Mixing modern style with business needs
Microsoft may tout the Surface as the best tablet for business productivity, but many professionals stick to traditional desktop programs rather than wading into the Windows Store.
That's unfortunate, because Windows 8's walled garden hides a slew of work-ready apps, especially if you venture beyond the Windows Store's lackluster business section. These apps probably can't replace your reliable desktop software completely, but they're more than capable enough to keep you productive while on the run.
The Windows 8 Mail app is dreadfully meh. What's an Exchange-using businessperson to do? Easy: Download NitroDesk's $20 TouchDown app.
This beta version isn't quite as polished as its iOS and Android counterparts, and it doesn't quite go toe-to-toe with Outlook in terms of features, but it does sync email, calendar events, contact info, notes, and tasks without a hitch. (The native Mail app doesn't do all that!) Plus, it packs support for advanced Exchange features like PIN enforcement, remote wiping, and on-device data encryption, though some features are definitely missing in this early release.
Grapholite Diagrams Pro
Let's acknowledge the elephant in the room: $27 is an awful lot to spend on a mobile app. But if you need to create any sort of diagram for your business—from flowcharts to technical drawings and wireframes—then Grapholite Diagrams Pro has you covered. The interface rocks with touchscreen hardware, and the app's superb charm integration makes sharing, printing, and exporting files to various formats a breeze.
Given the (relatively) high entry cost, I'd recommend using the trial version before investing in the full-fledged app, but there's a great chance you'll be hooked once you take Grapholite Diagrams Pro for a spin.
Sometimes the file you need is not on the device you have in hand. That's where Microsoft’s Remote Desktop comes in. As its name implies, this app lets you access your work computer from anywhere you have an Internet connection.
The Windows 8 Remote Desktop app covers the basics and even lets you manage multiple remote computers simultaneously, complete with copy and paste functionality between the different desktops. And hey, it's free!
C'mon. It's Skype. Even if your business can't take advantage of free Skype-to-Skype calling, the service offers plenty of other productivity-boosting features. The Skype app dishes out systemwide notifications and can be docked to one side of the screen. The Microsoft-owned service sinks its hooks deeply into Windows 8's native People app.
Frequent travelers might be able save some coin by using Skype's sister app, the free Skype Wi-Fi, which lets you tap in to the Net at more than 1 million hotspots around the globe—assuming you have some Skype credit in the bank, of course.
Package Tracker does exactly what you think it does, and it does it very well. The app tracks package status information from more than 60 different carriers, and issues Live Tile and systemwide notifications when your delivery's status changes. Bing Maps integration shows the last known location of any given package, while a cloud sign-in option syncs your info across multiple Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone devices.
Package histories? Check. Package status sharing? Check. The ability to pin individual packages to the Start screen? Check. Heck, Package Tracker even has a baked-in barcode scanner. This app is definitely $3 well spent.
WorldMate and Kayak
Busy travelers will love WorldMate, an Android and iOS mainstay that has migrated to Microsoft's Live-Tiled shores. Just forward your travel confirmations—hotel bookings, car reservations, flight details, whatever—to WorldMate, and the service will collate the details into a cohesive travel itinerary, complete with maps to your destinations. The free Windows 8 app isn't as polished or full-featured as the WorldMate apps for other platforms, but it's still very useful for getting your ducks in a row.
Need to find a flight or a place to stay? Check out Kayak (also free). (And forward those confirmations to WorldMate when you're done!)
Windows 8's native Bing Maps app is decent enough for casual use, but its accuracy is a bit…wanting, which simply won't cut it when you need a navigator to guide you to a crucial business meeting or far-flung hotel. Where oh where is Google Maps when you need it? Not in the Windows Store, alas.
But fear not! The gMaps app is basically Google Maps wrapped up in a modern-style, third-party package. Traffic information, public transit routes, bicycling routes, weather overlays, Google Latitude friends—it's all there, and, better yet, gMaps is just as cheap as Google Maps proper. (Read: free.)
Typing out notes on a touchscreen in the middle of a meeting is a chore. The sublimely simple $2.50 ScribbleRT transforms your tablet or hybrid into a digital notepad, letting you quickly jot things down longhand. While ScribbleRT sometimes lags when you use a stylus, the app recognizes fingertip input just fine, and extras like an automatic carriage return at the end of a line and basic drawing/highlighter functionality are just cherries on top of a delicious core experience. Sure, it's basic, but I use ScribbleRT on my ThinkPad Twist almost daily.
OneNote or Evernote
When it comes to digital note-taking and archiving software categories, both of those 800-pound gorillas are in the Windows Store. From a sheer usability standpoint, OneNote MX integrates with Microsoft's modern user interface much more smoothly than Evernote Touch does. Evernote Touch is pretty nerfed compared to the Evernote apps available for other platforms (witness the abundance of poor reviews for Evernote Touch in the Windows Store). However, it has been improving rapidly since its launch.
If you're new to notes and you plan to stick mostly to Windows, I'd recommend skewing toward OneNote. But Evernote Touch works well enough if you're already invested in the Evernote ecosystem. Bonus: The app includes Evernote Business integration.
Drawboard PDF or PDF Touch
Marking up PDFs is like grocery shopping: mind-numbingly boring, but most of us do it. And that's why the Windows Store's dearth of PDF-markup tools is so disappointing.
From the ho-hum lineup of the apps that do exist, two offerings are worth a try: PDF Touch and Drawboard PDF. Neither of these $3 apps is perfect. Each has numerous interface quirks and the occasional bout of poor performance. But they're what you've got, unless you want to stick to traditional desktop software. Drawboard PDF at least offers a brief trial, so I'd recommend trying that one first.
Sometimes the business you're in isn't the business you want to be in, or maybe you just need to keep tabs on the latest hiring trends in your industry.
No matter why you want to stay abreast of job postings, getHired is the way do it. This free app scours eight top-tier job sites (including Indeed and SimplyHired) and presents its findings in a consolidated view, complete with filters for your recent, favorite, and most-viewed job searches.
Microsoft tosses in free SkyDrive storage with Windows 8, but when it comes to storing work files online, businesses rely on Box. Box business accounts offer managed file access, collaboration tools, secure connections, and an uptime guarantee that consumer-grade cloud storage just can't match. And unlike SkyDrive and Dropbox, Box handles file uploads just fine.
The Windows 8 app lets you scour your Box using the Search charm, which saves a ton of time. The Share charm makes distributing files easy. Best of all, you can pin individual Box folders to your Start screen, where they turn into Live Tiles that give you a heads-up when a colleague alters a collaborative file.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Windows Store already offers a bevy of niche apps to fill your business's needs. And I'm not just talking about enterprise-class apps like Rackspace Cloud, Citrix Receiver, or Microsoft's own Lync, Yammer, and Dynamics Business Analyzer. Beneath the big names are a host of apps that are arguably more useful to small businesses.
From HoursTracker to Invoice360 to Mileage And Receipt System to Google Analytics Live, the Windows Store has many basic business functions covered, albeit often in a highly simplified fashion. Dive into the store's business and productivity sections, and you might just be surprised at what else you'll find.
Office gear you didn't know you needed
Want to pump up your productivity even more? Check out these must-have peripherals and accessories.