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4/4/2012
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Windows 8 Tour, Part 2: Metro Apps

In this mini-tour of Windows 8, the second in a two-part series, we look at hot corners and the OS's new bundled apps, including Finance, Mail, Maps, People, Photos, and Weather.

Maps, People, Photos, and Weather

Windows 8 includes a mapping application. Its implementation of Bing Maps is actually very good. By using Maps and Windows 8's built-in location capabilities, you can get directions from your current location to just about anywhere in the country.

The People application is Windows 8's unified address book, another brand new feature for the Windows operating system. Like Mail, the address book works with multiple accounts including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Hotmail, Google, and Exchange.

Clicking on an individual contact displays details and and a larger version of the associated picture. You can send an email or map a contact's address directly from this contact "card".

Managing photos is a lot easier than it used to be. The Photos app is much nicer than Windows Live Photo Gallery. You can pull in photos from practically anywhere--a local hard drive, SkyDrive, Facebook, Flickr--and view them all in one place on your desktop.

Windows Weather is perhaps my favorite Metro app of the bunch, although I had trouble at first getting it to use Windows 8's location services. I think the services were down the first time I tried; Weather finally decided to fetch data while I was on the train on my way into the office.

It's too bad Weather displays information only for your "home" city on its Live Tile. It would be nice if it cycled through all your cities, like the way the Mail app tile cycles through all the messages in your inbox.

Metro apps are just okay

As I've said before, the Metro interface leaves a bit to be desired. It is completely different from the old Windows desktop, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, Metro doesn't translate well to a desktop experience. On a touch-enabled mobile device such as a tablet it makes perfect sense, and I actually like it there. The problem is Microsoft has mixed the new Metro features in with the classic desktop UI, and the two don't mesh well. If released this way, Windows 8 adoption is going to face some unnecessary hurdles.

The Metro apps themselves are okay but not great. My biggest gripe is aesthetic: They have too much white space. That might look passable on a tablet or smaller screen, but on a 22-inch flatscreen it's a big waste of screen space. Apps like Mail already look flat and uninteresting. Big screens exacerbate the problem.

Microsoft's Windows 8 is a work in progress, but as I understand it, the visual design is largely completed. Will Microsoft change anything based on user feedback? Who knows? But it has my two cents: Metro apps are ugly.

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