there. Sounds like we go a superior human over here. Bow down I guess?
  • Did your school not have AP classes or options to take college courses, or are you mad you weren't chosen for them?
  • Wow, I guess you approve of concentration camps and the slaughter of people who don't fit with your idea of perfection then?
  • Isn't it awesome when people who have no idea whatsoever what the world looks like thru disabled eyes tell you you're wrong on what you need to use something? I love when that happens to me.
  • "Sad to see that Microsoft, a company that prides itself on accessibility, is making the start menu harder to use for those of us with poor eyesight."
    According to the notes there is an option in Settings to use accent colors instead:
    "This refined Start design looks great in both dark and light theme, but if you’re looking for a splash of color, first make sure to turn on Windows dark theme and then toggle “Show accent color on the following surfaces” for “Start, taskbar, and action center” under Settings > Personalization > Color to elegantly apply your accent color to the Start frame and tiles."
    I'd also assume the existing "ease of access" high contrast mode would help you for this situation.
  • I think his concern is that tiles won't be able to have individual colors, only a theme color across all tiles. This is already the case with all of Microsoft's apps now. Regardless of theme they all have blue background.
  • You missed the point of my criticism of the design, Daniel. I'm not talking about the tiles being the same color as the Start Menu, I'm talking about the colors being the same color as each other. For example, the tiles for the Office apps all have extremely tiny icons, but have vibrant, individual colors as their background. I rely on the dark blue to tell that a tile is for Word, the light blue for Outlook, and the burnt orange for PowerPoint. Opera is bright white with red accents, and Firefox is orange with dark purple accents. This new approach, where all tiles are the same color, means that I can no longer tell these apart, whether they're the same color as the Start Menu or using my accent color. FWIW: the high-contrast mode has the same issues. All tiles become black with white text. There are no distinguishing features on tiles. in high-contrast mode
  • Please give feedback on this, they will be willing to include an option to revert to 'legacy' tile mode or something similar. This may be very important for people in similar situations, there's always a potential option - this is Windows after all, options everywhere.
  • Feedback is was posted at https://www.windowscentral.com/e?link=https2F%2Fclick.linksynergy.co... hopefully MS makes this an option rather than forcing this new and inaccessible UI
  • The vibrant office colors you speak off are gone for 2 months now if you do a clean install. They replaced it with dark grey backgrounds like To Do. You can actually make all your own custom tiles with background colors by switching a few parameters in the VisualElements.XML file of the application folder. I understand your case but the current look is horrible and ugly for no reason so I am really applauding this design. You can use different third party tools, not upgrade or customize your own tile or enable high contract mode. Endless possibility for specific use cases like yours. Also the best way without any visual cues would just to type the first three letters of your app and hit enter.
  • "The vibrant office colors you speak off are gone for 2 months now if you do a clean install." That's unfortunate. At least my tiles are still colors so I can distinguish them. "You can actually make all your own custom tiles with background colors by switching a few parameters in the VisualElements.XML file of the application folder." Good to know, thanks! "...not upgrade..." MS allows users on Windows 10 Home to skip updates altogether? I wasn't aware of this. "Also the best way without any visual cues would just to type the first three letters of your app and hit enter." Difficult when using a tablet (yes, I'm one of the few that use Windows 10 in tablet mode).
  • In this case, pin them to the taskbar and you will remember where they are with muscle memory, or use desktop shortcuts with the icon size set to large (ctrl+mouse scroll wheel).
  • That's the point of this being in the Dev Channel, so they can make changes based on feedback from users such as yourself. The new start menu may never make it into the next version of Windows anyway.
  • But the icons with their unique colors are still there. Shouldn't be any harder tell the difference considering before any "themed" live tiles were all one color anyway. Also it's still up to third party developers to choose their tile colors by the way.
  • Not all the icons are easy to see. I can't actually tell what the Firefox logo is on it's icon. I simply see a blob of orange on a dark purple background. Same with the Office Apps. I cannot see the logos of each individual app; I'm stuck relying on the color of the tiles because the icons are small and hard to make out.
  • I know this isn't a popular option with most people and doesn't really fix the issue you're having but have you tried the full screen start menu?
  • I have low vision and I hear ya.
  • I understand your concern, I am colourblind and have different issues. However, could you not just use the search bar to find the app. Much quicker
  • Difficult to do when using Windows 10 in tablet mode. The colorful tiles are much easier than bringing up the search box and software keyboard.
