Customize the Windows 11 Start Menu

Start Menu management in Windows 11 is different than Windows 10. Microsoft recommended an MDM provider such as Microsoft Intune to manage the Windows 11 Start Menu.


There are many environments (such as VDI and Azure Virtual Desktop(AVD) that don’t use an MDM provider to manage their Windows 11 workspace environment. In this blog post, I will highlight how to manage the Start Menu with native tools such as Active Directory and Group Policies.

I will create several blog posts about how to customize the Windows 11 Start Menu, configure the taskbar, remove unwanted desktop icons and remove bloatware and apps.

  • Customize the Windows 11 Start Menu (this blog post)
  • Customize the Windows 11 Desktop icons
  • Customize the Taskbar icons
  • Remove bloatware from the Start Menu

In this blog post, I will highlight how to customize the Windows 11 Start Menu with native Active Directory Group Policies.

In Windows 10 you can export and import the Start Menu layout. With the “Export-StartLayout” PowerShell command, the Start Menu is exported to an XML file. With a Group Policy, you refer to the custom XML file.

In Windows 11, the Start Menu is exported to a JSON file. The command is like this:

Export-StartLayout -Path "C:\Layouts\LayoutModification.JSON"

There is no Group Policy (Windows 11 22H2) to import a Start Menu JSON file. The Group Policy only works with an XML file.

There is a workaround. In Windows 11 the Start Menu is stored in a single encrypted file in the following folder location:


In this folder, there is a start.bin or start2.bin (depending on the Windows 11 version) file. This file is the Windows 11 Start Menu that can be copied.

These steps will copy the modified Start Menu to a central location and when the endpoint starts the modified Start Menu will be copied to the default user profile. When new users logs in, they will get the customized Start Menu.

  • Pin/unpin and organize the apps in the Start Menu the way you want.

  • Copy the start2.bin file in from the %LocalAppdata%\Packages\Microsoft.Windows.StartMenuExperienceHost_cw5n1h2txyewy\LocalState folder to a central location (for example in a folder in the netlogon share of the domain controller (for example \\lab.local\netlogon\w11).
  • Create a cmd file called w11startmenu.cmd with the following context:
copy "\\lab.local\netlogon\w11\start2.bin" "C:\Users\Default\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.Windows.StartMenuExperienceHost_cw5n1h2txyewy\LocalState" /Y
  • Open Group Policy Management console
  • Create a GPO Computer Configuration – Scripts (Startup/Shutdown) – Startup – Scripts and browse to the cmd script file in the netlogon share (for example \\lab.local\netlogon\w11\w11startmenu.cmd)

All users who log in with a new profile will get the customized Windows 11 Start Menu.

More information can be found in the following article, link.

How to install Windows 11 on VMware Workstation

For testing purposes, I frequently use VMware Workstation to install Operating Systems such as Windows 11.  The biggest challenge with Windows 11 is that you need a TPM 2.0 device. When installing Windows 11, if your computer does not meet the hardware requirements, you will see a message stating, “This PC can’t run Windows 11“.

Windows 11 requires the following hardware specifications:

  • CPU: 1 GHz or faster with 2 or more cores on the processor
  • RAM: 4 GB RAM
  •  Storage: 64 GB or larger
  • Firmware: UEFI, Secure boot
  • TPM: Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 2.0

More info: link

The following options are available when installing Windows 11 using VMware Workstation Pro/Player and Fusion:

Option 1: The physical endpoint such as a laptop or PC has a TPM 2.0 device. This requires adding encryption and adding a vTPM device.

Option 2: The physical endpoint such as a laptop or PC has compatible hardware but no TPM 2.0 device. VMware Workstation 16.2 Pro adds an experimental vTPM device that uses a new encryption mode with increased performance over fully encrypting the VM in option 1.

Update October 17, 2022:  Wil van Antwerpen has a good blog post about the risks of this experimental feature.  Make sure that you read the blog before using this feature!

What you should know about VMware’s experimental vTPM – Vimalin

Option 3: The physical endpoint such as a laptop or PC has no compatible hardware such as a TPM 2.0 device. Use a registry hack to bypass the TPM check.

