Official Facebook app (finally!) available for Windows 8.1 users

For all the improvements Microsoft has made in bolstering the Windows Store's app selection, one insistent question has held back the company's dreams of grandeur: "Yeah, but where's Facebook?" Indeed, the largest social network in the land has been a conspicuous no-show in Microsoft app market—until now.

This morning, after Windows 8 users upgraded to the new-look Windows 8.1 update, an official Facebook app was a-waitin' in the revamped Windows Store.

After playing around with the app for a while, I can safely report that it's well, pretty much exactly what you'd expect; Zuckerberg didn't rewrite the rule book with this one. That said, the Windows 8.1 Facebook app is extremely functional, rocking a three-pane design with your settings, groups, and viewing options on the left, your main news feed front-and-center, and a list of your Friends and their chat availability on the right. The exact look varies slightly depending on the menu you're on, but the options pane remains consistent on the left side.

Writing something new or uploading a picture coaxes a Charm-style pane to slide in from the right side of the screen, where you're free to spill your heart's innermost secrets.

Composing a new message brings out a right-side pane.

While the look of the app definitely screams "Facebook," it also oozes Microsoft's unique modern UI style, with sharp edges and tiles galore. Pinning the app to the side of the screen ditches the side panes to focus on your news feed, with the "three horizontal lines" options button familiar to users of other Facebook mobile apps appearing in the topmost tray. Again, however, the exact look can vary depending on the Snap ratio you use.

Facebook, pinned.

Facebook for Windows 8.1 lacks one crucial Microsoftian feature, however: Share Charm integration. If you see an interesting tidbit in the modern version of Internet Explorer 11 (or any other modern app), you can't open the Charms bar and seamlessly share it to Facebook. That's a major disappointment, seeing as how sharing links is such a major part of the Facebook experience.

The Facebook app's apparent Windows 8.1 exclusivity is another bummer—it isn't appearing in the Windows Store on my Windows 8 machines. And you may run into problems even if you've upgraded to Windows 8.1, as senior Microsoft editor Mark Hachman has yet to coax the Facebook app into actually downloading onto his Surface, though that may just be opening-day server jitters. Performance also seems slightly sluggish, though not overly so.

All in all, however, the Facebook app for Windows 8.1 is a great first showing for the must-have social network, and it fills one of the most gaping holes in the Windows Store's app selection. Microsoft still has a ways to go before the Windows Store can go toe-to-toe with Android or iOS, but it's definitely headed in the right direction.

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