Microsoft is nothing if not tenacious, and that's a good thing when it comes to Windows 8's baked-in apps.
Those modern-style apps might be eye-catching, but they've been disappointments in terms of pure usability. In fact, Windows co-chief Tami Reller has admitted that Windows 8's default apps need some hardcore tinkering before they can truly compete with top-tier alternatives. But rather than sitting still and waiting for the big release of Windows Blue later this year, Microsoft's engineers rolled up their sleeves and created a series of updates for Windows 8's core communication apps--Mail, People, and Calendar--which will begin rolling into the Windows Store late Monday or early Tuesday.
None of the updates reinvent the proverbial wheel, but each app is receiving numerous tweaks designed to improve basic usability. Windows tablet owners will be especially happy with the new-look apps.
"If you used the apps before on Windows RT systems like Surface, you'll notice a pretty significant improvement in responsiveness and overall performance (in the updated apps)," Gabriel Aul, Microsoft's director of program management, told PCWorld during a demonstration. Common functions such as creating new messages and moving or deleting information benefit greatly from the speed boost, he says, and this greatly enhances the general feel of the apps.
That's terrific, but what changes will we see in the individual programs? Glad you asked.
Windows 8's Mail app received the biggest overhaul. You still won't find POP support in Microsoft's mail client, but the alterations that are there, though subtle, will enhance your workflow--even though most of the new improvements probably should've been baked into the app when it launched.
Most notably, a drop-down box containing your most-contacted colleagues now appears underneath the "To" box when you're composing a message, a change designed to make mailing your pals easier on touchscreen tablets. Tapping a contact automatically adds that person as a recipient. Nice and easy.
You don't have to worry about mixing work and play if you manage several email accounts, either. Each different account you maintain in the Mail app maintains its own list of frequent contact suggestions, so you won't have to worry about your frat bros popping up when you're trying to shoot off an IT support request.
That's not the only new composition trick the Mail app has up its sleeve. An attachment button has been added to the upper-right corner of messages, plopped between the Send and Delete email options, negating the need to dive into deeper menus just to send amusing kitten GIFs.
Mail now packs the ability to add hyperlinks to in-body text, as well as better all-around handling of content pasted from other apps. If you're using a Microsoft Exchange server, you'll also find new permission rights management options if you're sending a message to another Exchange user.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.