Is there a way to have "Pages" set as the default tab when the user logs in to the admin area? I am using a heavily customised set up, where none of the dashboard widgets are useful so they are hidden anyway.
The best way is to re-direct user logins to your page and also remove the dashboard from the menu, this can be done with 2 filters.
Redirect logins to your page edit screen example based on user roles, this example uses "author":
Remove the "dashboard from the admin menu"
ps. You can also order the admin menu items using the same filter.
Yes, use Adminimize Plugin, remove dashboard and let the pages be the first screen when an use logs in. You can customize it very well and do a fine tuning of the entire admin backend!
Use the filter 'login_redirect' and use the admin_url like in this Wordpress Stackechange post: