As much as they aren’t the first thing you think of when considering the potential in Windows 8, the apps that shipped with the Release Preview are by far the most obvious indication of how far things have come. They don’t all work perfectly yet, but in many ways they are exactly what they need to be at this stage and there is every reason to expect them fully stable by the time October rolls around.
The unified Mail, Calendar, People, and Messaging App is one of the better examples. Using this app you can connect to your existing account, let’s say Google in my case, and have everything linked in. As soon as I enter the information I have access to my Google Calendar, along with every bit of my email, with no further work necessary. It can now even handle multiple accounts with no trouble.
Most appealing, I think, is the ability to pin individual email accounts to the Start Menu so that updates are displayed in an organized fashion through the Live Tiles. You get the same treatment through the calendar app, which just let me know that I have a meeting tomorrow morning.
The News app is also impressive at this stage. Naturally it is tied in pretty closely to Bing, but in addition to the breakdown of daily news categories that you would expect there are a couple nice features. I love the fact that I can pin individual news sources to my Start Menu.
There are still some issues to be ironed out, of course. When dealing with email accounts, you are currently limited to specific providers due to a lack of IMAP support. You also cannot view a unified inbox. These and some other organizational complaints should be simple enough to fix and may honestly be all that stands between me and ditching Outlook entirely by the end of the year in favor of the new option.
The Calendar app is currently unable to deal with shared calendars through Google or multiple calendars per account with any reliability. It also lacks a great deal of configurability. I love the app for reading my existing calendars, but Microsoft is going to have to put in a bit more work before it will replace more robust systems.
Even the News app has some small problems. The Bing integration is not my favorite thing ever, but it was to be expected. I do think that it should be possible to make the news source tiles I create on my start Menu into large Live Tiles, though. Bing’s top story is not often the thing I care about at any given time, which is why pinning specific sources is so useful. The interface is also a little unfinished, with there being no way to organize your personal categories and problems viewing stories with built-in advertisement or comment forms. I was stuck unable to view a PC World article because dismissing a pop-up proved impossible.
The majority of my complaints are things that seem to be common sense fixes that had no chance of appearing in the finished product anyway. Nobody is likely to take seriously an email app that could only handle six specific providers or a messaging app that only links people to Facebook and Messenger. Given that this is just the Release Preview and that Microsoft has stated their commitment to continuing development of all their apps up through and beyond the release of Windows 8, it is likely that these already impressive offerings will be polished and fully functional when they’re done.