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The Windows 8 Metro application ecosystem is evolving. Here are 17 early entrants worth adding to your tablet or PC
Top Metro apps for Windows 8 power users
Maybe you think of the Metro side of Windows 8 -- and the whole of Windows RT -- as the greatest thing since Windows 7. Maybe you figure you’re stuck with Metro and might as well make the best of it. Or maybe you think of Metro as a toddler operating system -- demanding and fussy, but ultimately well worth the effort, and the future of Windows.
Whatever your motivation, if you have Windows 8, you’re no doubt curious about the apps that live in the Metro milieu. Here are my choices for the best productivity apps (excluding the built-in Metro apps) available in the Windows Store today.
Metro has all sorts of Twitter and Twittified apps, and they’re revved and updated constantly, but the one that takes the cake over and over again is Long Zheng’s MetroTwit. With a genuinely useful implementation of the Start screen’s live tile, full support for more than one Twitter account (in the ad-free Pro version), tweet “undo,” touch support that’s ingrained not tacked on, constant updating, and a gorgeous layout, MetroTwit is something of a poster boy for how to do Metro apps right.
MetroTwit: Free; premium version AU$5
I almost gave up on Metro Evernote. I tried and tried to get the Metro version of Evernote to work, and every iteration was, let us say, woefully inadequate.
But then, during the first week in February, Evernote finally released a Metro app that offered at least some of the mojo that’s turned Evernote into a billion-dollar company: storing notes, organizing them, synchronizing them.
The Metro app doesn’t have many of the features that make the Web app so great, but it does let you clip Web pages from Metro IE, type and format notes, and perform very basic operations on the tiled, saved pages.
If you use any of the MS-created Messengers, you have to move to Skype. Choosing between desktop and Metro versions could be difficult.
What’s not to like with the Metro version? You get only one chance at setting up your Skype account, and you have to use a Microsoft account. Got an old Messenger account or a Skype account that isn’t a Microsoft account? Won’t work with Metro Skype. You get only one account. Your Messenger and Skype contacts are merged. No snap. No selective away/busy status. No contact search. Some hardware compatibility problems. And so on.
Skype: Free; per-minute charges; Premium account offers group video calls, group screen sharing, no advertising, live chat customer support, and unlimited calls to one country of your choice,...
LastPass on the desktop rates as the world’s best way to store, manage, and retrieve passwords online. Many people (present company included) wouldn’t even consider using a Web browser without LastPass support. Life’s too short.
Microsoft blocks all browser add-ins on the Metro side, so operation of LastPass is a bit different from what you’ve come to expect. The work-around involves bookmarklets: You have to set up a LastPass bookmarklet in your IE Favorites, then navigate to the bookmarklet every time you want to fill a Web page. Cumbersome, but it works.
LastPass: Premium version ($12/year) works on Windows RT, has no ads, and priority support
File manipulation in the Metro interface -- any touch-centric interface, for that matter -- is notoriously difficult. Dropbox puts a brave face on a difficult situation. With an extensive selection of file previewers, hooks to major apps (for example, you can open a DOCX file directly from Dropbox), file sharing via the Share charm, and searching with the Search charm, Dropbox is a worthy contender in the Metro sphere to Microsoft’s SkyDrive. Bonus: Dropbox doesn’t require a Microsoft account.
There’s a script you can use to put DropBox on Office 2013’s Open and Save menus.
Dropbox: 2GB free; more space from $10/month; team options
While the app won’t win any awards for stability, and its simple tiling system goes long on pizazz and short on facts, the Metro Wikipedia app does have some redeeming social values: it is, after all, hooked into the massive Wikipedia database.
Many of the pages don’t display properly, with text snaking out to Never Never Land. Still, the app lets you pin a page to your Start screen, and the newsy “featured” approach brings a different slant to a well-known resource.
I’m waiting for Encyclopedia Britannica to get its app up.
A remarkable file manager, Metro Commander puts two full, independent, navigable panes side-by-side on the Metro screen -- something Microsoft desktop customers have sought for more than a decade. Extensive options, accessible by swiping from the top or bottom: open, preview, rename, copy, move, delete, create, search, and share (via the Charm) files and folders. Metro Commander does so much it can be overwhelming at first, but the introductory demo helps.
Expect to see many of its features in a Microsoft product soon. It’s that good.
Metro Commander: Free, ad supported
Like other remote-control applications, TeamViewer Touch lets you use a tablet to control another computer, over a secure connection. TeamViewer Touch is specifically designed for the Metro environment. It will let you control any modern Windows computer -- it even supports Win8 commands to bring up the Charms -- or Mac. It’s particularly useful for one-to-many connections, online meetings, and presentations.
TeamViewer Touch maintains a list of previously accessed computers and contacts, and keeps the list updated with their status.
