NYT: Three Windows 8 Features Worth Celebrating

January 17, 2013, 2:44 pm

Three Windows 8 Features Worth Celebrating

You already know my overall opinion of Windows 8: that it's two very good operating systems - one for touch screens, one for mouse and keyboard - idiotically superimposed on each other. You wind up with duplicate everything: two Web browsers, two help systems, two search features, two control panels (actually three, but never mind). It's very confusing.
But for the last few weeks, I've been up to my neck in writing a how-to book on Windows 8, and that means mucking around in its deepest, darkest corners. That means learning its idiosyncrasies and quirks. That means getting to know its most embarrassing lapses and its most unsung brilliance.
Maybe Microsoft will somehow fix what's wrong with Windows 8. Maybe people will get used to the duality. (With the addition of free programs like Classic Shell, which restores the Start menu, you can almost get away with using only the desktop mode on your PC, as before. Almost.)
In the meantime, I thought I'd share three completely overlooked gems that I've unearthed in my explorations.

Xbox Music. Don't be confused - in Windows 8, the term Xbox has nothing to do with the game console. It's now just a generic term that Microsoft puts on its online stores.
Anyway, Xbox Music is a completely great music service. It combines elements of Pandora, in that it can play endless free music in a style you choose; Spotify, in that you can listen to any song or any album or any performer, on command, free; and iTunes, in that you can buy songs to download. It's a Windows 8 exclusive; it doesn't work on Windows 7. And it's free.
The free version has occasional interruptions in the form of audio/video ads. Music streaming is free and unlimited for the first six months; after that, you can listen free for 10 hours a month. If you're willing to pay $10 a month (or $100 a year), you can get an Xbox Music Pass, which lets you (a) also listen on a Windows 8 phone and an Xbox 360 (provided you also have a Gold membership), (b) download songs for offline listening, (c) sync your playlists across multiple gadgets, and (d) eliminate the ads.
When you're listening to one type of music, Pandora-style, you can click the Skip button to pass over a song you don't care for. In theory, the free version offers only a limited number of skips a month, but Microsoft has confirmed that, for now, it's still unlimited.

Bing Magazines. In TileWorld (my name for the second operating system, the full-screen, colorful, tappable tiles), you get a handful of brilliantly executed, full-screen, perpetually self-updating "magazines" for news, sports, finance and travel.
This is a fantastic feature. Each, behind the scenes, is simply grabbing articles from hundreds of big-name news Web sites. For example, the News magazine gets its articles and photos from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, CNN, Huffington Post, and so on.
But each re-formats everything into one uniform, attractive, screen-friendly design. No hard-to-read color schemes or ugly fonts. No blinking ads, banners or obnoxious animations.
They all work essentially alike. You open the app (Internet connection required). You see a huge cover photo. Tap or click it to read the associated article.
Or scroll horizontally to see headlines and teaser blurbs for other articles.
Each magazine is customizable; you pick the sports league to follow, the stocks you track, the news topics or news sources you prefer. The Travel magazine is integrated with Bing Travel, so you can actually book hotels and flights on the spot. Flipboard is an obvious predecessor, but it's nice that these magazines are built right in and ready to go.

