Microsoft

Windows 8 apps for the productive Desktop user

Greg Shultz takes a look at a selection of apps that he thinks are a good fit for the desktop user running Windows 8 with a keyboard and mouse.

After last week's blog post, The countdown to 100,000 Windows 8 apps falls short, was published I've receive numerous questions and comments about the apps available in the Windows Store. While the questions and comments have a wide range of themes, one theme in particular goes something like this:

There are literally thousands of apps in the Windows store and while a lot of them leave something to be desired, many of them are quite good. However, it seems that these apps are primarily designed for touch screen tablets. Surely, Microsoft envisioned apps that would be useful for Desktop users. Can you point out some apps that would be useful for the Desktop user?

If you have had the same question in mind, then you're in luck because the answer is yes.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll take a look at a selection of apps that I think are a good fit for the desktop user running Windows 8 with a keyboard and mouse.

What constitutes a Desktop app?

This is of course a tricky question to answer because everyone has their own opinion. Certainly, the majority of the apps in the Windows store can be used on a desktop system with a keyboard and mouse almost as easily as they can be used on a tablet with a touch screen. However, there is a certain aspect, a look and feel if you will, to some apps that just makes them more fitting for use on a tablet. More specifically, they have more of an entertainment angle than a work tool.

For the purposes of this article, I decided that I would define a Desktop app as an app that can be used to perform some sort of productive task that you would typically associate with the use of a Desktop computer. Mind you, the apps work just as well on a tablet with touch as they do on a Desktop with keyboard and mouse. Let's take a look.

OneNote

When it comes to note taking, I haven't found anything better than the OneNote application that comes with Microsoft Office. When Microsoft brought OneNote to Windows 8 as stand-alone app, I was eager to give it a spin and so far I haven't been disappointed. While there are some features from the full-fledged version that aren't present, the Windows 8 app version has the same functionality and a lot of new twists.

When you install the OneNote app, you'll find a clean looking user interface unobstructed by menus or ribbons - all the screen space is dedicated to your notes. You can easily organize information by creating a Notebook, a Section, and a Page, as shown in Figure A, and then begin typing your text. As you type, you'll notice a page icon appear on the screen. When you click that icon, you'll see what Microsoft calls a Radial Menu and can select any of the available options.

The Radial Menus are context sensitive, which means that the available options change depending on what you are doing. For instance the page menu shown in Figure A contains options such as Paste or List. However, if you highlight some text, you'll find a different menu that contains options pertaining to the Font, such as size and color. The OneNote app is extremely intuitive.

Figure A

The OneNote app sports a clean looking user interface and features new Radial Menus that only appear when you need them.

OneNote is available in the Windows Store in the Productivity category and is a free app.

My Server

If you are using Windows Server 2012 Essentials, the most recent version of Windows Small Business Server, then you'll be interested in the My Server app, shown in Figure B. Using Microsoft's My Server app you can quickly and easily access and work with files that are stored on the Windows Server 2012 Essentials server. In addition, My Server can be used to search for files on your Windows 8 system. Other handy features include the ability to manage users, attached devices, and server alerts. My Server also provides offline access of recently accessed files and automatic synchronization. Facilitated by My Server, media files on the server can be streamed and played back in Windows 8.

Figure B

The My Server app connects to Windows Server 2012 Essentials and allows you to access files from the server.

The My Server app is available in the Windows Store in the Productivity category and is a free app.

Dynamics Business Analyzer

While the Dynamics Business Analyzer is targeted at a very specific audience, those that use Microsoft Dynamics ERP-based software, it is an excellent example of an app that plays well on a Desktop. This app allows users to connect to Microsoft SQL Reporting Services and pull up reports (Figure C) created by the last three versions of Microsoft Dynamics: SL 2011 FP1, AX 2012 R2, and GP 2013. For more details on this new tool, check out this TechNet article.

Figure C

Dynamics Business Analyzer connects to Microsoft SQL Reporting Services and allows you to pull up reports.

The Dynamics Business Analyzer app is available for free app in the Windows Store in the Business category.

SkyDrive

As you know, the SkyDrive app comes with Windows 8 and along with a Microsoft account provides you with access to 7GB of free storage in the cloud. Using the app (Figure D), you can create folders, upload files, download files, and best of all you can easily access your files where ever you go. For example, you could create a Word document on your office PC, save it on your SkyDrive, and then access it later from your home PC. You can then make modifications, save it back to SkyDrive, and then the next day when you get to work your document is there waiting for you. I'd definitely call this a great desktop app.

Figure D

The SkyDrive app comes preinstalled in Windows 8.

In addition to the Windows 8 app, SkyDrive is available for Windows 7, Mac, Android and other platforms.

Tile A File

As you know, you can pin any application to the Start Screen with a simple right click. But, have you ever wished that you could pin files to the Start Screen? Well with the Tile A File app, you can do just that. When you launch Tile A File you'll see the contents of your Documents folder, but you can navigate to any folder on your hard disk. You can even venture out to your network. Once you locate the file that you want, just select it, select the Pin to Start button and you'll find your file on the Start Screen. This process is illustrated in Figure E. Just like creating a shortcut to a file on the desktop, now to open the file and launch the application, you just click the tile.

