Stardock ModernMix makes apps as usable as desktop programs on Windows 8 [Preview]

Windows apps that you run on Windows 8 are limited to the Start screen environment by default. Here you can run them in full screen, or attached to a side of the screen so that they use 1/3 or 2/3 of the screen. What you cannot do is run them in windowed mode on the desktop.

Attempts have been made in the past to bring that extra functionality to Windows 8 in the form of third-party applications. One of them, RetroUI Pro does so, but the implementation is fairly limited.

Stardock's ModernMix for Windows 8 is the first program -- to my knowledge -- that makes Windows apps as usable as desktop programs that run on the system. The application has been designed so that you can run one or multiple Windows apps that you have downloaded and installed from the built-in store on the desktop just like any other program you may have installed on the system -- side-by-side with desktop programs or other apps.

Even better is the fact that it does so in an unobtrusive way. Once you have installed the program on your system you are presented with an options menu where you can select how apps should be opened on the system.

You can modify settings for apps that you launch from the Start screen, and settings for apps that you launch from the desktop. This works in sync with Start menu programs that you may have installed already on your system, which is probably the easiest way to run apps from the desktop.

Your options are to launch apps in full screen like before, in full screen but with window controls, or in windowed mode on the desktop. The latter enables you to manage the app windows like any other program window that is currently open on the desktop. You can resize the window, minimize it to the taskbar or close it easily using the window controls that  you used to work with in previous versions of Windows.

The applications retain all of their functionality when you run them on the desktop. You will notice that many become better to work with when you do so. The mail application, for instance, benefits from this greatly. You can now easily copy and paste multiple items into mails, fire up a browser without losing focus of the mail window, or watch a video on YouTube while you are composing an email.

All apps that you launch that way on the desktop get their icon on the taskbar so that you can easily switch between them. App switching was never that easy on Windows 8 before.

The developers have integrated a shortcut -- F10 -- in to the program that you can use to switch between app states easily. A tap on F10 switches between windowed mode and full screen mode. If you prefer to use the mouse, you can alternatively use the controls at the top right of every full-screen app window to do so. Both options can be disabled in the settings if you prefer so.

The program has one small issue that I encountered during tests. If you try to add an attachment to an email, you are taken to a full screen file browser regardless of app state. That's not a big issue but I thought I mention it anyway.

If you'd ask me an hour ago which program I'd consider essential for Windows 8, I'd replied with the name of a start menu application for that operating system. This has changed with the release of ModernMix. The program improves the Windows 8 experience significantly by making apps as usable on the desktop as standard desktop programs.

Stardock's ModernMix is available as a 30 day free trial version. The full program is available as of now for $4.99. It is only compatible with Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, but not Windows RT.

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