. The second Charm, called 'Share', is completely new to Windows 8. App developers can build sharing capabilities, known internally as "contracts" into apps which never even see each other. For example, this will let you post something to Twitter or Facebook, send it as an email, or anything else an app developer might think of. Sharing options are a bit sparse at the moment, but traction will grow. The 'Devices' Charm is where you'll find entries for your printers, projectors and potentially other peripherals. Last, the 'Settings' Charm contains system-wide controls for brightness, volume, Wi-Fi and shutting down or restarting your PC. This is also where you're supposed to go to for app-specific settings, but many apps still just simply have an 'Options' button or something similar and those that don't rarely point you to the Charms bar. There isn't much consistency in this behaviour, at least not yet.
Which brings us to Windows 8's biggest consistency problem: Settings. The Charms bar lets you see and adjust some things, but it's painfully limited. There's also a shortcut to a PC Settings app which contains a small set of preferences, some of which are specific to the Modern UI and some of which are system-wide in scope. This does not replace or even supplement the usual Windows Control Panel; in fact you often have to jump back and forth between the two worlds. For example, it's easy enough to connect to a Wi-Fi network through the Charms bar, but if the network happens to require a static IP address, you need to fire up the old Network and Sharing Center. You can change some user preferences, but administrative tools are only in the Control Panel. This is incredibly fidgety and completely shatters any impression we had that the Modern UI was a self-sufficient environment capable of providing an iPad-like experience for beginners or casual users. As tablet users, we were frustrated by the need to use dialogue boxes that haven't changed since Windows 95 with a touchscreen and soft keyboard. This is also where the "Classic desktop as an app" metaphor gets smashed—you have to dive in there to make system-wide settings, which should not make sense.
Life with apps
So what exactly are apps, and why do we need them anyway? "Apps" isn't just the fashionable new name for software applications, but almost defines a class of applications that are less capable and more gimmicky than traditional software. Apps sit somewhere between desktop widgets—those amusing, single-purpose things that used to float around on our desktops till we got bored of them—and full-fledged software. Apps could be individual websites, such as a news or weather service, which are nothing but wrappers around fresh content streamed from the Web. They could also be little games and utilities, such as currency converters and stopwatches. More likely than that, they serve individual purposes such as chatting, social networking, streaming audio or video, or looking something up. Many of today's apps are like websites at best and like multimedia CD-ROMs (remember those?) at worst. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since a huge proportion of our time in front of a computer these days is spent within a Web browser.
Apps in Windows 8 are also defined by their look and behaviour. For one, they all run full-screen. There's no title bar, no menu bar, no border, and no layout convention. Most interface elements are hidden till you right-click or swipe in from the top or bottom of your touchscreen, at which point bars along the top and/or bottom appear with options. Windows 8 encourages horizontal scrolling, and you'll see this used gratuitously within apps. There's a lot of oversized text, and yes, there are bland squares everywhere.
Microsoft bundles a number of apps with Windows 8 which are not equivalent to anything found in previous versions of the OS. For starters there are the News, Sports and Business apps which are fairly self-explanatory in purpose and function. Search pulls up a huge Bing interface, and the Maps and Travel apps are also unsurprisingly powered by Microsoft's in-house online service. Music and Video are tied into the new Xbox services which aren't available in India yet, so users here will have to do with adding their own locally stored files (our test PC allowed us to browse through music and video selections but then choked if we tried to stream or purchase anything). Games is tied to your Xbox Live profile, and lets you browse through games you can play on your PC. A separate standalone app called SmartGlass, which is far more interesting, lets you control an Xbox via your home network, with the tantalizing promise of using a tablet as a game controller and playing cross-platform in the future.
The most interesting and useful built-in apps are Mail, Messaging, Contacts and Calendar. Mail is a rather stripped-down client which looks much like the recently launched Outlook.com. It's light on features for sorting and managing mail, but should suffice for most casual users. In comparison to a bloated, complicated beast like Microsoft Outlook, this might actually be a good thing. Calendar syncs to your online service of choice. Contacts and Messaging are highly intertwined and socially integrated. Contacts is the center of activity, with a huge list of all your friends from synced services including Facebook, Twitter, your email accounts, and most likely your phone, if it's synced to any of these. Like most apps that attempt to combine services, you end up with a huge list of people, many of whom you don't necessarily need to keep in touch with. You also end up mixing contacts from work and your personal life; some of which are only email addresses and some of which are only phone numbers. The Contacts app further integrates Facebook and Twitter updates, so you can click on a contact to see their profile, photos and updates. Messaging isn't your typical chat program with a contact list. Instead, you need to dip into the Contacts app to find a person, and can then chat with them. You won't know whether you're chatting via Facebook or MSN unless you choose the contact carefully. The downside to this is that you're permanently signed in to Facebook chat, even if you don't want to be. Incoming messages might come to you through the app, your phone, and/or Facebook in your browser.
Finally, the Photos app combines views of photos in your Facebook account, SkyDrive, Flickr, and hard drive. You'll have to turn each service off if you don't want it. Photos is the default viewer for all image formats, so even if you're in the Desktop environment, opening a file will throw you into the Metro app. Windows Picture Viewer is still around though, and you can re-associate it with image files. Similarly, there's a PDF viewer called Reader (which isn't pinned to the Start screen) which takes over PDF duties. It's nice to have a built-in app, but Reader lays pages and spreads out in—what else—horizontal rows, which is extremely disconcerting.
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