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In Windows 8, when you open an application, say, Internet Explorer or Google Chrome, it looks strangely different than when you open the same application from the new Start screen. For example, Google Chrome has a black bar on top of the screen, among other things.

Is there a certain, standard way Desktop applications differ from their Modern UI counterparts, or is it application - specific?

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IE on the start menu is a different programme from the one you run on the desktop, so they naturally look quite different. It is not like there is one version of IE and you are either running it in 'Modern UI mode' or 'Desktop Mode' - you are literally running two separate programmes.

As well as the obvious difference in 'look and feel', there are some underlying differences in terms of architecture (WinRT for Modern UI vs. Win32 for Desktop) a discussion of which probably is better suited for StackExchange rather than SuperUser. But, in short, one big difference is way the lifecycle of Modern UI apps works means that they aren't continuously consuming resources when you are not using them, the way that desktop apps do, which is useful for running it on smaller devices where memory and battery conservation are more important.

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In general, Modern UI apps are extremely different from their desktop counterparts.
IE, and especially Chrome, are the exceptions, not the rule.

If you look at all-new apps like Mail or Photos, they look nothing like traditional desktop apps.

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Windows 8 has certain guidelines for the Modern Apps - one such being the absence of the Title bar & the minimize/maximize/close buttons.

Google Chrome looks different when opened from Start Screen than when opened from the Desktop if it is set as the default browser.

Windows 8 sets a default program for each service - For instance, one for the browser, one for opening PDF files, one for opening photos and one for watching videos. If you have set IE as your default browser, you would see Google Chrome opening in the same way, irrespective of how you opened it. However if you set Google Chrome as the default browser, opening from the Start Screen leads to Windows 8 recognizing it as a Modern UI App (since its the "default" program for browsing) and requires it to be opened in the Modern-UI mode - striping off its Title bar making it look different. Opening it from Desktop poses no such restrictions and hence you see the familiar Google Chrome UI.

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