Whether you want it or not, Microsoft will release its Windows 8 operating system on October 26. The new OS upends the familiar Start menu-based interface you’ve known since Windows 95 in favor of one more streamlined for tablets.
In light of the major interface change, Windows 8 could be the next Vista, with users skipping a generation of Windows over real and imagined problems. Microsoft desperately wants to make sure this doesn’t happen, so Windows 8 will cost just $40 to upgrade, versus the $100+ price that Windows has carried in the past.
Another way Microsoft hopes to bring people over to Windows 8: killer apps. Following Apple’s iOS and Mac App Stores, Windows 8 will have its own dedicated marketplace where users can discover and download apps. Companies like Doo.net and Evernote have already built Windows 8 apps and made them available in the store, even though the OS hasn’t yet been released.
After extensively looking around the Windows 8 Store, we’re pleasantly surprised with the quality of apps already available. We’ve picked out 10 stand-out apps that look and work great on Windows 8. Most of these apps will work fine for desktop users, but as with most aspects of Windows 8, these provide a better experience using a touch screen. Also, while the store includes a few decent games such as Cut the Rope and Pirates Love Daisies, we’ve decided to stick to more traditional apps for this list.
Here are our favorite 10 apps so far:
1. The Big Picture
One of my favorite blogs on the web is Boston.com’s The Big Picture. It takes eye-popping photos from around the world and presents them in large-scale form to make them easy to consume. It’s totally engrossing. Now The Big Picture experience can be had in a beautiful full-screen Windows 8 app. You can easily scroll through this week’s best photos from The Big Picture or look through the blog’s archive. If you really connect with a photo, you can save it to your computer for later viewing. Be warned: You could get lost for hours.
2. Cocktail Flow
Cocktail Flow wants to be your personal bartending assistant. The beautiful app lets you swipe or click-through different kinds of alcoholic beverages and tells you how to make them. Drinks are sorted by alcohol type, drink color, or drink type. The app includes a panel for saving your favorite drinks for reference later. This app might be somewhat simplistic, but it looks slick and could be your best friend whenever you host a trendy party.
Plenty of sites and mobile apps are dedicated to recipes, but CookBook streamlines them all into a well-designed interface for Windows 8. On the left-hand panel, CookBook sorts recipes by the following categories: appetizers, bread, breakfast, desserts, main dish, salad, side dish, and soups. Click any recipe and you’ve got a large photo, user rating, ingredients, and directions — all key to helping you decide if you want to invest your time into making that item. The app also makes it easy to save your favorites and recipes you’d like “try soon.”
4. Fresh Paint
Fresh Paint is an incredibly fun app created by Microsoft to demonstrate Windows 8’s touch capabilities. It’s more than just promotional junkware, since the app lets you paint realistically in delightful ways. You can select different brushes and colors to paint with, and each stroke of the brush adds to other colors in a way that smears other colors. All in all, it’s a blast and another app you can lose yourself in for hours. I can’t wait to try it on Microsoft’s Surface tablet.
Inrix provides a look at real-time traffic conditions around the world. The service claims to use “billions of data points” to help people make smarter driving conditions. In the use case for Windows 8, this would be best for tablet use when you are out and about. Or if you’re a planner like me, you could use the app to check traffic conditions before you leave the house.
6. Music Maker Jam
Music Maker Jam from Magix lets you create an instrumental song in a matter of minutes. Just select a song in the category of dubstep, jazz, or “tech house,” and you can have a tune from pre-made beats running in a heartbeat. While the songs are repetitive, it can be quite fun for an inexperienced music creator. Not only can you turn on and off drums, bass, keys, and sound effects, you can also change the key in which the song is played (A, B, C, D, etc.) and change the BPM (beats per minute).
7. Star Chart
With the recent explosion of interest in space from the Mars rover, Star Chart’s awesome astronomy app might find a big audience later this year. With Star Chart, you hold up a tablet at the sky, and it shows you corresponding stars and constellations. Not only can you see accurate depictions of more than more than 120,000 stars in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, you can also view all 88 constellations with vivid drawings attached. And if you’re an armchair astronomer or you can’t get a good view of the stars, you can still browse the sky using your finger or mouse.
StumbleUpon is a popular service that lets you “stumble” onto new and engaging content around the web. Now the site’s fun, sometimes surprising finds can be had in Windows 8. The StumbleUpon app lets you Stumble in full-screen mode and save favorites for easy use later on a home screen. If you get tired of coming across the same types of content, StumbleUpon has 500 total interests to choose from to shake things up. (And “stumble” this article if you get a chance!)
Now that more than 500 million registered Twitter accounts exist the world over, there is sure to be plenty of crossover between Twitter fans and Windows 8 users come October. Tweetro is a Twitter client that embraces Windows 8’s clean and modern interface, and it’s a beauty. The app lets you view your personal stream, timeline, shared photos, and customized feeds all side by side.
10. USA Today
While news is news no matter how you format it, USA Today’s app presents it better in Windows 8 than anyone else — even better than the Bing News app by Microsoft. Stories are presented in tile form and you can scroll through News, Money, Sports, Life, Tech, and Travel sections. When you open a news story, the left side features a huge photo with the text outlined on the right side. If getting news by video is more your style, the app also has you covered as each section has videos to accompany it.
What did we miss? Let us know in the comments what your favorite Windows 8 app is.