Review: Decor8 lets you customize the Windows 8 Start and lock screens

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At a Glance
  • Stardock Decor8

Windows 8 comes with an entirely new interface called Modern (formerly known as Metro), featuring generous swaths of color, flat icons, and large typography. You'll first meet Modern in the lock screen, immediately followed by the Start screen. You'll be visiting both quite often: The lock screen whenever you start using your computer, and the Start screen whenever you want to launch an application. As such, you might want to customize them a bit to suit your personal style. Microsoft offers a few preset backgrounds you can choose from, but for no-holds-barred personalization, you should try $5 utility Decor8.

Decor8 includes almost sixty background images, but also lets you pick one from your own albums.

Decor8 comes from Stardock, and just like the company's other customization products, it ties into Windows very tightly. While Decor8 isn't a Modern app, it looks like one: It can only run in fullscreen mode, and there's no way to resize the window. A sidebar lines the left side of the window, with a simple menu done in large type: Background, Colors, Options, Lock screen, and About.

The Background section lets you set what appears behind the tiles in your Start screen. The first few backgrounds in the list are simple vector affairs, quite similar to the limited selection that ships with Windows 8. But then the list goes on to feature bold nature and macro photos that stand in stark contrast to the flat Modern aesthetic and lend the Start screen a dramatic flair far beyond the default.

If none of the included options appeal to you, you can specify your own Start screen background using any image on your computer. You can select several images and have them rotate throughout the day at an interval you set, or set the Start screen background to be the same as your desktop wallpaper. You can also fade the image, blur it, and adjust its tint and contrast.

Decor8 lets you customize the lock screen, but not as much as the Start screen.

The Colors screen is simpler, letting you adjust the Modern tiles color scheme. You can use one of the standard schemes included with Windows, create your own scheme, or have Decor8 generate a scheme according to the background image you selected. This last mode takes just a single checkbox to apply, and results in beautiful tiles that always work well with the background.

The Options screen is quite sparse, with just four options and lots of wasted screen space.  The only truly interesting option is for changing the number of tile rows on the Start screen–you can create a one-row Start screen, although I'm not sure how useful that would be. Last, the "Lock screen" section lets you configure a background for your lock screen. Even if you avoid the Start screen using a Start menu replacement (such as Stardock's own Start8 or the free and excellent Classic Shell), you'll still be seeing the lock screen quite often, so it's nice to be able to set your own background for it. Unlike the Start screen, the lock screen doesn't let you apply tint and fade effects to your selected background.

Decor8's insistence on running in a maximized window results in plenty of wasted screen space.

Decor8 joins the growing ranks of applications aiming to fix Windows 8's many deficiencies. It's evolutionary, and it works. If you're frustrated by not being able to set your own backgrounds for Windows 8's Start and lock screens, Decor8 offers a painless, inexpensive solution.

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At a Glance
  • If you don't enjoy Windows 8's Start and lock screens, Decor8 can help make them more your own (but it won't make them go away).


    • Simple customization options


    • Window is always maximized
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