Windows 8.1: return to the desktop after you close the last Modern app

Martin Brinkmann
Oct 1, 2013
Windows, Windows 8

Microsoft has made several concessions in Windows 8.1 to improve the usability of the operating system for the "desktop crowd". While those changes won't get you back the pre-Windows 8 work environment, they improve the operating system for users who spend most of the time working on the desktop, and not on the operating system's start screen.

Among the changes are an option to load the desktop right away after sign on, and the new start menu button which, while basic in nature, adds a visual component to the Windows-X menu that Microsoft introduced in Windows 8.

Windows 8.1 has been out for select testers and MSDN and TechNet subscribers only at this point, with the update being released to all users later this month.

A revised feature in Windows 8.1 changes what is happening after you close the last application on the Start screen.

Previously, you stayed on the start screen no matter what. The new update brings the option to switch to the Windows desktop instead, a useful option for Windows 8 users who spend most of the time on the desktop but launch the occasional app on the system.

This is also helpful for situations where an app is loaded by accident, for instance if it is the default application associated with a file type on the system.Sometimes, users may want files to be opened in an app instead of a desktop application.

The Photo application is for instance linked to image formats by default. When you double-click on images in File Explorer, Windows 8.1 will display them in the photo viewer app of the system. Instead of having to haggle your way back to the desktop, you simply get there when the app is closed.

The option is not enabled by default. To enable it, you need to perform the following operation:

  1. Click on desktop or tap on the Windows key to go the Windows desktop. If you are already there, skip the step.
  2. Right-click on the Windows Task Bar and select Properties from the context menu.
  3. Switch to the Navigation tab here.
  4. Locate "When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start" and check the option.

You can disable it at any time by removing the check mark from the box again.

The preference combines the boot to desktop feature that Microsoft integrated in the Windows 8.1 preview releases with the option to go to the desktop instead of Start.

This can be a issue for some users, as you either get both "to-desktop" features or none due to the merged nature of the preference.

Closing Words

The change is another improvement that Microsoft has integrated into Windows 8.1 that makes life easier for desktop / non-touch users. (via McAkins)

Now Read: The Major Changes in Windows 8.1


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  1. marcus clements said on December 24, 2015 at 11:52 pm

    PLEASE get me back something familiar — viz my DESKTOP

  2. scarfinv said on July 9, 2014 at 10:06 am

    I’m having the same issue. I don’t have the option selected, but it is still taking me to the desktop. Anybody have a solution?

  3. Chris said on June 6, 2014 at 1:05 am

    I’m with you on this on Robert. I like the start screen, and now it goes back to the desktop no matter if the box is ticked or not. It is so annoying.

  4. Robert said on April 26, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Whether the option to start to desktop is on or off, closing the final application always returns to desktop. Personally I got used to the new style of Windows and wanted to keep the new Windows 8 way, but it’s screwed now. The people that shout loudest get heard, don’t they? So the people that shouted have caused a change that I didn’t want, because I didn’t shout at all… but why would I?

  5. Dan said on October 2, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    This is pretty huge… this is the feature I’ve been waiting for to recommend Windows 8 to my business clients.

  6. Andrew said on October 1, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    What i’m curious, is why there’s some metro apps that I can no longer uninstall in 8.1 (but could in 8)

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