10 Windows 8 apps for IT workers

When you look at the app offerings from Microsoft's Windows Store, the bulk is made up of programs targeting a casual audience. Games seem to be popular, for instance, making up a fifth of all apps currently listed in the store. While there is nothing wrong with playing a game of solitaire during a break or wait period, it doesn't help Microsoft sell the operating system to a professional audience.

Digging deeper, however, you will find decent apps that IT workers will come to love if they take the plunge and decide to work with apps under Windows 8. There is certainly no need for that unless the system is running Windows RT, as desktop programs provide you with a similar, and often even a better, feature set than store apps at the moment.

There are options to work with desktop and Start screen apps side by side, for instance, if you are using a dual-monitor setup at work. You can display the Windows desktop on the first monitor, and one or two apps on the second, or snap an app to the side of the monitor to have it in sight all the time while working on the desktop or with another app.

The following selection of apps is available in the store of the Windows 8 RTM release. Some may also be available for previous releases of Windows 8 as well.

Remote Desktop conveniently displays all recent remote desktop connections on its start page with a screenshot of the last activity. To connect to a previously accessed location you only need to click on it to do so, provided it is displayed under recent locations on the start page. Plus, you get easy switching, copying and pasting between RDC sessions and more. The app has its issues though, from only remembering five connections to display issues if you run it side by side with another app. All in all though this has to be one of the best remote desktop apps for tablet devices.

Alternatives: Teamviewer or enabling remote desktop support on the system.

Live Reader is a full screen RSS feed reader for Windows 8. It ships with a selection of feeds and options to add feeds by URL or by searching for them. Import of OPML files is unfortunately not supported, nor is syncing with Google Reader or comparable services.

Zentoni Reader is an alternative for Google Reader users who want to sync their feeds with the Windows 8 application.

Both apps have in common that they do not display notifications or headlines on the Start screen. Updates are only displayed when the app is open.

Alternatives: Google Reader, RSS Owl or Great News

Trackage keeps track of packages from various services such as FedEx, UPS or the US Postal Service. The app displays estimated delivery dates, the status of each package and the delivery service used on the main page. Custom names can be added to all packages for easier identification.

You can pin important deliveries directly to the Windows 8 Start screen to have an eye on them all the time. The downside is that it will work best for US shipping services so that people from outside the United States won't benefit from it that much (unless they get deliveries from US shipping services regularly).

Alternatives: Shipping service websites or third party services such as Pack Track.

Translate is a free translation app for the Modern user interface. You can attach it to the screen to use while you are working in another app or on the desktop, or access it directly to use it full screen. The app supports a few dozen languages.

Alternatives: Google Translate or Bing Translator

EventBoard keeps track of conferences in the United States and abroad. Each conference is highlighted with a logo, location, date and description. A click downloads the schedule to the computer. Here you see sessions, speakers and descriptions, with options to retrieve additional information about a session with another click.

You can furthermore pin sessions to the Start screen of the operating system or add them to the my agenda page.

Alternatives: The Conference Calendar

Mind8 is a basic mind mapping application for Windows 8. You can use it to create mind maps and pin them to the Start screen. Mind maps are limited to nodes and bi-directional connectors, which limits the use of the application somewhat, as you can't add other symbols, descriptors or different colors to it.

Alternatives: FreeMind (Java desktop app) or Bubbl.us (online)

Wikipedia is the go-to resource for many Internet users. You can use the app as a fullscreen program, or attach it to a side of the screen to use it side by side with another Modern UI app or the desktop of the operating system. You can search Wikipedia using the operating system's Charms Menu.

Alternatives: Open Wikipedia in a web browser.

Tube.fm: if you are allowed to listen to music while you are working, you may enjoy an Internet radio app such as Tuba.fm. You can use it to access genre or artist stations, with the later working similar to what Pandora is offering.

Selection, diversity and quality is quite good. This is one of the apps that keeps on running in the background if you do not close it with Alt-F4, the drag and drop gesture or via the task manager.

Alternatives: Desktop music players like Aimp.

Never Late is an alarm and timer app that you can run side by side with other apps. Alarms can be configured to run regularly or only once. Notifications are automatically displayed on the desktop so that you are informed of events even if the alarm and timer app is not open.

Alternatives: Free Alarm Clock for the desktop.

HE Base Converter converts decimal numbers to bases from 2 to 26. It is easy to use and can be attached to the side of the screen to have in reach while working with another app.

Alternatives: Base Number Converter (online service)

The store is currently very limited when it comes to apps that increase the productivity of computer users. This is likely going to change with the general availability of the Windows 8 operating system later this year. Windows RT users may find the store apps helpful, while desktop users likely will prefer to use desktop apps or online services instead.

What's your take on the current availability of apps in Windows 8?

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