Maximize your first 30 minutes with Windows 8

It's time for a primer on what to do, and where to go, during your first half-hour of Windows 8 operation.

The other type of app is what we normally think of when we think of software running on Windows--what Microsoft calls "desktop apps," though individual Microsoft folk have occasionally slipped up and called them "legacy apps." Desktop apps will be sold and serviced as they always have. You can get to them from the Microsoft Store, but you'll typically be taken to the publisher's website. You can buy them from retail outlets and install them that way. Other ways to buy them include various digital-downloads purveyers--from Amazon.com to Steam to direct from the developer.

So while the new Windows 8-style apps are curated and approved by Microsoft, similar to the way Apple handles iOS apps for the iPad and iPhone, traditional desktop software will still be available the way it has always been, and Microsoft doesn't approve or otherwise edit desktop applications.

Now let's take a quick look at preinstalled Windows 8 apps.

Quick look at preinstalled apps

Your Windows 8 desktop PC should be set up and ready to use, if not fully tweaked to your personal preferences yet. Now let's take a quick tour of some of the preinstalled Windows 8 apps. This is not a comprehensive list--just a quick overview of some key apps.

People

The People app aggregates contact lists from a number of services into one place. You can also get updates from your Twitter and Facebook feeds. You can respond to individual messages, but you can't post global updates to Facebook or Twitter.

 Mail

Mail has improved substantially since the Consumer Preview. Previously, I couldn't connect to my Yahoo mail account, but it now works with Yahoo mail, Gmail, and POP mail services.

Calendar

Calendar is pretty simplistic. You can tie it in with Google and Yahoo calendars, and make edits, but navigation is pretty basic, as are the various views.

Messaging

The Messaging app as it stands is extremely limited--you might even say it's broken. You can update your Facebook feed and interact with the three people you know who use Microsoft Messenger. It's a far cry from a universal messaging application, so until Microsoft improves it substantially, it's more a toy than a useful tool.

Photos

The Photos app is slick, albeit a little shallow. You can access your Facebook, Flickr, and SkyDrive photos, and you can create slideshows. You can't, however, edit photos or even launch a photo-editing application.

Store

The Microsoft Store is the location for finding and buying new Windows 8 apps--the ones that you load off the Start screen. You need a Microsoft account to buy apps, or to download the many available free apps. Note that desktop software may also be listed in the store, but clicking on those tiles will just take you to the manufacturer's website. You can't download desktop software from the Windows Store.

Music

The Music app is confusing, partly because it's labeled "Xbox Music" once you click inside, and because it's a location for both purchasing music (as with iTunes or Google Play), as well for listening to free streaming music (as with Spotify or Rdio). You can also play your own music, but the interface for local file playback is obtuse to say the least. Luckily, Windows Media Player is still available on the desktop for when you need a more robust music playback app. If you're an iTunes user, you can just download and install iTunes. iTunes works fine, but it's currently a desktop-only app.

Video

The Video app is another Xbox labeled app, and just another storefront for buying video. Windows Media Player can handle video playback, but Microsoft no longer includes an MPEG-2 playback license. For this reason, you'll need to download Windows Media Center ($9.99 if you're a standard Windows 8 user, free for Windows 8 Pro users.)

SkyDrive

The SkyDrive app lets you access your SkyDrive content. It's not nearly as flexible as the SkyDrive desktop application, with its associated folder. But this app is slick looking.

Bottom line

By now, you're probably past your first 30 minutes with Windows 8. There's a lot more to learn, but much of what you learned with Windows 7 still applies. Take the desktop, for example. Sure, the classic Start menu is gone, but the Simple Start menu (Windows-X) should ease some of the pain of finding system-level programs.

The taskbar on the desktop works as before, too. You can drop any desktop application (though not Windows 8 apps from the Microsoft Store) onto the taskbar, just as you did in Windows 7. Also, the task manager has been enhanced, and you can now set up your startup items there.

But I digress--those are things to do in your subsequent use of Windows 8. Right now, you've gotten familiar with basic navigation, you've set up networking, and you've created user accounts. There's more to learn, but that alien feeling you first experienced when starting at the active tiles in the Start menu should be fading. It's your PC, so take control.

This story, "Maximize your first 30 minutes with Windows 8" was originally published by PCWorld.

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