The Windows 8 Consumer Preview is out, and along with it, a (limited) number of preview apps that are designed to showcase the new Metro style (Figure A). Some of them work better than others.

Figure A

Windows 8 preview apps provide an early taste of what Metro can do.

Various apps, such as Mail, Messaging, Camera, Maps, People, Reader, Weather, and IE, come pre-installed. And there are almost 100 free apps available in the Windows Store (Figure B), which is itself the “mother of all apps” because that’s how you get more. There are no paid apps at this time, since the operating system hasn’t been released. It’s important to remember that the apps, like the OS, are not yet in final form.

Figure B

Windows Store: The “mother of all (additional) apps.

Here are my current five favorite preview apps out of the selection available, both pre-installed and downloadable from the Store.

Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.

1: People

This is a lot like the People hub on Windows Phone; it connects to multiple social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live, LinkedIn, Google) as well as to your Exchange account and lets you see what your friends are posting regardless of where they’re posting it (Figure C). It also serves as the source of contacts for the built-in Mail and Messenger apps. It’s nice that these work together and you don’t have to deal with multiple contact lists. You can send email or an IM to someone directly from the People app, too.

Figure C

The People app shows you what’s new with your contacts across multiple services.

2: Remote Desktop

I’ve been a big fan of the Remote Desktop feature since it made its Windows client-side debut in Windows XP, so it’s no surprise that one of my most-used apps in Windows 8 is Remote Desktop (Figure D). It’s quick and simple to use, and I think it’s going to be a killer app on Windows 8 tablets. I tried several Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) apps on the iPad and Android tablets and none of them worked very well.

Figure D

The Remote Desktop app is clean and simple and gets the job done.

You can set the properties for all Remote Desktop connections or you can do it on an individual basis. To do that, you right click the connection whose properties you want to change and select Edit from the options bar at the bottom of the screen.

3: The Tower by American Airlines

Okay, this one is just plain cool. I’m an aviation buff so maybe that colors my opinion, but I love it. I hope they add more functionality to it in future iterations, but for now I just like the way it looks sitting there on my monitor (Figure E). The Tower lets you check the status of flights, find out where a flight in the air is at the moment, and get the weather and gate postings for AA hub airports.

Figure E

The Tower makes you feel as if you’re an air traffic controller — without the stress.

You start by selecting your hub (in my case, DFW). Then you can see the AA flights scheduled for the different terminals. They’re color coded to indicate their status; on-time flights are green, delayed flights are red, and empty flights are black. You can see the number of departing and arriving flights, as well. Select a flight and you can see details such as the arrival and departure terminals and gates, flight duration, type of aircraft, even whether Wi-Fi is available on the flight.

4: YouCam

A built-in camera app (named Camera) comes with Windows 8 CP, and it works fine: Click the mouse or press, and it takes a photo with your Web cam. It’s very basic, though. You can crop the picture and adjust a few basic settings, but that’s all.

YouCam (Figure F) provides a bit more functionality. With it, you can zoom in or out, quickly adjust the brightness without going into menus, apply special effects (distortions, overlays, emoticons, frames), and switch from front to rear camera (if your device has both).

Figure F

YouCam gives you more creative tools than the built-in camera app.

5: SigFig

Windows 8 CP comes with a Finance app you can use to keep watch on the ups and downs of your favorite stocks, but SigFig (Figure G) does much more. With it, you can import the accounts from your brokerages (using bank-level security) and track your entire portfolio, with detailed analytics and investment recommendations.

Figure G

SigFig was a winner in the Windows 8 First Apps contest.

More on Windows 8

Other favorites?

Which Windows 8 preview apps have caught your eye? Share your picks with fellow TechRepublic members.