Narrator. If you're blind, computers are hard enough to use without the introduction of touch screens. In Windows 8, without any fanfare whatsoever, Microsoft has followed in the footsteps of Apple's VoiceOver technology. It has turned Narrator, a weird, sad old feature that would read your error messages to you out loud, into a full-blown screen reader.
Those who are blind or have limited sight can use Narrator to describe every item on the screen, either in TileWorld or the desktop. It can describe the layout of a Web page, and it makes little sounds to confirm that you've performed a touch-screen gesture correctly.
Even if you're not blind, Narrator is still handy; it can read your e-mail back to you, or read Web articles as you're getting dressed in the morning.
When you open Narrator, you wind up at its Settings dialogue box  - and the voice of Microsoft David (no relation) starts talking, reading everything on the screen.
Like VoiceOver, Narrator takes a lot of time and patience to master; it's almost like another operating system unto itself.
But the basics are easy enough: on a touch screen, drag your finger around the screen; Narrator speaks everything you touch, so that you can get a feel for the layout of things. You can also tap to hear a single item identified. When Narrator is running, it takes two taps to open something instead of one.
To see the master cheat sheet of touch gestures in Narrator (and hear it read to you), tap the screen three times with four fingers.
If you have a keyboard, the Caps Lock key becomes specially dedicated to Narrator. Press Caps Lock and V, for example, to make Narrator repeat whatever it just said. Caps Lock and the plus or minus sign makes the voice speed up or slow down. Press Caps Lock and Esc to exit Narrator.
So yes, there's a lot of good in Windows 8, and a lot that's getting no press. Here's to the unsung engineers who came up with this stuff - and to the hope that Windows 8's split-personality problem somehow improves.



Ten 3rd Party Alternatives for missing Win8 apps - Ten 3rd Party Alternatives for missing Windows 8 applications-

A desperate app selection calls for desperate measures

The Windows Store has grown significantly since the dark and dreary pre-launch days of Windows 8, more than quadrupling its catalog size since October 26th. Don't let that 20,000 app number fool you, though. Quantity is not the same as quality, and the platform still suffers from hit-or-miss availability when it comes to blockbuster apps. You’ll find modern UI offerings for some of the big-name apps from other platforms in the Windows Store—including Netflix, Hulu, Skype, and Kindle—but you’re bound to hit a brick wall when looking for many other must-have titles, including Pandora, Twitter, and Facebook.
Luckily, third-party developers have stepped in with their own versions of your favorite missing apps. We've sifted through the Windows Store to identify the best Band-aids for the most painful Windows Store no-shows.


Xbox Music is nice and all, but millions of people have millions of hours invested in finely-tuned Pandora playlists. Pandora doesn't have a Windows 8 app, but PRadio is about as good as a replacement gets. While the app’s interface doesn’t look anything like Pandora’s web app, it does provide immediate access to your radio stations (complete with thumbs-up and -down capabilities for further tune tweaking) and Pandora’s massive library of free streaming music.
PRadio behaves exactly as a modern streaming music app should, integrating with the search charm for easy music searching and playing music in the background when you switch to another app. Like all Windows 8 apps, it supports Snap. Snapped mode gives you playback controls at the side of your screen while using other apps.

The People app

Developers have built several third-party Windows 8 Twitter clients, but you can’t really use any of them. Twitter restricts third-party clients to a maximum of 100,000 users and the Twitter apps for Windows 8 have hit this limit—unsurprising, since the official Twitter client for Windows 8 isn’t out yet.
Unless you were lucky enough to grab Metrotwit or Tweetro early, your best bet is the included People app. It’s not the best Twitter client, but hey, at least it allows you to send and view tweets. Alternatively, the Tweetro app recently reappeared in the Windows Store after a brief hiatus, but now it carries a $9.99 price tag that seems steep when you consider an official Twitter app is slated to show up in the next few months.

MINE for Facebook

Unlike Twitter, Facebook has said it has no plans to build a Windows 8 app. The native People and Messaging apps offer some basic Facebook integration, but they're no substitute for a full-blown Facebook app. MINE for Facebook is the best alternative app available at the moment, offering a customizable view of your Facebook feed, notifications, and your friends’ profile pages. You can also update your status, leave comments, share links and pictures, and more.
It doesn’t replace the Facebook website entirely, though—you’ll still have to use the Facebook website to milk cows in FarmVille.


YouTube works just fine in Internet Explorer 10, but if dedicated apps are more your style, you should install PrimeTube. PrimeTube presents YouTube in an interface that feels right at home on Windows 8, allowing you to browse YouTube in that tile-tastic modern style.
PrimeTube isn’t just a YouTube player, though. The app allows you to log into your YouTube account and view your subscriptions, manage playlists, and leave comments. PrimeTube also continues playing YouTube videos in the background—something that can’t be done with Internet Explorer. It’s perfect for music and speech-heavy vids.