Figure E

With Tile A File, you can put your documents on the Start Screen.

Tile A File is available in the Windows Store in the Tools category and is a free app.

Searching for apps in the Windows Store

Before I wrap up this post, want to show you how to search for apps in the Windows Store. Some of you are probably aware of this already, but many are not. Once you launch the Windows Store, move your mouse pointer to the top right corner of the screen to access the Charms bar. Then click the Search charm. As soon as you do, the Search pane will appear and will be targeted on the Windows Store, as shown in Figure F. Now, just type your search term and click the magnifying glass icon.

Figure F

Using the Search charm makes quick work of sifting through the Windows Store.

Just in case you are wondering, 1,246 apps were added to the Windows Store this past week, bringing the total up to 27,891 apps.

What's your take?

What do you think of these apps? Would you consider them Desktop apps? Are there other Windows 8 apps in the Windows Store that you would consider apps for the Desktop user? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

Also read:

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

20 comments
skennedy10
skennedy10

I absolutely love all the lessons on TechRepublic and am heading to find Tile a File right now! I have about 20 tabs set up to read from just this morning's 10-Things in my e-mail and links from that!

skennedy10
skennedy10

I just bought a Windows 8 with touchscreen and I am in the process of getting used to it. I think it will be great once I learn how to find things. I think of it as being similar to my Android devices, so I know it will come. LOVE the touchscreen! This is a much nicer learning curve than moving from Mac to Win 3.1!

right-clicking
right-clicking

I have installed the desktop SkyDrive so I could have it integrated within file explorer, Great work Microsoft! It throws up a kernel event error "skydrivesessionname failed to start! I have trawled the store to find a decent app or two to give me an reason to use the tiled interface, What a joke! half of the "Apps" are normal Programs, most of the free ones are loaded with ad's! I like the idea of the apps as they are self running and require no real installation. I have found a great program that enables the ability to run tiled apps in a desktop window. Check out ModerMix from the stardock makers!

Tonyandoc
Tonyandoc

Naming the new OS Windows 8 is appropriate. Obviously the "Windows" bit is the superfluous, or joke, bit because it is not a "windows" system. The reason, I believe, is that eight and zero are the only numbers that allow one to loop endlessly without a break and 8 is preferable to 0 as you can tip it over to represent infinity. The message, clearly, is you can go around forever and never reach a solution.

jelabarre
jelabarre

There's one MAJOR thing you need to add to a Windows8 system, and that's Classic Shell (http://www.classicshell.net). It brings back a sane desktop (as far as anything on Windows could be considered sane), with the start menu and all. It also sets your system to automatically bypass the formerly-known-as-Metro interface. Once you've done that, you can start adding your Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, VLC, InfraRecorder, and so on.

egmccann
egmccann

... where's the "must have" desktop app? Why would I use the Metroized Onenote as opposed to the one designed to use on a desktop? Same with skydrive - I can get there through explorer, drag and drop files, etc. Why would I want a giant window with less functionality taking up my entire screen? (or a sliver on the side, as there's no in between?) Why would I want to do an SQL query or look at "Myserver" there instead of doing it through a full application? Just saying "Ok, these are here" isn't really enough. Give me a compelling reason to use these or prefer them over a regular, full fledged desktop application.

quedubruit
quedubruit

One of windows 7 features I used most was drag rapidly one window to the right and the other rapidly to the left and it showed me 2 evenly devided windows (e.g. 2 explorer windows in order to compare visually). All Metro apps open in full screen mode and no way to rapidly throw them to the left or the right with one rapid mouse mouvement.

carlsf
carlsf

There is NO way Windows 8 systems will be entering our workspace.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I regret to report my disappointment. I was hoping for a list of Metro applications that did things not available on the traditional desktop, something that would give me a reason to stick around in Metro instead of going straight to the desktop after booting. Three of these are Metro equivalents of conventional desktop apps and functions (OneNote, Tile a File, SkyDrive). I'm a huge fan of OneNote, but I don't see the advantages these have over their traditional counterparts when run on a desktop. Two are useful to limited audiences ('My Server' for 2012 Essentials users, 'Dynamics Business Analyzer' for Dynamics users). I realize not all applications are going to appeal to all users, but I'm not in the audience for either of these. I appreciate the search tutorial. Otherwise I guess I'm looking for a 'killer app' on the order of Lotus 1-2-3 or e-mail. Maybe I've unjustifiably set my expectations too high for this new format of applications.

