Pokki: find free apps for your Windows desktop

Apple, Google, Microsoft: everyone seems to have their own app store, these days. None of these are much help if you’re running a Windows XP, Vista or 7 system, of course, but if you’re feeling left out then there’s always Pokki, a simple framework which can help you find, install and run free apps on the Windows desktop.

The program installs quickly and easily, and is so unobtrusive you might be left wondering what’s actually changed. There should now be a Pokki icon to the right of the Start button, though. Clicking this displays the Pokki launcher, currently empty, and selecting App Store will allow you to browse its various offerings.

At first the Pokki store looks much like any others. Its apps are organized into multiple categories (Entertainment, Games, Music, News and Weather, Shopping, Social, TV and Movies, more); there are "Featured", "Popular" and "New" links to give you a useful overview; apps are given a "% like" score by other users to give you a basic feel for what’s worth downloading, and some have more detailed reviews as well.

Click some of these categories, though, and you’ll notice a problem: there’s not much here.

We selected "TV and Movies" expecting a big choice, for instance, but there’s only a Hulu app.

And "Travel" seemed like another category which could support a host of possible apps, but all Pokki has to offer is a single front-end for Yelp.com.

Keep exploring, though, and you’ll find it’s not all bad news. There are lots of games, of all possible types, from Mahjong and Blackjack to Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and The Godfather. The Social category has apps for Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, LinkedIn, and more. And while there aren’t many site-specific news apps, a tool like Headlines makes up for that by aggregating feeds from all your favorite sites: BBC, Time, USA Today, Washington Post, Guardian, Yahoo!, Newsweek, Variety, Rolling Stone, TechCrunch, Gizmodo, ESPN, and more.

As you install apps so they’ll be added to the Pokki launcher menu. But you won’t have to run them to be useful, because their notifications -- tweets, your Facebook stream, news headlines and so on -- will begin to appear to the right of the various app icons.

And if you’re running Windows 8, Pokki can now also be used as a Start Menu substitute. Just right-click the Pokki button, select Settings, check "Show Start Menu sidebar" and click Save, and the Pokki launcher will now display a Start Menu-type system to its left. And here you get an All Programs menu, links to Control Panel and various common folders (Documents, Pictures, Computer, more), a Shutdown menu, and more.

The program App store remains a little basic, then. But that’s perhaps no great surprise, when there’s so much competition and the program is still only at version 0.26.

Pokki already offers more than enough features to be genuinely useful, though. So if, perhaps, you’d like an easy way to equip a PC with some essential social media functionality, a few free games and so on, it could be a very sensible choice.

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