If you don’t have a Windows 10/11 ISO, you can create one following this blog post: Quick Tip: Download the latest Windows 10/11 ISO files –

Here are the steps outlined for each option:

Option 1. The physical endpoint such as a laptop or PC has a TPM 2.0 chip

Start VMware Workstation and create a new Virtual Machine with the following configuration:

  • Type of configuration: Custom (advanced)
  • Virtual Machine hardware compatibility: Workstation 16.2.x
  • Guest Operating System Installation: Installer disc image file (iso): Point to the downloaded Windows 11 ISO
  • Guest operating system: Microsoft Windows
    • Version: Windows 10 and later x64
  • Virtual Machine name: Name of the VM such as: Windows 11
    • Location: for example: c:\vms\win11
  • Firmware: UEFI
    • Secure boot: Check
  • Processors: 2 or more
    • Number of cores: 1 or more
  • Memory (MB): 4096 or more
  • Network Type: Use network address translation (NAT)
  • SCSI Controller: LSI Logic SAS or Paravirtualized SCSI
  • Virtual Disk Type: NVMe
  • Disk: Create a new virtual disk
    • Maximum disk size (GB): 64 or more
  • Disk file: Windows 10 and later x64.vmdk
  • The new VM will be created.
  • Edit the virtual machine settings
  • Click on the options tab, choose Access Control, and select Encrypt

  • Enter a virtual machine password twice

  • The VM will be encrypted
  • Select the Hardware tab and select Add
  • Select the Trusted Platform Module and click Finish and OK

  • Start the VM to install Windows 11

The VM is encrypted and has a TPM device configured.


Option 2: The physical endpoint such as a laptop or PC has compatible hardware but no TPM 2.0 device.

Since VMware Workstation 16.2 there is an experimental feature without the need fully encrypt the VM. Use it with care and read the blog from Wil van Antwerpen before using this feature!

  • Follow the steps in step 1 till  ” The new VM will be created”
  • Before starting the VM close VMware Workstation
  • Edit the VMX file of the created VM in notepad for example
    • Add the following line to the end of the file:
    • managedVM.autoAddVTPM = “software”
    • This line adds a TPM 2.0 device to the VM
    • Save the VMX file

  • Open VMware Workstation
  • Start the VM to install Windows 11

Option 3: The physical endpoint such as a laptop or PC has no compatible hardware such as a TPM 2.0 device. Use a registry hack to bypass the TPM check.

In 2021 I already blogged about this hack. More information can be found here: Install Windows 11 as VM on VMware vSphere / Workstation without TPM 2.0 –


With these 3 options, you are able to install Windows 11 on VMware Workstation Pro/Player and Fusion in most situations.

Disable the little drawing (known as search highlights) in the Windows 10/11 search bar

After deploying new Windows 10/11 images with the latest updates, Microsoft has included Search highlights. You can see if you have search highlights enabled when having a little drawing in the search bar. When clicking on the search bar it extends with graphics and more crap.

So what are search highlights?

Designed to help Windows users discover more information and related content, search highlights present noteworthy, informative, and interesting information of what’s special about each day—like holidays, anniversaries, and other moments in time both globally and in your region

This new feature can be nice for home users but not for most enterprise environments. So I disable this feature for all the Windows 10/11 deployments.

Disable search highlights by using a Group Policy Object (GPO) 

  • Make sure you have at least the Administrative Templates (admx) for Windows 10 November 2021 Update (21H2) – v2.0 (link).
  • Copy the ADMX files to the Group Policy Central Store in the sysvol folder (example: \\<fqd domain name>\SYSVOL\<fqd domain name>\policies\PolicyDefinitions)
  • Create or edit a Group Policy Object (GPO) to the OU where the computer objects are placed
  • Browse to Computer Configuration – Policies – Administrative Templates – Windows Components – Search
  • Open the “Allow search highlights” setting and select Disable
  • Perform a “gpupdate /force”  on the Windows client


Disable search highlights by registry setting

Another method is by creating a registry key on the Windows 10/11 machine.

  • Execute the following command as administrator:
REG ADD "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Windows Search" /v "EnableDynamicContentInWSB" /t REG_DWORD /d "0" /f

Disabling this setting turns off search highlights in the taskbar search box and in search home.