Movie Guide

Movie Guide takes the place of IMDB, which is M.I.A. on Windows 8. The app lets you browse movies and watch trailers, dividing its selection between in-theater movies, older classics, and upcoming flicks.
While Movie Guide appears to be fairly light on content when you first launch it, it actually has a very comprehensive database of 69,000 titles and tons of actors and actresses. I like to use the database for movie discovery: Find your favorite movie with the Search charm to browse a list of similar movies, or tap the movie's director to view a list of other flicks they’ve directed. Once you’ve found a movie you want to watch, you can add it to your watchlist so you’ll remember it later.

G Maps

Bing Maps is decent, but lacks drill-down features like the handy-dandy public transit directions found in Google Maps. Don't think that's a big deal? Witness the uproar over Apple's switch to an in-house Maps app on the iPhone.
The Windows Store offers two unofficial Google Maps apps, confusingly named G Maps and gMaps. Both apps support the standard Google Maps features, including directions for driving, public transit, walking, and cycling; location search; layers; and satellite maps. Each can also track your location via GPS if your tablet has a GPS chip.
Of the two, G Maps has much smoother transitions while zooming, though it does pester you with ads. Hey, the developer has to make his money before a real Google Maps app appears, right?


Tablets are great for reading, whether you’re relaxing on the couch or sitting in a coffee shop. Services like Pocket—formerly Read It Later—and Instapaper make this even easier, allowing you to save intriguing web articles you stumble across for later perusal. Neither service offers a Windows 8 app, but that doesn't mean you're bereft of delayed gratification tools.
Latermark integrates with your Pocket account, delivering your saved articles in a touch-friendly, reading-optimized layout that's optimized for tablets but still purdy on a desktop monitor. It sure beats squinting at small fonts on a website. One downside: Latermark doesn’t automatically synchronize articles for offline reading, although articles you open in-app are cached for Internet-free reading.


Windows 8’s Messaging app works with Facebook and Windows Live Messenger accounts, but what if you have friends who use other chat networks? You don’t have to kick your old friends to the curb when you upgrade to Windows 8—just use IM+.
IM+ is completely free and supports a wide variety of other chat networks, including popular services like Google Talk, AIM, Facebook, Jabber, ICQ, and Yahoo Messenger. In other words, IM+ fills the massive gaps left gaping by Windows 8’s native Messaging app. You can even have it send you a push notification when one of your buddies reaches out to ping you.

News Bento

The News app included with Windows 8 is primarily focused on—you guessed it—news. To see the latest content from your favorite tech blogs (like PCWorld!) and other sites in a beautiful, Flipboard-style digital magazine, use News Bento.
News Bento lets you define categories of content you’re interested in to hone in on specific types of articles. The app includes a preset directory of many of the top news sites around, though you can also subscribe to non-included sites, add any RSS feed from the web, or link the app to your Google Reader account.


Windows 8 isn't just missing Facebook and Twitter; Instagram is a no-show on Microsoft's new platform, too. Fortunately, there's a non-official app for that. Milligram gives you access to the latest content on Instagram, displaying the latest popular and trending photos. Want a more personal touch? You can also link to an Instagram account to view the latest food photos from the hipsters you’re following.
You can like other people's photos, save them to your device, and even leave comments, but you can’t actually upload photos to the picture-friendly social service. That may be a blessing in disguise, though—have you ever seen someone taking a photo with a tablet? It's ridiculous.

@chrisbhoffman  Dec 27, 2012 3:00 AM


Missing Windows 8 Applications

What's Missing From Windows 8 , 06-27-12, by Chris Hoffman.

