Most Windows 8 users probably stick with tried-and-true classic Windows desktop applications and avoid the Metro alternatives.
That’s generally a wise choice, but if you stick only to the desktop environment, you’ll miss some useful and entirely free little programs. On the other hand, you’ll miss a lot of junk, too.
Working within Windows 8’s tiled user interface
I suspect that most of today’s Win8 users spend much of their time getting lots of work done in the old-fashioned Desktop environment, running classic Windows applications. But if you spend all your time there, you’re not benefiting from some fun and useful freebies.
You’ll find this especially true if you’re using a tablet or convertible laptop, or if you’re one of the few with a touchscreen display attached to a desktop PC. Despite being (in the opinion of many) flat, ugly, and unintuitive, the new UI really is more tap-and-swipe friendly than is the classic Desktop — once you learn a few crucial tricks. Of course, if you’ve got a Windows RT tablet, you have no choice in the matter; you’re stuck with the Metro UI and can use only Win8 applications. You have my condolences.
But ultimately, the success of the Metro environment will depend more on its applications than on its usability. And that’s where Microsoft seems to be still struggling. There’s no shortage of Metro apps offered at the Windows Store, but there is a shortage of quality software — programs that are excellent replacements for the classic Windows apps we’ve happily used for years.
For those who, by choice or by necessity, work at least part-time within the Metro environment, here are five free apps you should know about. The first three are less known but worthy offerings that provide simple but usable functionality when you don’t need a powerhouse application or need to depend on touch. The other two are clumsy, Metro-style adaptations of two nearly indispensable services — Dropbox and Gmail.
A touch-friendly but limited file manager
Windows 8’s built-in File Explorer is a truly awesome file manager — easily the best Microsoft has ever produced. I reviewed it in the Nov. 1, 2012, article, “Getting to know Windows 8’s File Explorer.” But its roots are obviously classic Windows — it’s definitely not touch-friendly. Just try managing files and folders with a finger, and you’ll quickly learn its limitations.