It is important to consider them appropriately, not as desktop apps that are simplistic and lacking in features, but as touch apps that work smoothly without a keyboard or mouse. Used on a touch slate, the supplied apps generally work well though few are exciting. Hotmail and Google mail work well, but connecting to Exchange can be problematic. Mail is particularly fussy about the way Exchange is set up and the security certificates it uses. If you use another mail provider, the best solution currently is to link it with Hotmail, which is not ideal.
Several apps, such as People, aggregate multiple accounts in a manner familiar to Windows Phone users. Connect your Windows Live account with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google, and you can view all your contacts together and see their social status updates. Microsoft has implemented this nicely, presuming that it is something you want to do. You can make a case for Windows 8 as the most social of the major operating systems. The Bing apps are a pleasant surprise, drawing together data from a variety of sources into a pleasing and swipe-friendly format.
There is nothing that you could not also get from a web browser, but the user experience is better. The Weather app is also nicely done, with an attractive visual forecast and more detailed information as you scroll right. Head for the Windows Store, and you download more apps, all free during the preview period. Slim pickings so far, but apps do include an Amazon Kindle reader, travel information from National Rail Enquiries, some excellent casual games such as Tap 'n' Pop and Cut the Rope, and productivity apps such as Evernote and Box an alternative to Skydrive for online storage.
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Another app called the Xbox Companion is worth calling out, since it is really a preview of Xbox SmartGlass, announced at the E3 press conference on 4 June. SmartGlass is Microsoft's answer to Nintendo's forthcoming Wii U, an app that works as an interactive remote for Xbox. You can use the Companion to navigate the Xbox dashboard, select videos or music, or view information related to the game or video you are watching. The Music app in Windows 8 is also likely to change.
Microsoft has announced Xbox Music, with 30 million tracks for download or subscription play, to work on Windows 8, Xbox and Windows Phone. SmartGlass and Xbox Music are strategically important, since Microsoft is at last making an effort to integrate its various devices, from Xbox to Windows Phone to the PC, into an integrated system.
IE10 Metro has a key new feature. It is meant to be plug-in free, but Adobe Flash is baked in, not as a plug-in as such, but as a component which will be updated through Windows Update. This is intended as a legacy support feature, and does not work on all web sites, but only those on a compatibility list maintained by Microsoft. Nevertheless, it is useful for YouTube and major news sites. The split app can be the desktop, which conceptually is a single app in Windows 8. It is the earliest of days for Windows 8 Metro apps. This is a new platform, and everything is a preview.
At the same time, the success of the new Windows depends on the apps that will appear. Installation of new Desktop apps on WindowsRT is blocked. Even today though, if you can persuade Mail to talk to your mail server, these Metro apps, plus the web browser and Microsoft Office, are sufficient to get most work done. These are preview apps, and when pressed, Microsoft will not commit to how they will look in the final release. Apps may also continue to be tweaked beyond the release to manufacture deadline, since they can be updated from the Store. Metro is all very well, but it is no more than a distraction, or worse an irritation, for Desktop users.
Is there anything in Windows 8 that will persuade Windows 7 users to upgrade? There are a few things. One is Hyper-V, Microsoft's hypervisor. A hypervisor lets you create and run virtual machines, PCs emulated in software so that you can run different operating systems or multiple Windows machines on one box. There are also tweaks to Windows utilities. Explorer now has a ribbon in place of drop-down menus. The Windows Task Manager now has a richer graphical display and more features.
The taskbar, which in Windows 7 can only live on one display, can now be displayed on all screens if you have multiple monitors, with an option to show only applications that are active on that screen. Another change is that the Start menu can appear on any screen, which is handy for Windows 8, since the Start Menu completely fills the screen on which it is used.
Microsoft has further changes to make to the appearance of the Desktop, beyond what is in the Release Preview. The as-yet unseen new style with be more Metro-like, with squared corners and no transparency. No review of Windows 8 is complete without bringing out what is worse than before. The Immersive UI in Metro has advantages, and lets you bury yourself in a book or game without distraction, but you also lose some valuable features, like a constantly-visible clock and notification area, the ability to display multiple apps on the screen in the size you prefer, and even features that Windows users have taken for granted for years like drag-and-drop.
Windows 10 vs Windows 8: Should you upgrade?
A problem in Windows 8 is that there is no longer a convenient view of all running applications, as provided by the taskbar in Windows 7. The taskbar shows only Desktop apps. If you display thumbnails of running apps using the new gestures or Windows Key plus Tab , then you only get Metro apps, plus a single thumbnail for all Desktop apps.
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You do get a unified view with the old Alt-Tab, but this means repeated presses to get where you want, and does not work with touch. Whether or not the Start Menu is an improvement is a matter for debate, but you do lose the convenience hierarchical view in Windows 7.
More seriously, the switch from Desktop to Metro every time you need Start is jarring. The Desktop area and taskbar is your saviour here, letting you add shortcuts and avoid Metro Start. Another issue for Desktop users is that some file types, such as PDF and images, are set to open in Metro apps. This can be reset so that Desktop apps are used instead, but the procedure is not obvious to non-technical users.
Windows 8 Task Manager In-Depth
If you are a touch user, the big issue is that you will likely still need Desktop applications, but that these work no better with touch than Windows 7 though Microsoft is making touch-friendly changes to the new version of Office. A frequent annoyance is that many applications do not play nicely with the on-screen keyboard, and you find yourself typing into the void.
DVD support has been removed from Windows 8, and if you want Media Centre, the piece that plays broadcast digital TV, you will have to download it as a paid-for upgrade. None of these problems is a showstopper, but Windows 8 does have more than its fair share of annoyances. The truth is that settled Windows 7 or Windows XP users with traditional PCs or laptops will get little benefit from Windows 8, and will have to endure some pain to learn its quirks.
That said, there are other classes of user for whom Windows 8 will make sense. The most obvious one is new users who buy hardware designed for Windows 8, such as the early examples from Acer, Asus and Samsung shown at the Computex show in Taipei later in June. Windows 8 will also have value for power users, whether gamers or productivity users with multiple screens and numerous demanding applications.
The engineering in Windows 8 is excellent, both on the Desktop and Metro side, and the benefit from this exceeds the pain of the various annoyances.