  • This is an insider build. Still subject to change. I hope this does not mean another way of hardcoding things into the Start Menu but rather a nice looking refactor of a generic approach. To me this change means that the OS is now capable of setting transparency and color on live tile backgrounds dynamically. Your suggestion is valid and should be considered. This change however to me does not mean that accessibility is off the tables. It to me rather measn that now there are additional tools in Fluent Design tool to make your position even better. Now the OS could in a generic way also apply contrasted, complementer colored background to the most common icon color on the live tile background making things even better in for example a high-contrast theme as opposed to rely on icon design itself.
  • the new icon there to tell/ differentiate which app is which.
    Also if you need more color on the tiles there is an option in setting/personalization
    to add color to start, taskbar, Action Center.
  • The unplated live tiles isn't working on my laptop.
  • Not working for me either. Even the new folder icons aren't there. Maybe those are in limited people's builds
  • They're doing A/B testing, so not everyone is getting all the different changes right away.
  • Check my post further up, that's the purpose of the Dev Channel
  • I'm reminded of the transparent tiles of WP8.1/W10M. A nice looking change on the desktop (and I assume that explains the boring grey background tiles on the Office apps), even though it feels like something that could have been done years ago to tie the 2 together.
  • I only got 20161? and no new start menu
  • Same... whats the deal?? Is this A/B testing??
  • It's SH/IT testing.
  • It's mentioned in the blog post that is a stage rollout to test quality.
  • That's the Dev Channel for you, it's designed to test concepts that may or may not make it into the next release. That's a huge change from the Fast Ring that would be for testing features that would be in the next release.
  • Every time Microsoft tries to "improve the UI" on Windows 10, it gets even worse than before.
    Not only have they turned their Dark Theme into a **** Grey Theme that looks awful, now they're ruining the look of live tiles to make them just oversized desktop icons. At this point I might as well go back to Windows 7 and turn on Aero. At least I'd rather a better designed and more consistent experience there.
  • You complain of everything Microsoft does after Windows 8. Install Linux and get over all the pains and horrors in your life. This new design is awesome. One of the last remains of the horrible ugly terrible much hated Metro era gets killed. Yay
  • Ok, he complains we get it. So do you have any idea when Microsoft will also get rid of all the designs from every Windows version since 3.1, because I see only the one from Windows 8 bugs you. And this will solve everything according to you...
  • That is because the other designs are more hidden then the startmenu.
  • Dude that they just made the background of tiles match the rest of the OS/theme more, that is the only thing they did here...
  • Exactly and this change may or may not make it into the next version of Windows as this is in the Dev Channel.
  • Apple is launching a full MacOS visual update this year, while Microsoft will struggle just to release a new Starr Menu by next spring. What is the issue with Microsoft, why are they always so slow to do anything?
  • That’s easy. Windows is no longer a priority for Microsoft. Because their real customers - enterprise users - don’t give a GD about UI changes. In fact, they don’t WANT any changes. It means new training for the users.
  • Trying to improve something that they've done before boggles the mind. W10M homescreen still looks better than this. There needs to be an option to make the grid invisible after placing tiles. Mobile can do this. The end result is a seemless collage that looks like a custom web page of apps. That was the whole concept of the start menu..
    But well, nadella can continue listening to unproductive comments like some here which come mainly from IT personnel and administrators with no sense of aesthetics.
  • I guess it is really strange that someone listens to persons that cover 90% of their revenues.
  • Not strange, Car companies should also listen to dealers and mechanics. That makes sense.
  • I'm just glad they seem to be preserving the concept of live tiles, super relieved! It's been very useful to me.
    At some point, I was worried they were about to go the way of the 'static grid' ala, iOS, Android etc.
    As for the aesthetic update, this is welcome, I guess better late than never.
  • Android has never been a static grid and even iOS is updating to have widgets too.
  • Of course iOS and Android are static grids of icons. Or did something change on my iPhone 11 and LG V50 while I wasn't looking??
  • You don't have the option for full featured widgets on your Android? Something must be wrong with it.
  • I am talking of the app icon launcher simultaneously being the 'widget' which is of course the key distinction between 'Live tiles' and 'static icons'. Furthermore, this being baked into the OS as an optional feature available to every app icon/launcher. I am quite sure you understand, no need to make this complicated.
  • He is trolling as usual, just ignore him.
  • Widgets are not the default experience for pinned apps. It is, in fact, a static grid.
  • The build number is actually 20161 - not 20162. That is an easy error to make though since 1 and 2 are next to each other on a keyboard. Also, the release note mention that most of the new visual changes are being selectively flighted so you might not see them in this build (or you might see some but not all of the changes). In the case of the taskbar changes, not many will notice them because they're only being applied to new installations (ie: PC reset).