There have been stability problems with the app, but people who get it to work say it’s great.
TeamViewer Touch: Free for personal use
The Windows Store is packed to the gills with RSS readers, and it’s easy to understand why: The Metro interface loves RSS feeds. Besides, with iGoogle hitting the skids later this year, you may need a new RSS aggregator anyway. This Windows Phone veteran brings several useful features to the table: importing from Google Reader or OPML files, searching for feeds using keywords, and creating named groups of feeds.
(If you really want full-screen immersive photos in your news feeder, check out News Bento.)
Previous versions of SimpiRSS for Metro have been buggy and frustrating. The current version is better, but not perfect.
If you have Office, you already have OneNote, but not OneNote MX. OneNote is an electronic briefcase where you can jot down or type notes, grab video, record voice, mix and match all of the above, and organize the whole mess. The messes get synchronized through SkyDrive, so they’re always available. Microsoft has made OneNote apps for iPad/iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, and now, Metro. That’s where the “MX” in OneNote MX comes from.
As Microsoft’s flagship Metro app, OneNote MX packs a bunch of smarts, including Microsoft’s first industrial-strength implementation of radial menus. Very cool -- and it works with a mouse as well as a greasy finger. Don’t be confused: In the Windows Store, OneNote MX is just called “OneNote.”
So what can Metro bring to the well-worn package-tracking schtick? Surprisingly, quite a bit. Feed Trackage a tracking number, and it’ll figure out which shipper has your bundle. You can assign your own name to the shipment. You can pin a tile on the Start screen that shows the current status of the delivery. Trackage syncs your entries, so you can look at them on multiple devices.
On the downside, Trackage still has trouble with international shipments.
If you bill by the hour -- or just need to keep track of the time you spend on multiple projects -- TimeCrunch has you covered. Use its simple but versatile interface to put yourself on the clock in a project of your choice. On the back end, you see reports of your time spent by day, month, project. It’ll even churn out custom invoices and then email them.
Are you drowning in a sea of clouds? I don’t know about you, but I have data tucked away in Dropbox, Google Drive, and SkyDrive -- and sometimes I have trouble remembering what’s where and who’s on first. Since each of the services has its advantages and drawbacks -- and each one has free space allocations -- it’s easy to split your data among different services, but it's very hard to consolidate them.
Enter RainbowDrive, one single app that gives you access to all of your Dropbox, Google Drive, and SkyDrive cloud data (Box.net isn’t yet available). File manipulation is a little gangly, and you can’t drag and drop, but it’s a very useful app -- available on iPad/iPhone and Android as well.
With all the Metro clock apps running around, it’s refreshing to see an app that bites off one simple function and does it reasonably well. Countdowner from Harjoben Singh plainly and simply counts down to an event or events that you set.
There’s still plenty of room for improvements -- no Countdowner live tile on the Start menu, for example, or an “All Day” option for the events, so you don’t have to monkey with hours and minutes -- but as it stands, it works great.
Although the creator of Calculator Free -- Digitalchemy -- has had trouble keeping its website up, no doubt preoccupied by the overwhelming demand for its Kindle and iPhone apps, this simple, colorful Metro calculator works like a champ. I particularly appreciate the way it looks when Metro snapped it to the side of the screen (see screenshot), making it much easier to keep at hand than the old-fashioned Windows desktop calculator. With a copy-and-paste capability that actually works, a Start screen tile that always shows the latest calculation result, editable input (until you press enter), and an abbreviated tape journal, it’s the calculator Microsoft should’ve included in Metro but somehow overlooked.
Calculator Free: Free with ads
Toolbox for Windows 8
Metro’s designed for full-screen apps; if you want to cheat, you can snap a sliver of a second app onto the side of a reduced full-screen app -- but that’s it. Toolbox for Windows 8 gets around that by putting up to six apps on the screen simultaneously. You can choose from 11 offered apps -- even fill different slots with the same app, with different settings, so you can run Clock apps in different time zones, or browser apps that run independently.
I had some stability problems, but there’s much to be said for the ability to take notes in a meeting while simultaneously looking at your Facebook page and running the countdown timer.
Toolbox for Windows 8: Free; Notes app is $2
A few days ago, Twitter finally (finally!) released its official Metro app. Called, simply, Twitter, the app doesn’t have the versatility or pedigree of Long Zheng’s MetroTwit. But it works well for single accounts, and because it comes from The Source Itself, it’s likely to remain compatible even if Twitter pulls the rug out from under third-party developers.
The Metro app from Twitter has one serious feature: When you Metro-snap it on the side of the screen, it not only looks good (see screenshot), it’s actually usable for tweeting, and the Share charm works, as long as you don’t have the old-fashioned desktop on screen.
ARN Innovation Awards