Windows 8 wish list: 10 Metro-style apps I want to see

The more I use Windows 8 , the more I realize what's missing: great apps. If Microsoft wants people to fall in love with their new OS, it needs a collection of killer apps. Here's my wish list. What apps are you waiting for?
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

How many people have downloaded the Windows 8 Developer Preview since it was first made publicly available at last month's BUILD conference? Officially, Microsoft says the number of downloads exceeded 500,000 in the first 24 hours, including the 5,000 developers who paid to attend BUILD. The company is tight-lipped about numbers since then, but I suspect the number of downloads is probably well over a million now.

Since that first week, Windows 8 coverage on high-profile tech sites has dropped substantially as tech pundits refocused their short attention spans on new shiny things. Meanwhile, developers are actually, you know, developing apps. And a large number of Windows enthusiasts and IT professionals are pounding on Windows 8 with a vengeance.

In Microsoft's forums and on third-party sites, I've read lots and lots of praise. in this raw, early release, Windows 8 has made a great first impression, even among some critics who've previously been dismissive of anything with Windows in the name. As this screen shows, it really is possible for the two Windows 8 personalities—desktop and Metro—to live peacefully side by side:

Windows 8 apps, new and old

Windows 8 apps, new and old

But I've also also seen some harshly worded negative impressions come out of those early experiences. Lee Pender of Redmond Channel Partner. for example, calls Windows 8 "confusing" and adds: "Frustration is likely to be swift, heavy and completely unnecessary." Sebastian Anthony of ExtremeTech put together a list of "five deal-breaking flaws." ZDNet's own Zack Whittaker also offered five core criticisms, concluding that "one has to question whether Microsoft has its head screwed on the right way."

I've been using Windows 8 on a smattering of test PCs—desktops, notebooks, and netbooks, some touch-enabled—as well as in virtual PCs. The morning after Microsoft unveiled the Windows Developer Preview, I posted my first look at the new OS. In nearly a month of hands-on usage since then, I've assembled a much more complete picture of what Windows 8 is and isn't, at least as delivered in the Windows Developer Preview.

I think much of the praise is deserved. Windows 8 is full of great ideas.

I also think much of the criticism is valid. The transition between the new Start screen and the don't-call-it-legacy Windows Desktop and the new Metro style apps isn't as smooth as it could be. In fact, now is a good time to be making a list of Things That Need To Be Working Better In Time For Beta.

But it's too early to be drawing any firm conclusions—positive or negative.

Why? Because in this release it's literally impossible for anyone outside Redmond to experience Windows 8 the way it will work when it's released next year.

The Windows Developer Preview interface is unfinished. Some features are missing, like the "semantic zoom" feature that should make it much easier to work with groups of objects (like tiles on the Start screen). Some substantial pieces, including a few that were shown off at BUILD in Anaheim, are unavailable, too. Digital media features are the single most glaring omission.

The only "Designed for Windows 8" hardware is the Samsung tablet given to paid attendees at the BUILD conference. Most enthusiasts and IT pros who are kicking the Windows 8 tires are doing it on spare desktops or conventional laptops. The number of people who can actually experience Windows 8 on a touchscreen that works well is shockingly small.

And, most important of all, there are no serious Metro style apps for the new OS.

I mean no disrespect to the Microsoft student interns who wrote the 28 sample apps included with the Windows Developer Preview. Those sample apps do their job, which is to demo specific features so developers can get some idea of what Metro style apps can do. They're fine for 30-second demos, but they don't hold up for long-term use. This app is a resource hog and that app tends to hang. The user interfaces are Spartan, the feature lists are short, and ... well, you get the idea.

That collection of samples includes:

  • 10 games (don't worry, Angry Birds, your franchise is safe)
  • 8 informational apps—weather, stock prices, a somewhat clunky RSS reader, and so on
  • 5 creative apps—InkPad, PaintPlay, Piano, BitBox, and Memories
  • Twitter and Facebook clients with extremely limited feature sets

After the first week, none of those Metro style apps were on the "used daily" list of any Windows 8 test machine I own.

