Windows 8’s new Start screen has been hotly debated since the operating system launched in preview mode earlier this year. Acknowledged by some as a bold step into the tablet market, and criticized by many others who prefer the familiar desktop experience, the new 'Modern UI Style' home is here to stay. But beyond not offering a way to bypass this screen (not without the help of third-party utilities), surprisingly Microsoft is also limiting your options when it comes to customizing the Start screen's appearance. You can choose from a couple color schemes and 10 stock background images, but that's about it.

We've seen some workarounds before but they require firing up the HEX editor to modify system files, and you are still limited to 256-color background images in a handful of specific sizes. That’s more work than most people are probably willing to bother with and as you can imagine the results are not quite optimal.

Enter Decor8. Stardock’s latest Windows 8 customization app removes this limitation by giving users the ability to pick any picture they want, regardless of size or color range, as the Start screen background.

The program is pretty straightforward to use. Upon launching Decor8, you’ll be presented with a set of background images to choose from, including the start screen and desktop background images that Windows 8 ships with and also a set of wallpapers that Stardock ships with the app. You get the usual fill, fit, tile and center options available in the classic desktop, and the program will automatically create a color scheme to match each of your background images -- or you can manually customize the color scheme if you’re so inclined.

You can add folders to the program to use your own photos and images as background. There’s also the option to select multiple background images by holding down the Ctrl key, and have them rotate on a set time interval, as well as the option to fade background images against the start screen color for a subtle effect.

Sadly, Decor8 is not free. Stardock offers a free 30-day trial but otherwise asks a modest $4.99 for the app. It’s a little unnerving to pay for such basic functionality but if you wish to customize the Windows 8 Start screen beyond what Microsoft offers this is the easiest-to-use tool we’ve found. It does one thing and it does it well.

Other useful Windows 8 tweaks

While we are at it, you may want to revisit other ways to customize and tweak Windows 8 to your liking.

  • Bring back the classic start menu. Another common complaint about Windows 8 is the lack of the old and trustworthy Start menu button on the desktop. Fortunately there are a handful of replacements available from third-parties, including the open source Classic Shell, Stardock’s Start8, and Pokki.

  • Simplify search. Windows search isn't perfect. Some of us would argue it's been getting worse. Although you can't do much about this you can make results less cluttered by excluding some apps you don’t intend to use. Go to Win + I > Change PC Settings > Search to manage the search list.

  • Restart Explorer. If Explorer locks up for some reason, there’s no need to close the process any more. Just hit press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open the Task Manager, select Explorer in the list, and click Restart on the bottom-right corner of the window (or through the right-click contextual menu).

  • Keyboard shortcuts and more. Even before Windows 8 was finalized we were getting our hands dirty discovering what the new OS had to offer. Check out our shortlist of Windows 8 tricks and keyboard shortcuts.

Also read: Computer Tips & Tricks Everyone Should Know