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Apps: Essentials And Ecosystem

The Definitive Windows 8 Review And User Guide
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The apps on this page are essential to Microsoft's Windows 8 experience and ecosystem.

Essentials

Desktop

Did you ever think you'd see a day when the Windows desktop would be compartmentalized into its own little app? That's exactly what this is, though, and at least at first, you might find yourself using it often.

We'll go into more depth on the Windows desktop shortly.

SkyDrive

SkyDrive is Microsoft's equivalent of DropBox. Like DropBox, it backs up the contents of a folder (the SkyDrive folder), syncing it to all other devices running SkyDrive with the same user account. Cloud sync is absolutely crucial to Microsoft's bet that people will buy multiple Windows 8-based devices.

As someone who uses many devices simultaneously, and changes operating systems with the frequency that most people change their Facebook status, cloud backup and sync are already essential components of my routine. Frankly, I'd be lost without DropBox. So, I decided to install Windows 8 on nearly all of my machines and give SkyDrive a shot as my cloud-based storage.

This is one area where Microsoft's solution simply isn't on par with the industry leader, and it all comes down to latency. Mere seconds after saving a document, DropBox backs it up to the cloud and I have the latest version on every other machine with DropBox installed. I'm not kidding here. DropBox does its job before I can stand up from my chair. SkyDrive, on the other hand, takes a few minutes before the latest versions of my files appear on other systems.

Even the initial setup process is significantly more time-consuming than DropBox. I have nearly 3 GB of files that I need to access through the cloud. Getting all 3 GB to a new installation is an hour-long affair with DropBox over an Ethernet connection, or roughly three over Wi-Fi. Using SkyDrive, the first-time sync was an overnight process. Needless to say, I'll be racing back to DropBox as soon as this story goes live.

Internet Explorer 10

Internet Explorer 10 is the default Web browser for Windows 8. The Windows 8 UI version is 64-bit, while the desktop version of IE10 is a 32-bit build.

Like all Windows 8 UI apps, Internet Explorer 10 runs fullscreen. When the App and Navigation bars are activated, IE10 is almost an upside-down version of its Desktop counterpart. All of the usual navigation controls (like the back/forward buttons, location/search bar, reload button, favorite button, page search, and the option to open in the desktop) are contained within the bottom App bar.

Much like the on-screen keyboard's split-screen mode, IE10 puts the back and forward buttons on opposite sides of the App bar, reinforcing the two-hand grip and tendency to use tablets in a landscape orientation.

Similar to the Windows 7 taskbar, Web locations can be pinned to the Windows 8 Start screen. When you do this, pinned pages appear as the site's favicon and name in a tile matching the favicon's predominant color.

The upper Navigation bar holds tumbnails of all open tabs with the options to close them, open a new tab (or new InPrivate tab), or close all but the active tab.

Early benchmarks indicate that Internet Explorer 10 may be a real player. By the end of the week, we'll have a Windows 8-based Web Browser Grand Prix, complete with benchmarks to better-represent the state of Web browsing under Windows 8.

Microsoft's Ecosystem

No company in the mobile ecosystem business can hope to succeed without creating a marketplace from which customers can fill their devices with paid premium content. Apple has its App Store, Google has Google Play, Amazon has the Kindle Store...you get the idea. The serious players in the content distribution market have well-stocked, easily recognizable digital storefronts. Microsoft knows this, and gives Windows 8 users no less than four of them in one day.

Store

The Store app corresponds to the Windows Store, where you can purchase and download apps for Windows 8. This is also where you retrieve updates for those applications (not through Windows Update).

You must have a Microsoft user account, not a local user account, in order to use the Windows Store. While not initially obvious, the way to search for apps in the Store is via the Search Charm.

Games

The Games app opens Xbox Games. More than a new marketplace to purchase Xbox 360 games, Xbox Games also has a way to search and browse Windows 8-based games (though the actual download takes place through the Store app).

You're also able to manage your Xbox profile through the Games app.

Music

The Music App opens Xbox Music, a new ad-supported music streaming service. Xbox Music also has a premium option: pay $10 per month for unlimited streaming without commercials. And, of course, you can also purchase MP3-encoded versions of many songs and albums on Xbox Music.

This app also serves as the default audio player for Windows 8.

Video

The Video app opens Xbox Video, a marketplace for buying or renting movies and television shows.

Xbox Video is the default video player for Windows 8 as well.

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