I would love to see those same specs executed by experienced Windows programmers. If Microsoft wants Metro style apps and desktop apps to be equal citizens, it needs to deliver some Metro style apps that I'll want to use every day. And those apps need to be there when the Windows 8 beta is ready for the public.

And that got me thinking: what Metro style apps do I really want to see before I consider Windows 8 ready for daily use? So I put together a top 10 list, which starts on the next page.

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There's a myth, reinforced by the Windows Developer Preview sample apps, that Metro style apps have to be simple, stripped of complexity, scaled small, and incapable of doing anything except basic tasks. The reality is that a skilled developer using Microsoft's tools can build some pretty damn awesome Metro style apps.

Here's my wish list:

1. Music/video player

At the top of the list for me is a music player. If Windows 8 had a slick Metro style music player, I'd have a reason to visit the Metro side of Windows 8 every day. I'd probably end up with the player snapped to one side of the screen, dedicating the rest of the display (the fill pane) to my Windows desktop. There's no excuse for delivering anything less than a world-class music app here.

2. Office

This is a slam dunk. Microsoft needs to deliver functional Metro style versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint along with the public Windows 8 beta. At a minimum, you should be able to view any document in those formats, make basic edits, and share the results using e-mail or online services.

3. People hub

Social media clients make ideal demos of Metro style apps, which is why the Windows Developer Preview includes both Twitter and Facebook clients. With the Mango update to Windows Phone 7, Microsoft has done an amazing job of unifying information from social media streams, e-mail contacts, and instant messenger lists into the People hub. That same functionality should be in a Metro style app for Windows 8.

4. Mail

Windows 8 needs a great Mail app. It should be able to connect to any cloud-based service—Hotmail, obviously, but also Google Mail—and it absolutely has to support Exchange servers out of the box. Hey, if Apple can do it, so can Microsoft.

5. Calendar

Everything I just said about mail? It applies to calendars, too. You should be able to see a month-at-a-glance view in the full Metro style app window or snap your upcoming appointments and events to the side of the screen.

6. Skype / Lync

Now that Microsoft has got the thumbs-up from antitrust regulators to go ahead with the purchase of Skype, it's time to Metro-ize a Skype app. In fact, it should be able to outdo Google's Hangout feature from Google+. A slick, well-built Skype client that handles multiple simultaneous conversations would be a killer feature. Add an iOS and Android app and you've replaced Apple's FaceTime, too.

7. Photo viewer

Everyone loves digital photos. Here, too, this is an opportunity to take what already works on Windows Phone 7 and extend it to the PC. A great Metro style photo app should make it ridiculously easy for me to find photos on my own PC, plus those I've shared via online services, and then add the pictures my friends are sharing on Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, and other services. The Contracts feature in Windows 8 should make it easy to share or send those photos with other people. This is another amazing app opportunity that Microsoft has to deliver as a core part of Windows 8.

8. Flipboard

This is, in my opinion, the killer third-party app on the iPad. It should be a showcase Metro style app on Windows 8. Microsoft should be throwing money and developers at Flipboardto have this ready with the Windows 8 beta.

9. Angry Birds

If you don't have Angry Birds, you don't have a platform. I expect to see lots of Metro style games, but this is the big one.

10. Facebook

The iPad has been on the market for 18 months, and Facebook just released a native app for it. Given that Microsoft actually owns a substantial stake in Facebook, this app should be there early, and it should be a showcase for the platform.

So what's missing in action? Well, I don't expect to see a Metro style iTunes app, which means that syncing a Windows 8 PC with an iPhone or an iPad is still going to require the desktop version of iTunes.

I also suspect that Google Apps will be mostly unsupported. If you're a heavy Gmail/Google Docs user and you have a Windows 8 PC, you're probably going to spend a lot of time on the Windows desktop running Google Chrome.

That's my list. What's on your must-have Windows 8 app list?

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