Using Windows RT Store, Calendar, People and News apps

In our continuing look at Windows RT's stock apps, Tony McSherry turns his attention to the Store, Calendar, People, and News apps.

Now that I've covered IE10 and Mail on the Windows Surface RT, it's time to look at People, Calendar, News, and the Windows Store.


(Credit: Tony McSherry/TechRepublic)

There are close to 50,000 Windows 8 apps available in the Windows Store, and while not all popular apps on Android and iOS are available, you should be able to find an equivalent app. There are around 20 categories, such as Games, Social, Music and Video, Productivity, and Tools. Each category provides a tile to view Top Paid, Top Free, and New Releases.

Selecting an app gives you more information, a screenshot, an Install button for free apps, and a Try or Buy button for paid apps. It also provides explicit information on the permissions that the app requires, download size, and age rating.

When you purchase an app, it's downloaded in the background, and when installed it will create a tile on the Start screen, which you can resize, move, or delete.

I must admit, I rarely use the Store, as I find most of my needs fulfilled in Windows RT. However, some of the useful apps I have installed are Skype, an ebook reader, a photo editor, HP utilities, and Wordament, my favourite massively multiplayer online game (after World of Warcraft) — and all of these apps were free.

The Windows Store suffers from the same problem as all online apps stores — too many apps. Even with flexible search (available, as usual, in the Charms menu), you may be faced with hundreds of choices. You can use various filters in the Store to select paid or free apps, or sort them by date or user rating, but expect to spend some time there if you don't know exactly what you want.

Windows RT users can only install apps from the Windows Store, which does provide security — assuming thatnothing slips through Microsoft's vetting process. The installation process is quick and virtually invisible, and uninstalling an app is just as easy.


(Credit: Tony McSherry/TechRepublic)

The People app provides your contacts list and integrates your social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, and Skype. People is synched with the cloud and will dynamically display pictures from your contacts on its Start tile, as well as notifications from your accounts. More importantly, it will incorporate contact details from your social accounts, and dynamically update details as they change.

Search and Settings are available in the usual Charms menu. You select Accounts in Settings to add an account. If you add your Facebook account, for example, you can see your latest messages or friends' updates from within People, and you can Like or add comments to their Facebook page.

Selecting any contact provides you with their details and various means of communicating with them, for instance, via phone, email, Skype, messenger, or Facebook. Activating the bottom menu will allow you to add a contact and selectively display only those people who are currently online.

People will also pop up if you click the "Add people from your contact list" button in the Mail app, or any other app that has permission to use your contacts list.


(Credit: Tony McSherry/TechRepublic)

Calendar will aggregate your calendars from various accounts and dynamically display information on its Start tile. Accounts seem to be limited to your Windows account, Hotmail, Outlook (which includes Exchange, Office 365, etc), and Google. Information can be displayed in day, week, or month order, and appointments have a number of options. You may select When, Start time, How long, Where, How often, Reminder, and Status. You may also include a Subject and a message. The message editor lacks the text formatting of the Mail app, but it does include the spellchecker.

Like most of the core apps, Calendar will show you notifications of upcoming events, and you can choose to have them also occur on the lock screen and with an accompanying sound.


It's worth mentioning that Windows 8 has an integrated spell checker. It doesn't matter if you are in IE, Mail, Calendar, or any other app that uses text input; the spell checker will function when you begin to enter multiline text. Misspelled words will be highlighted with a red underline, and right-clicking or touching the word will give you a list of possibilities and the option of adding the word to the dictionary or ignoring it. The lack of an integrated spell checker was a major irritation in previous versions of Windows, and I'm glad they added the feature.

Snap feature

Another feature that deserves a mention is the ability to show two apps at once. The main app takes up two thirds of the screen, and the other takes up the remaining third. For example, you could be using the browser and have the People app in the smaller window, showing your notifications and people currently online — or any other combination of Windows 8 apps.


(Credit: Tony McSherry/TechRepublic)

I used to be an avid reader of newspapers, but I now prefer their online equivalents, and it's easier to use the News app on the desktop or my Surface rather than struggling with my favourite broadsheets or their online portals.

News provides three different views: Bing Daily, where Microsoft decides what news items are worthy from a variety of sources; My News, which will show me articles from sources close to my location (in my case, mainly The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News) and any other categories I select; and Sources, which allows you to select any news source to view just those articles.

Bing Daily has a clean magazine feel with large photos, subject headers, and tag lines. Articles are collected under headings, such as Headlines, Australia, World, and Business. Selecting any article header will display the full article, and you can swipe left or right to see other articles in the category.

My News allows you to set up your own news categories with a particular search term. Begin typing any topic, and a scrollable list of possible categories will appear.

You can select a category or type in anything you like, and you'll then have a news group in My News with stories from this category. As an example, I used Windows 8, but you can use any search term — if you like puppies, then create a "puppies" news group.

Selecting the category title will give you more articles on your selected topic.

(Credit: Tony McSherry/TechRepublic)

The Sources section displays the various news sources used by the app and, when a source is selected, will display all of the available articles from that source. When you click on a particular article, you'll see it displayed in its own web-based format with accompanying ads. Advertisements are few and far between in Bing Daily, but they will occur now and then as a single ad placed between articles or at the end of a horizontal scroll. While some may lament Microsoft placing a few ads in News, it's certainly the most ad-free experience I've ever had in reading news. If you go directly to the news in Sources, you'll see the usual plethora of ads on the source's web page.

So I've swapped to Bing Daily rather than view just the news from a particular newspaper, and have set up My News to give me information on the topics I'm interested in, as well as reading more articles from any sources I select. It's interesting to speculate on the future of online newspapers, as many are going behind paywalls, so the variety of news I'm getting at the moment may be reduced. However, I can't see myself buying any newspapers in the future.

In the next column, I'll cover the Photos, SkyDrive, Camera, Music, Video, and Maps apps to complete my coverage of the major apps available on Windows RT.


Tony is the owner and managing director of Microcraft eLearning and is one of the creators of the AUTHOR eLearning Development System.

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