Windows 8 has seen the removal of many features that have been key to Windows over the years, including the Start button, Start menu, and Windows Aero. We tend to focus on the new features added in new versions of software like Windows 8, but the removal of features can be equally important – if not more so.
This list isn’t exhaustive, as many less-important features have also been removed (goodbye, Windows Briefcase). What’s more, Microsoft is still removing features as big as Windows Aero, so there’s no knowing what other features will be pulled before Windows 8 ends up on store shelves.

Traditional Start Button & Start Menu

The Start button and Start menu have been key Windows features since Windows 95, but are now gone. Windows 8 has no Start button, nor does it have the traditional Start menu. Instead, you mouse over the bottom-left corner of the screen to reveal the hidden Start button.

missing from windows 8

The Metro start screen is your new, full-screen Start menu. You can still start typing an application’s name to search for and launch it, although the transition can be jarring and confusing for Windows users accustomed to the traditional Start menu and desktop. Unfortunately, the search results on the Metro start screen aren’t unified – Windows only searches applications by default. To launch a file or control panel applet, you’ll have to type its name and select a different category on the search screen.

You’ll also be at this screen when you log in – there’s no boot-to-desktop option. There are some tricks – you can put a Show Desktop shortcut in your startup programs, but you’ll still see this screen before the desktop loads.

whats missing in windows 8

Windows Aero, Transparent Glass, & Flip 3D

Windows Aero, the graphical centerpiece of Windows Vista and Windows 7, is being completely removed. All preview versions of Windows 8 contain Windows Aero – but it’s been removed internally and won’t appear in the final version. If you’re not sure what Windows Aero is, here’s how Microsoft explains it:
“Windows Aero is the premium visual experience of Windows Vista. It features a translucent glass design with subtle window animations and new window colors.” (Source)
Evidently, Microsoft no longer considers Aero a premium visual experience. All those animations and transparent glass effects are going away and we’ll be seeing flat colors on the desktop. This also means that the gaudy Flip 3D will be going away – if you’re using a Windows 7 or Vista computer to read this, you can press WinKey+Tab to view Flip 3D right now.
Flip 3D was always a glorified tech demo that looked cool the first time you saw it, but was used by almost no one because it was less useful than the traditional Alt-Tab program switcher.

whats missing in windows 8

DVD Playback & Windows Media Center

Many Windows 8 computers will come without DVD drives – which are being used less with the rise of Netflix and other media-streaming services – and including DVD playback costs money, so Microsoft will be removing the integrated DVD playback support from Windows 8. If you buy a computer with a DVD drive, it’s up to the computer’s manufacturer to include licensed DVD software (and many already do). You can always use VLC to play DVDs, anyway. Unsurprisingly, Windows DVD Maker is also being removed.
Windows Media Center is also being removed from every Windows version (even the Pro one), since it’s used by so few people. You can give Microsoft a few dollars using the Add Features to Windows 8 panel to activate Windows Media Center, if you like – this covers the cost of the codecs Windows Media Center includes.

whats missing in windows 8

Previous Versions & Windows Backup and Restore

The Previous Versions feature, activated in Windows 7 by default, has been removed. It allows you to restore previous versions of files from their Properties window. Windows Backup and Restore is also being deprecated.
The new File History feature replaces both Previous Versions and Windows Backup and Restore. Unlike Previous Versions, File History isn’t enabled by default. File History is also designed to work with files in your libraries and on your desktop – as well as your contacts and favorites. It’s much more limited than the Previous Versions feature, which worked for any file in and folder.

missing from windows 8

Windows Update Desktop Notifications

Do you have Windows set to ask you before downloading or installing updates? On current versions of Windows, Windows Update appears as a system tray icon and a notification balloon informs you that updates are available. On Windows 8, you can still tell Windows to notify you before downloading updates – but these update notifications no longer appear on the desktop. All Windows-Update-related notifications appear on the login and lock screens – so you might not even see them if you automatically log into your computer.


Will you miss these features or have you noticed another significant feature that’s been removed in Windows 8? Leave a comment and let us know.