The pick of the Windows 8 apps
One reason why Windows 8 is Microsoft’s most ambitious OS yet is the introduction of a new class of applications: until very recently we knew them as Metro style apps, so for clarity we’ll use that name here. Adorning the new Metro start screen and downloadable only from the Microsoft Store, Metro apps are the centrepiece of Windows 8 and are intended to be used on desktops, laptops and tablets.
Whether any app can successfully straddle anything from a 10in tablet touchscreen to a 27in desktop monitor is a matter of debate.
Although Metro apps can adjust their content to suit various screen resolutions, they run in only two modes: full-screen or in a narrow bar down either the left- or right-hand side of the screen. There’s no option to dynamically resize a window and overlap three or four applications across multiple monitors as there is with current Windows apps. Indeed, even if you run Windows 8 on a multimonitor setup, only one of them can display Metro apps.
The Windows 8 Release Preview gave us our clearest indication yet of what we can expect to arrive with today’s RTM. At the moment the apps are all free, so here we give you an insight into what we can expect to find in the Windows Store come the full launch in October.
You probably won’t need a cup of sweet tea after this revelation, but some of the most impressive Metro apps released so far are those produced by Microsoft itself. Windows 8 arrives with a selection of Metro apps preinstalled: Mail, Music, Video, Calendar, Maps, SkyDrive, News and Sports are all waiting on the Start screen from the moment the installation is complete.
Many of these apps were polished between the Consumer and Release Previews. The Mail app, for example, now looks much cleaner, with clear visual separation between different inboxes (for Hotmail, Gmail and so on), an elegant two-tone design and thumbnail photos of the sender appearing alongside their message (where available). We’d go as far as to say it’s one of the best default mail clients of any tablet OS, even if it’s light on features by Windows client standards.
The Music and Video apps were also revamped, both now showcasing Microsoft’s attempts to deliver media content to Windows 8 users in a similar manner to Apple iTunes and Google Play.
Alongside tiles of your own music and video collections, you’ll find content from Microsoft’s Store, allowing you to buy tracks, albums and buy or rent movies from the Zune store. Irritatingly, this currently uses the daft Microsoft Points currency used on the Xbox. However, there’s an upside to this integration of systems: you can also choose to play back movies or music via your Xbox, which cleverly allows a Windows tablet or laptop to become a companion device for your console. Indeed, there’s even an Xbox Companion app in the Store that allows you to use your laptop/tablet to browse and open content on your console, although parts of it aren’t yet fully functional.
News and Sport are the two newcomers, both delivering the latest stories from a range of UK-based sources in two smartly presented apps.
The Formula 1 section of the Sports app shows how Metro apps can become attractive dashboards of information, displaying the latest race results, schedules and championship standings in clear tables. If that data could be updated live during races, Microsoft would have an outright winner on its hands. The constant ticker of the latest headlines that scroll through each of the apps’ Metro start screen tiles often draw you in.