Touch-first or not, these apps get things done
Sometimes a little open-mindedness goes a long way. You could dismiss Windows 8 as a "Fisher-Price operating system" that's unfit for real work, as many are oh-so-quick to do, or you could actually take advantage of its unique capabilities, using Windows Store apps to work faster and smarter. And with all the mouse-and-keyboard enhancements in the latest Windows 8.1 Update—especially the introduction of a universal taskbar that houses apps as well as traditional desktop software—these apps are now easier than ever to integrate into your workflow, even if you're pro-Start menu and anti-touch screen.
Here are 9 of the best Windows Store apps that desktop users should check out.
Windows 8's built-in PDF viewer is fine for just reading, but Drawboard PDF has you covered if you're looking to edit some documents. It has a large selection of tools, including highlights, drawing, strikethrough and notes, and it even lets you create new PDF files from scratch or from a webcam image. You can try the app for free, but it costs $14.99 after the trial period ends.
Word2PDF isn't fancy, and it certainly isn't pretty. But it does exactly what it claims to do, converting Word documents to PDF files with a couple of clicks. If that's a service you need, this is the app you want.
Fotor is an all-purpose photo editor that hits the sweet spot between overly simple and excessively powerful. You can crop photos to several aspect ratios, fine-tune brightness and contrast, add Instagram-style filters, add some text, and choose from several preset color and lighting adjustments (including one for food photos). The app is completely free, and it's a fine option for quickly touching up your photos.
Depending on your level of programming skills, Code Writer is either a handy plain-text editor or a robust coding tool. The app can highlight syntax for over 20 languages, including HTML, C++ and PHP, and includes useful editing features such as find-and-replace, word count, and go-to-line. You can also open multiple files at once and quickly switch between then from the menu bar. The app works well with Windows 8.1's Snap feature, seamlessly reflowing its text as you adjust the window size. Keep it mind for jotting down notes or building your next website.
As the name implies, Toolbox is a collection of basic tools that you can run in a single window, including a calculator, currency converter, web browser, and voice recorder. You can open up to six tools at a time in full screen mode, or two tools in the smallest Snap view (which is especially helpful for using multiple calculators or currency converters while referencing another document). Many of the tools are free, but you can purchase additional ones, including a notepad, Twitter module, and RSS reader.
Windows 8's built-in Mail app is slick, but it's not really optimized for Gmail, with its use of folders instead of labels and its poor handling of long conversation threads. If you're a hardcore Gmail user, MetroMail is a better alternative. It supports labels and server-side search, and unlike Gmail's desktop site, it works wonderfully in Snap view. You can try MetroMail for free, but it's worth the $2.99 upgrade for push notifications and no ads.
No disrespect to Microsoft Word, but when you really need to concentrate on writing, all those toolbars and ribbons can be a distraction. WritePlus gets the clutter out of the way, with a clean screen and just a handful of basic formatting options (which can also be hidden from view). The app also includes several light and dark themes, adjustable column width, auto-save functionality, and a "deep focus" feature that dims every line but the one you're editing. It's free, but a $3.99 upgrade adds several features, including word count and the ability to save as a .DOCX or .HTML file.
Twitter's official Windows 8 app is just so-so, and with the recent demise of MetroTwit, Tweetium is clearly at the top of the heap. It's the rare Twitter client for Windows 8 that reliably streams new tweets as they come in, and it supports the full range of window sizes in Snap view. Tweetium even has multi-window support, so you can view your main timeline and a list at the same time. The only downside is that you need a subscription for push notifications, but even without that feature, it's well worth the $2.99 asking price.
8 Zip New
8 Zip New is a powerful file compression and extraction utility, supporting more file types than Microsoft's built-in tool (including RAR and 7Z). It has all the features you'd expect from an unzip tool, including a built-in photo viewer, copy and paste support and multi-volume extraction.