15 Handy Windows 8 Apps

Monday Nov 19th 2012 by Joseph Moran
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The Windows Store is just getting off the ground, but there are already some decent apps to be had there. Here are fifteen of our favorites so far.

Along with its heavily reworked user interface, Windows 8 introduces an online store where you can download apps designed to work with the new operating system.

Microsoft divides Windows Store apps into twenty categories ranging from Books & Reference, Productivity and Business to Social, Photo and Games. As with any nascent app store, the pickings are relatively slim at the moment-- as of this writing, there were only 6,125 free and paid apps (mostly free though) available to U.S. customers, though that number is certain to grow in the coming weeks and months. Case in point, on the October 26th launch date for Windows 8, the app store offered fewer than 4,500 apps.

Even though Windows 8 still runs previous Windows software just fine via its Windows 7-esque Desktop mode, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the offerings in the Windows Store if you want to minimize how often you have to switch between the tiled Start screen in Windows 8 and the old-fashioned Windows Desktop.

Moreover, if you’re interested in a Microsoft Surface tablet, the Windows Store is the only place to get apps since the tablet’s ARM CPU and Windows 8 RT operating system can’t run conventional Windows software. (An Intel CPU-based Surface with Windows 8 Pro is due in early 2013).

Ready? Let's take a look at our favorite apps in the Windows Store.

15 Handy (and Free) Windows Store Apps for Business or Pleasure

Google Search

Although Microsoft would certainly hope that you use Bing for all your Windows 8 searching needs, if you’d prefer equal access to Google from your Start screen, you’re in luck. Google’s Windows 8 app provides the same search history and voice-enabled searching you get with using it via a browser, and it offers convenient access to other services in the Google ecosystem.

Google Search Windows 8 App

Figure 1: The Google Search Windows 8 App.

Remote Desktop

This is the classic Windows Remote Desktop Connection client given a facelift for Windows 8. It gives you access to remote Windows computers (or just to specific applications, depending on how your network is configured), and it creates thumbnails of your recent connections for easy access.  

FlipToast

You could monitor Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter separately, but there’s no need when FlipToast will keep you up-to-date on all of them at the same time. Plus, its Live Tile lets you keep tabs from the Start screen. (FlipToast works with Instagram too, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

Skype

Skype’s conventional desktop software works just fine with Windows 8, but the native app offers a more attractive, full-screen experience, and it integrates with the lock screen to show your online status and missed calls (plus it still runs in the background). It will also let you merge your Skype and Microsoft accounts so signing in to Windows with the latter automatically signs you in to Skype as well.

Skype Windows 8 App

Figure 2: The Skype Windows 8 App.

Netflix

This app is much like Windows 7’s Netflix for Windows Media Center, except now there’s no Media Center required -- which is just as well because Media Center is a separate download in Windows 8 (free for Windows 8 Pro users until January 31, 2013, otherwise it's $70). This app’s interface is as attractive and functional as any of Netflix’s smartphone or game console/set top box offerings and, like those, it remembers where you stopped watching a show, even if it was on another device. 

Wikipedia  

You probably visit Wikipedia regularly for information on various topics, and this app offers an interesting alternative to the website. It features a home screen with featured pictures and articles (as well as recently-changed articles) and lengthy articles scroll vertically rather than horizontally. You also get the option to pin specific articles to your Start screen or open them in a browser.  

More Windows 8 Apps from the Windows Store

AccuWeather

AccuWeather isn’t the only weather available in the Windows 8 store, but it improves on Microsoft’s stock weather app, and we especially like it how it displays upcoming forecast information on a timeline that you can toggle back and forth between daily and hourly readings. The background animations depicting current conditions look pretty cool, too.

Metro Commander

For old-fashioned file/folder management (deleting, copying, moving, renaming, etc.), you can always fall back on Windows Explorer, which is available in the Windows 8 Desktop. Have fun manipulating Windows Explorer if you have a touchscreen (hint: it’s not fun). Metro Commander gives you file management in a much more finger-friendly format, and it works with SkyDrive-hosted files as well as local ones.

Windows 8 Cheat Keys

Can’t find your way around Windows 8’s touch-oriented UI with your old-fashioned keyboard and mouse? First, read this article for tips on how to manage that feat. Afterward, you might also want to install Windows 8 Cheat Keys, which provides a rundown of dozens of handy hotkeys and mouse tips.

FlightAware

If you travel a lot, or just get stuck doing airport pickup duty, FlightAware is for you. It lets you monitor flight activity in real time -- everything from departure-and-arrival gates to speed and altitude -- plot flight locations on a map, and keep abreast of airport delays.

FlightAware Windows 8 App

Figure 3: The FlightAware Windows 8 App.

IM+

If you use several different IM services, you need a good multi-protocol client. IM+ fills the bill, and it supports Facebook, Windows Live, Google Talk, AIM, ICQ, Skype, Yahoo and Jabber, plus a bunch more obscure services (at least to North Americans). It supports group chats and runs in the background so you won’t miss anything when you’re using a different app.

Amazon Kindle

Drop this app on your laptop or tablet and you can leave your Kindle device at home. This app gives you the same features you get when reading on Kindle hardware (or the Kindle software on other platforms), including the capability to change the text size, format and the background color. Plus, you can pin books to your Start screen.

Tile Time

Even though a current time/date display has been a staple of the Windows desktop since forever (and you can still see it in its familiar place when in Desktop mode), Microsoft saw fit to omit one from the Start screen. Instead, you only see the date on the lock screen or -- briefly -- when you summon the Charms bar via swiping or pressing Windows + C. This app corrects that oversight.

TileTime Windows 8 App

Figure 4: The Tile Time Windows 8 App.

XE Currency

If your job involves converting currencies or tracking their fluctuations, this app is for you. It supports dozens of currencies around the globe, and the Live Tile can display current values of the ones you specify.

Calc4Win

Windows 8 still includes a calculator app, but it’s only available in Desktop mode. If you’re looking for something more expansive and touch-friendly, this app has regular and scientific calculating modes, and you can snap it to one side of the screen if you want to run another app alongside it.

Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.

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