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Killing the desktop: Can you survive in Windows 8's modern UI alone?

Ian Paul | April 15, 2013
The mission: To spend a week solely in Windows 8's modern UI. The results: Enlightening. The verdict: You'll have to read to find out.

Multiscreen diehards may disagree with me on that, but more-casual multitaskers can scratch their itch with Windows 8's nifty Snap feature.

Getting to work: Surprisingly hard

The first major hurdle was simply finding tools to do my job. I needed three simple applications: a text editor, a spreadsheet program, and a bare-bones photo editor.

The Windows Store carries more than 50,000 apps spanning a wide selection of genres, but there's virtually nothing when it comes to useful productivity apps. The store is awash in so-called "distraction free" writing environments featuring minimal menu options, but those were next to useless. There were also a few Markdown editors, but I needed a word processor that could let you embed Web links in text without HTML tags staring you in the face.

After several hours of fruitlessly searching for a solid text editor and spreadsheet program, I gave up. The only app that even came close is TabularApp, which lets you create your own spreadsheets and even export them as Excel documents. Unfortunately, you can't import an Excel file into TabularApp, killing its usefulness.

Microsoft Office is clearly to blame for the dearth of robust productivity apps in the Windows Store. In fact, PCWorld has heard as much from several productivity-focused developers. If you're a small developer looking to create Windows 8 apps, the last thing you want to do is take on the maker of the world's most popular productivity suite--especially when this maker controls the app store you're competing in.

Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't offer a modern version of its Office suite. Windows RT systems ship with a desktop (read: non-finger-friendly) version of Office, but Windows 8 proper does not come with Office in any form. So, with no worthwhile text or spreadsheet apps available in the Windows Store, the only salvation lies in desktop programs or Web apps--Google Docs, in my case.

Finding a photo editor was much easier. All I needed was an app that could crop screenshots, and Clever Photo ($2.50) fit the bill perfectly.

Apps on the periphery

Picking the right browser is essential for anyone planning to spend considerable time in the modern UI. The same holds true for any operating system, of course, but modern UI browsers are either built for touch or built to work like a traditional PC browser. The right interface for you depends greatly on your device and input method.

The modern version of Internet Explorer 10 proved frustrating without a touchscreen. The focus on full-screen viewing forces frequent right-clicks to reveal any open tabs or the address bar. The modern version of Google Chrome trumps IE for mouse users, because its interface emulates the desktop version almost perfectly. Also, Chrome's extensions have made the jump to the modern interface, a key point when all your passwords are locked up in LastPass and you're partial to using Vimium for browser navigation.


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