1ronman
1ronman

I have been a staunch Microsoft defender for a long time...but this....deep breath???.this takes the cake. I keep thinking I'll adjust to the new interface, but the more I use it on my desktop, the more I find things I can’t believe they didn’t fix it before they released it, and the more I hate it. I am hopeful that I will eventually say "Boy, I like Win 8", but so far, it’s been a battle to not drive to Redmond and throw a brick through their window, then reinstall Win 7. Perhaps the things on my "Why I hate win 8" list can be answered by other readers. If so It will help pull me back from the whole "brick" thing which, while I know it sounds like a bad idea....is somehow appealing. 1. where’s my run bar 2. where’s my recently opened files list 3. What were they thinking when they designed the music interface. If you’re a teenager, maybe that’s appealing but really, how many teenagers use their own money to buy new OS's? I want to see a list of my music folders. If I want the "Formerly known as Extra Large Icons" view, I'll select it from a list of views. Give me my list! Oh, and all the other stuff that I have purposely put in my main Music folder such as lists of song lyrics and other things that I consider Music related, thanks for making that unavailable Microsoft. I WANT IN MY STINKING MUSIC FOLDER back the way it was! I have to switch to my desktop Where I have put a shortcut to my profile and browse to it. Thanks for that Microsoft! 3a. Where the heck is Windows Media player? If I want to burn some tracks to a cd. I can starts a track playing and that will bring it up, I can stop it, and click the Burn CD tab, but who thought this was better...anybody? this is such a no brainer, I’m sure I’m missing something. HELP! 4. Let’s talk about Internet Explorer. IE launched from the tile is completely different from the one launched from the desktop. The tile launches this full screen versions that apparently, they absolutely do not want you to use. If they did want you to use it, they wouldn’t have went to so much trouble to hide your Favorites. Having to use Google to find the lame and insufficient controls that they did include seems a teensy bit counter intuitive to me. Once you find your Favorites however...good luck trying to find the organization that you spent so much time building under Win 7. And if you only want to see a couple at a time, again, in the "formerly known as Extra Large Icons" view, you'll feel right at home. For anyone else???(unless I'm missing something crucial and I'm hoping that’s the case)...screw you. You'll look at it the way our focus group decided you will and if you don’t like that, go somewhere else for your Browser!...hmmm..... 4a. And while I’m on a rant about IE from the tile???.who thought it would be better to remove the resize, minimize and close buttons. I can resize my IE???.sort of???. If I grab the top edge and pull down (and who thought that would be intuitive (thanks again Google)) it will let me drag it to an area about 3 inches wide on the right edge, or the left edge in a “top of the screen to the bottom of the screen” only view???..that’s it??? You want it in the middle? Nope, You want it in the lower left quadrant of your display? Nope! Want it left edge but only from the top to half way down? Nope. Focus group rules! Love it or leave us! I understand now why Microsoft was selling their new OS for 39$.

pbug56
pbug56

Everything hidden, all sorts of weird new ways to do old things that take more effort, more remembering, more time and steps. And you have to pay for this garbage - they ought to be paying for us to take this nonsense from them.

pchapa
pchapa

I learned two things from reading this. Tile a File looks like something I could actually use and I now know how to search windows store. I keep forgetting about that charms sidebar when I work in win 8.

smckanna
smckanna

The one thing I really missed on my desktop with Windows 8 was a 'Start' button. I have far too many programs to put them on the task bar so I use Start Menu X. I have found it handy on client's machines when I have to keep going to the control panel.

Ontario Canada
Ontario Canada

I have been using Windows 8 since the betas and have yet to find a "metro" app that would be my preference on the standard desktop PC with a mouse and keyboard. On my tablet - which I updated to Windows 8 pro - I have a couple that, if forced, I will use. But if my stylus is handy I return to the standard desktop. Yesterday I popped an SD card with some pictures into the tablet and an app appeared to allow me to put the pictures somewhere. But, it had no browse facility - so beyond an educated guess I had no idea where the pictures were going and no obvious option to choose. I couldn't be bothered to investigate, so I just cancelled and used the desktop. These full-screen tiled apps totally suck.

quintolabs
quintolabs

I would recommend the ad blocking and tracking prevention solution for the Windows 8 Desktop users - Diladele Web Safety. It is positioned as "personal web filtering solution for all your browsing needs". Integrates well with Windows 8 network stack (like Microsoft Family Safety) and automatically supports all browsers (including IE). It has recently achieved "Certified for Windows 8" grade from Microsoft. I use it to block all excessive ads and privacy tracking - just do not like when google keeps selling me something my friend accidentally mentioned in his mail :)

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Greg has listed a few useful productivity apps for Desktop users of Windows 8. Are there other Windows 8 apps in the Windows Store that you would consider apps for the Desktop user?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

assuming you started out in a counter-clockwise direction.

DT2
DT2

Yeah. A lot of my computer work involves cutting and pasting from one document to another, so unless I can place them side-by-side, Win-8 is useless. I guess the answer is to use the desktop interface. Well, then, what good is the Metro side and why even have it in the first place?

quedubruit
quedubruit

I'll pay for the gas and the brick. Go and do it.

DT2
DT2

I'll chip in, too. Do you take PayPal?

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