Even if you bypass Windows 8’s “modern” UI entirely using a tool like Start8 or Classic Shell, there are some great apps available for it. Thanks to ModernMix, an app that lets you run full-screen Windows apps in regular windows, you can get the best of both worlds: useful applications in normal desktop windows.
When Windows 8 came out, a lot of great apps also landed. However, some people don’t run full-screen apps in Windows 8 and go right to the desktop instead. Well, love it or hate it, Windows 8 and its “modern UI” is here to stay (at least until Microsoft brings back the start button), and since ModernMix makes it easy to run those full-screen apps in Windows on the desktop, it’s time to take another look at some great, unique Windows 8 apps that you should try.
Groove Music Player
Groove Music Player is popular on iOS, and we were thrilled when it launched on Windows 8. Its predictive mixes and automatic tagging and organisation of your music collection makes it a must-have app, but if you’re no fan of Windows 8’s modern UI, we can understand why you would have passed it over. With ModernMix, you can run Groove in a window like any other music player and take advantage of all of its features. It will still set you back $3.99, but we think that’s a decent price to pay for an attentive developer, an app that automatically downloads album artwork, lyrics, Last.fm data and auto-tags your tracks for later. Plus, Groove’s automatically generated mixes are so good you’ll wonder how you lived without them.
If you’d rather watch your own videos, the Plex app for Windows 8 is extremely well built and designed, and it runs perfectly even in a window. You could download the standard Plex Media Center app for Windows instead, but the Windows 8 app really does look nice, even when compared to the full Media Center app. Plus, if you can run it in Windowed mode and not turn your entire system into a media centre every time you want to use it, why wouldn’t you? This way you can stream music while minimised, or put the Plex app on a different display and watch video (and still use your primary display for something else) without interrupting your flow.
Trackage, as the name implies, is a package tracking utility that supports UPS, FedEx and LaserShip. Just paste in your tracking number, and the app will keep an eye on your item, even syncing its status to multiple Windows 8 devices if you have more than one. You can name your packages for easy tracking, and the app will keep your shipments organised by processing, en-route, out for delivery and completed for you. If you do use the Start Screen, you can pin packages to the start screen and use live tiles to stay up to date on its progress, but if you don’t, running the app in ModernMix gives you a one-click tool to check on all of your packages without signing up for a web app or extra service.
Another app for Windows 8 that doesn’t have a desktop component, Tune In Radio allows you to listen to terrestrial and internet streaming radio stations from around the globe. The service is one of our favourite internet radio services, so bringing it out of the browser and into a desktop app is a no brainer, especially when you get the benefit of the UI built into the Windows 8 app. You can search by genre, category, location or language, all in an interface that’s far superior to the web.
If you have an Xbox 360 in your home, the Xbox SmartGlass app is a must-download. It gives you complete control over your Xbox 360 from your computer, lets you browse the web, play videos and music, and even use your Windows machine as a second screen to get useful information about the movies, TV shows or music you’re enjoying on the big screen. If you love using your laptop while you watch TV, SmartGlass running in ModernMix gives you all the benefits without all of the full-screen-can’t-do-anything-but-this annoyances.
The great thing about ModernMix is that it opens the door to so many of the awesome Windows 8 apps that are lurking in the Windows Store to those who prefer using the desktop over the Start Screen. It’s ideal for those services that are willing to make apps available for Windows tablets and phones but not for the desktop, as well as any well-designed app that you really wish you could use without having to go back to the Start Screen.