Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What's missing in Windows 8 apps

Come October 26, Microsoft will face two battles for Windows 8. Not only does it have to convince people that the OS is worth upgrading to, but it must land with competitive apps. Here's what they lack so far.

 Windows 8 ships with some absolutely gorgeous apps. Navigating through News, Travel, or Weather, it's hard to deny the rich and colorful depiction of content. While its four core productivity apps are equally pretty, they're woefully inadequate in their current state for getting things done. First off is the all-important Mail app. This is not an service-specific tool for grabbing only your Microsoft mail but a wide net to cast for juggling all your e-mail. It currently supports Microsoft's Hotmail and Outlook, as well as Google accounts and "Other" for non-Webmail accounts It's a great idea for the neophyte operating system, to encourage people to think of its default apps as capable of handling more than just Microsoft.

The execution, though, leaves much to the imagination. The app doesn't support basic Google features, like message conversations. Perhaps that's expected, since Google is a competitor. But it also doesn't yet do some of the basics in the overhauled Outlook.com, such as making controls immediately available.

Instead, you must swipe in from the top and bottom edges to see the most obvious tools, like subject-line editing, draft-saving, or font style-changing. And if you're on a Yahoo account, you're out of luck. It has other significant holes where there should be features. There's no way to flag or star an e-mail, there's no way to create a new folder or label, sync is atrociously slow, and Share doesn't interact with individual messages.

Share is so important to Windows 8 that it gets one of the five slots on the Charms bar, but yet you can not "share" an e-mail directly. You can highlight the contents of an e-mail and share that, but it's hardly the same thing. Also, Mail doesn't always indicate when new messages arrive, and it is not yet integrated with the Calendar app.

Speaking of which, the Calendar app is hardly ready for prime-time, either. Like Mail, it only supports Hotmail, Outlook, and Google accounts. If Microsoft is looking to peel off Apple fans with Windows 8, this isn't going to help. Your configuration options are currently limited to toggling a calendar on or off, and changing its display color. The lack of direct e-mail integration is painful.

It does nicely snap to one side, so you can have the Calendar open while working in Mail or any other app, but that's a feature of Windows 8, not of the app. And like Mail, it fails to integrate with Share. If Mail and Calendar are half-baked, Messaging is still in the mixing bowl. It flat-out doesn't integrate with Share, which is beyond silly given Share's importance to Microsoft and the importance of messaging to everybody else on the planet. Account support is currently limited to Microsoft Messenger, which almost nobody uses, although thankfully Facebook is supported.

This is weird because we've seen Google app support, and the People app, which I'll discuss next, supports Twitter. There's no instant messenger support for Yahoo, AOL, or any other account.

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