Deploying a Locked Down Start Menu in Windows 10

The tiles in Windows 10’s Start Menu can be rather messy. By default, you get a lot – and they may be things you don’t want there such as News, Sports, Photos, Microsoft Store etc.

Since Windows 10 1607, there’s been a way to control this. Customize Windows 10 Start and taskbar with Group Policy covers how to do this, but there’s some errors and links that don’t work, so I thought it was worth giving a quick overview on how to do this.

Keep in mind that this process locks down the Start Menu tiles completely, users won’t be able to add, remove or change anything to do with tiles.

The first step is to configure the Start Menu tiles how you want them on a computer. You can add, remove, move, resize etc until you’re happy with how it looks.

Once that’s done, you’ll need to export the layout to an XML file. Easily done by opening PowerShell and running Export-StartLayout. This needs the -Path switch, e.g. Export-StartLayout -Path “C:\temp\startmenu.xml”

Copy the resulting startmenu.xml file into a central location that clients will be able to access, or copy it out to each machine through Group Policy Preferences. This XML file will be called in the Group Policy setting “Start Layout”.

The Group Policy setting called “Start Layout” lives in User Configuration or Computer Configuration > Policies> > Administrative Templates >Start Menu and Taskbar. You’ll probably want this at the user level rather than the computer level, but it depends at what layer you want this locked down at. 

If you can’t see this policy at all, then you may need to update your Group Policy templates. Each time a new version of Windows 10 comes out, there’s usually new or updated Group Policies to use. There’s a good step-by-step here if you need help – I’d recommend downloading the templates that match the latest version of Windows 10 you’re managing.

Start Layout in Group Policy

For this policy, you’ll be setting the radio button to Enabled, and setting the Start Layout File value to the path of the XML file that you copied out or placed centrally.

Start Layout Settings

Once that is done, the Group Policy object containing this setting needs to be pointed at the users or computers you want it to apply to, just like any other Group Policy.

The end result is the client then having the same Start Menu tiles configured in the XML file.

You may find that some of the tiles are missing. I’ve seen this happen when the shortcut the XML points to isn’t in the location expected. Here’s an example XML file with just one tile configured for Notepad:

<LayoutModificationTemplate xmlns:defaultlayout="http://schemas.microsoft.com/Start/2014/FullDefaultLayout" xmlns:start="http://schemas.microsoft.com/Start/2014/StartLayout" Version="1" xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/Start/2014/LayoutModification">
 <LayoutOptions StartTileGroupCellWidth="6" />
 <DefaultLayoutOverride>
 <StartLayoutCollection>
 <defaultlayout:StartLayout GroupCellWidth="6">
 <start:Group Name="">
 <start:DesktopApplicationTile Size="2x2" Column="0" Row="0" DesktopApplicationLinkPath="%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Notepad.lnk" />
 </start:Group>
 </defaultlayout:StartLayout>
 </StartLayoutCollection>
 </DefaultLayoutOverride>
</LayoutModificationTemplate>

When a Tile is added to the Start Menu, if it doesn’t exist already, it will create a .LNK file and uses that for the tile. You may need to copy these off the computer you created the tiles on the in first place too, and copy them out to the same path on the computers you’re pushing this setting to.

You can also manually update or change the XML file yourself, which can sometimes be easier than going through the whole export process again.

One last thought I have on this, is that you can have multiple XML files going to different computers or users based on their requirements – but don’t over complicate things or you’ll be constantly managing tiles!

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