Once upon a time, and even as recently as Windows 7, you could download software programs from virtually anywhere, or get them on CD or DVD. Windows 8 is more like Windows Phone (or iTunes App Store) in that the only place you can get apps for it is their own gated service, the Microsoft Store.
This, of course, means that the number and quality of the apps in the Store is important to users. Microsoft vets all apps before they're allowed to be offered, which should mean they're malware free and functional. As for numbers, the company has refused to say more than asserting the quantity is larger than that of any previous OS at launch. However, third party website WinAppUpdate.com says that on launch day, the number exceeded 9,000, almost double the quantity it saw just a week before. Developers are going gangbusters.
The apps are a mix of free and paid – and there are plenty of free apps, from Microsoft and others. You'll also find Desktop (Windows7 compatible) programs represented, although they only link to their developers' web sites. You can't purchase or install a Desktop program from the Store.
There are some very good apps in the selection. Here are a few to consider, all free:
Tweetro is an excellent Twitter app that not only displays tweets, but also shows the contents of links in individual tweets. The UI is easy to manage, and includes an integrated browser (the Win8 version of IE10).
Wikipedia has done an excellent job with its app. The main screen features some interesting tidbits, including items from this day in history. You use the Search charm to prowl the database for specific requests. The articles, of course, are the same ones we'd see on the Web interface, but the layout is customized for Windows 8, and is extremely accessible.
- Casual gamers will appreciate the Windows 8 implementation of Cut the Rope, a whimsical physics game that has you cutting ropes to let candy swing into a little monster’s mouth. It’s cute and silly and actually rather challenging as you move through increasingly complex levels.
- For verbivores, try Wordament. You must find words in a 16 letter grid. You’re playing against everyone else on Xbox Live, and see where you rank after every game, as well as getting a list of common and uncommon words that could have been formed in the grid. It’s both frustrating and addictive, and well worth a try.
- Windows wouldn’t be Windows without Solitaire, and there’s a ton of choices in Windows 8. Search for “solitaire” in the Store to see the full list. Microsoft’s version is its Solitaire Collection, which offers five variations of the game, plus monthly challenges for Xbox Live gamer points.
Quick Note is a simple note taking app. It looks like a yellow notepad, and has very few options, but as a basic app, it works fine. My only complaint is its over-enthusiastic spell-checker, which fixes things whether you like it or not. For a somewhat more full-featured notepad-like app, try Note Sphere.
Skype: Microsoft has just released a shiny new app with all of the goodies one would expect all wrapped up in the Windows 8 UI. However, approach with caution – users complain that it forces them to merge their Skype account with their Windows 8 login account, and there's apparently no way to sign out. This will hopefully be fixed soon; the app is only a couple days old as I write this.
Another app to regard with some trepidation is the Microsoft Messaging app. It's an instant messenger that only lets you pick one Microsoft account, plus Facebook, for messaging. For people like me, with multiple accounts on several services, it's not a whole lot of use, but if it meets your needs, it's fine. It won't be around for long, in any case; Microsoft has just announced that it is merging its Messenger instant messaging service with Skype early next year.
Outlook, both the Desktop version and Outlook 2013, which even offers touch mode for tablets, runs beautifully on Windows 8.
EBook readers: The unimaginatively named Free Books, gives you just that – a reader with over 23,000 classics to read on your Windows 8 machine. You don't download the works at once, but rather pick the titles you'd like to read. It's an adequate reader, though its navigation is not as good with mouse and keyboard as it is with touchscreen. There are also respectable Kindle and Kobo apps available for users of those services.
Entertainment and Tools:
- Canada’s National Film Board has created the NFB app, a lovely way to view some of its award-winning shorts. Check out the Oscar-nominated The Cat Came Back when you need a giggle.
- XE Currency provides up-to-date currency conversion for travellers, World Clock tells you what time it is anywhere, and Flight Aware provides tracking information for arrivals, departures, in transit and scheduled flights. It indicates on-time and delays, and lets you track individual flights based on your criteria.
With more than 9,000 apps, this just scratches the surface. Check out the Store to see everything that's available.