  • You can enable A/B tests with the ViVe tool
  • can you explain how?
  • Download ViVe too from github. Extract it. Open command prompt. cd to the path of the ViVe tool. Type: vivetool addconfig 23615618 2 After it says "Successfully set feature configuration". Reboot and you should have the new start menu.
  • https://github.com/thebookisclosed/ViVe/releases
  • thanks a lot!
  • I continue struggling to see why we have huge squares around static icons (yes, 99.9% of all "modern" apps just have static tiles and the ones that do something are useless as it gets), when we can just have icons? The "Live" in Live Tiles has never been realized to its potential, why don't just remove it? And I don't think Microsoft is the next IBM. I think Microsoft is the next Oracle.
  • Agreed Live Tiles look plain odd with static icons, which is most Win32 apps.
  • What you are talking about is NOT livetiles, it is the colored tiles. 2 different things, the former is a widget-like function and the latter is the colorful/chaotic tile design which you actually meant to refer to.
  • Just remove the live tiles and have only the app list, it is not difficult. Also, you can simply resize to 'small' if you want a static grid of icons. This has been available for a very long time. I really hope they keep with the live tiles concept, it has been very very useful to me, although only about 7 apps I use have them, these have been useful, which I think satisfies the purpose enough. There is no point limiting us to just the classic static grid, since that is a subset of the live tiles. You can easily recreate the static grid if you want with the present start menu. So there is no need to deprecate live tiles, please leave it for those 'few' of us that benefit from it everyday!
  • > I think Microsoft is the next Oracle. 3 billion devices run Windows
  • Here's to the fully refreshed Start Menu coming to Windows 10 and the binning of Live Tiles. Nice ideabbut the start menu just looks a mess if you don't customise it. Which must don't.
  • The few of us that actually do really benefit from the Live tiles. I'm really relieved they don't seem to be abandoning the Live tiles concept, at least for now. It's been very useful for me.
  • Yeah and I don't understand why people keep moaning about them since they are quite handy for e.g. Weather app. It seems like people link the feature to startmenu bloatware or the colored tile backgrounds. I get the feeling many people don't really understand their use as a widget (maybe now that Apple also uses widgets and stacked widgets people will finally understand?).
  • I think Microsoft was a little ahead of the times with live tiles and with the plans for all digital, always on xbox one.
  • Is it really that hard to just disable those 2 livetiles that annoy you?
  • "ALT + TAB between apps and websites"
    First thing I'll disable. Don't need all 300+ of my tabs appearing there lol. As for the UI, I'm glad to see those ugly square icon backgrounds go. They will not be missed.
  • It looks good, look foward to it.
  • A daring claim to call it a ("spectacular") top billing. For this to be top billing the following issues need addressing and fixing too: (issues that haven't been addressed for over 5 years) 1. Snapped apps in tablet mode do not automatically rotate to portrait orientation on tablet devices. This can only be done with a workaround in desktop mode. (yeah weird right?)
    2. Apps snapped in tablet mode in portrait orientation on tablet pc devices is not a pretty and productive UI. There should be an auto translate option to rotate and /or snap apps vertically (one above the other, just like multitasking on android).
    Would be nice to have this option in landscape orientation too.
    -we should be able to customize hide the side bar in the start menu.
    - I would like to see the power button in action center, not in the side bar in start)
    -Action center should have a glanceable time and date stamp at the bottom just like in windows 8 charms bar
    -windows search should be part of action center and behave like Windows. 8 charms bar. Every time I typed on the keyboard search would auto start and start typing in the search bar and show autofill results. Current issue with windows 10 is that the search is in focus on the desktop. So in full screen tablet mode and scrolling /navigating in staat menu focus of the keyboard with Windows search is lost and I have to touch our click on the task bar windows search to rewritten keyboard focus. Annoying when having to correct this multiple times a day.
    -explorer needs a dedicated touch and pen UI in tablet mode for easier and more comprehensive navigation in app.
    -native support for ink to text input inline in all text boxes across the OS and apps. Microsoft started off, Apple is planning to implement it as standard in their tablet devices. Microsoft needs to catch up.
    - live tiles need a serious update. Pinning file tiles is currently limited to office files, folders and pdf through a workaround in Edge. No options to pin other filetypes or image/video tiles. Also high time Microsoft further pursuing interactive live tiles.
    -I have several other ideas that fit within the umbrella of top billing, but that's for another time.
  • Insider program got more complicated...!