Once you have Windows 8 up and running, the first thing you’ll want to do is start installing the apps you need to get things done. Thankfully, Microsoft’s new Windows 8 store offers quick access to a number of the applications you’d normally have to go hunt down anyway, but it also has some real treasures worth downloading. Here are some of the best.
but it also has some real treasures worth downloading. Here are some of the best.
- Mail, Calendar, People, and Messaging – You probably already have these apps pre-loaded with WIndows 8. If you don’t grab them first. As their names imply, they give you quick access to your email, calendar and contacts right from the Start Screen. Mail and Calendar support multiple account types, including Microsoft and Outlook.com accounts, Google accounts, and others. People can connect with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Outlook. Messaging gives you access to MSN and Facebook friends.
- Kindle – While the Kindle app for Windows 8 works especially well on Surface tablets, it works just as well on your Windows 8 desktop or laptop. Sign in with your Amazon account to get access to all of your Kindle books, and you can even pin them to the Start Screen to get right back to a book you’re reading. All of the features you would expect in a Kindle app—highlighting, dictionary lookup, text and background colors, font size, and more—are all available in the app.
- Google Search – If you still prefer Google to Bing, the Google Search app for Windows 8 puts Google in a nice big tile right on your home screen. The app gives you a nice, simple search bar, but also lets you voice search, gives you quick access to Google services like Gmail, Google News, Google Drive, and Google Reader, and more. It’d be nice to have a Google Search bar right on the Start Screen, but maybe in the next update.
- Evernote – If you’re a heavy Evernote user, the Evernote app for Windows 8 lets you browse, edit, organize, and manage your notebooks and notes right from the Start Screen. The app doesn’t do anything that the webapp doesn’t do, but it’s a fast and free way to get to all of your notes without going to the Desktop, opening your preferred browser, and logging in. The Windows 8 app saves you more than a few steps, and gets you working right away.
- MetroTwit – Our favorite Twitter client for Windows, MetroTwit for Windows 8 looks just as good on the Start Screen as it does on the desktop. You can view your streams side-by-side, browse user profiles, update your own stream, view and manage lists, everything you would expect from a solid Twitter client. The free version is ad-supported and only lets you manage one account. If you shell out $5 for the Pro version, you can manage multiple accounts and remove the ads.
- TuneIn Radio – For those of us who enjoy a little streaming music or internet radio while we work, TuneIn Radio, one of your favorite internet radio services, has a Windows 8 app and live tile that gives you complete access to the service’s massive catalog of streaming music stations, terrestrial radio stations that simulcast on the internet, and global stations with live streams. Once you hit play, the live tile shows you what you’re currently listening to, and you can open other apps, go to the desktop, or get to work without having to go all the way back to the app to quickly check what you’re listening to. You can even pin your favorite stations to the Start Screen.
- Skitch – Skitch for Windows 8 puts all of the tools of the desktop app on the Start Screen, including the ability to annotes and decorate images, manage uploads to your account, browse images you’ve already uploaded, and more. You can use the app to take photos from your webcam and upload that, or you can use Skitch to edit pictures already saved to your computer before sharing them.
- FlightAware – One of the nice things about the Start Screen is that it gives you quick access to useful information, often through live tiles. If you travel, or have to pick someone up who’s on their way to you, FlightAware tells you more than you could possibly want to know about your flight. Its arrival time, date, current position, even its altitude and speed are all available, and if you need to know when someone’s landed, you can create notifications for specific flights so you’ll know when to leave for the airport. You can even track national flight delays, so you know if you’re in for a rough time when you get there.
- XBox SmartGlass – Even if you don’t have a Windows 8 tablet, we think that XBox SmartGlass is worth installing if you do have an XBox 360 in your house. Since you can use your computer as a second screen for your XBox through SmartGlass, you can control the browser on your 360 to bring up web pages, you can redeem codes and download games, and if you have downloaded music and video on your Windows 8 PC, you can push them to your 360 to display on the big screen effortlessly. Plus, as more XBox 360 games incorporate SmartGlass features, anyone with a Windows 8 desktop or laptop in your house will be able to interact with the people playing on the TV in the living room.
- Windows 8 Cheat Keys – The Start Screen and all of the changes to Windows 8 are difficult to get used to, we understand that. Windows 8 Cheat Keys is an app that helps you get the hang of it quickly. The app offers multiple tips, time-saving hints, and shortcuts every day to help you navigate Windows 8 like a pro. In no time, you’ll be old hat and wondering, “Windows 7 what ?”
The Windows 8 Store is surprisingly large and full of useful apps for an OS and product this new, so don’t hesitate to try something new if it looks like it’ll be useful for you. There were plenty of apps we didn’t cover here because they were either really geared towards Windows 8 tablets like the Surface, or because they came from developers we weren’t terribly familiar with. Just like with mobile apps, make sure you take a look at the developer and the permissions an app requires before you install it, and a good glance at the reviews won’t hurt either, although you should always take those with a grain of salt.
We should also note that reading news and browsing headlines on the Start Screen was a joy—and there are plenty of apps for newspapers, magazines, and even some tech blogs. Most of the apps just reformat the top stories and articles for comfortable tiled viewing, but it’s definitely a fun and interesting way to surf the headlines. With more apps coming to the Windows 8 Store every day, if you don’t find an app specifically for your favorite web site or service, just stay tuned—it’ll likely appear quickly.