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.


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.


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:


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.

Editor's Picks