It's typical for a software company to make last minute tweaks to its software. In the case of Windows 8, Microsoft's decision to revamp its built-in apps gives RTM users and on-the-fence developers a sneak peek at how the new Windows Store app marketplace handles updates in the weeks leading up to the operating system's official launch.
Windows 8 features a touch-enabled, tiled interface (formerly Metro) and a traditional desktop view. Key to Microsoft's strategy in asserting Windows' relevance in the tablet era -- and combat the growing popularity of Apple's iPad and slates running Google's Android in the enterprise -- is fostering an app ecosystem with the depth and breadth of competing platforms.
According to Gabriel Aul, partner director of Program Management at Microsoft, the software maker is well on its way.
"We already have thousands of apps in the Windows Store, even before GA [general availability], and we’re working with developers from around the world to bring more in every day. The Windows Store represents an unprecedented opportunity for developers to reach hundreds of millions of customers, and we’re very pleased to see the exciting things that are showing up every day," blogged Aul.
"Of course, we are also taking advantage of the integrated way that we can deliver updates to apps through the Windows Store," he wrote.
By overhauling many of its native Windows apps prior to launch, Microsoft is signaling to the developer community that the software giant is willing to lead by example. The Store app tile will alert users to pending updates.
Microsoft updated its Mail, Calendar, People, and Messaging Windows 8 apps with complete IMAP support, a new inbox conversation view and expanded search options. Updated and refined search capabilities also factor heavily in the changes to the SkyDrive and Bing apps.
Maps gets a new customization option, a bird's eye view and maps to over 3,000 indoor venues. The News app features content from partners like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, a customizable article reader and support for videos and slideshows. Rounding out the updated offerings are Finance, Sports, Weather, Video, Music and Games apps.
Mozilla announced the start of community testing for the Windows 8 flavor of the Firefox browser. The preview is available to users of the 64-bit RTM version of Windows 8 via self-updating nightly build.
Mozilla concedes that the software is currently buggy and lacks some features. However, Firefox Metro hints that the browser wars will soon spill onto the Windows 8 platform (x86, non-RT).
The browser features a Metro-like Start page, responds to touch and swipe gestures and integrates with Windows 8 charm bar. Firefox Sync support keeps stored passwords, bookmarks, history and tabs consistent across devices.
And it can only get better from there, says Asa Dotzler, Product Manager for Firefox at Mozilla. "Over the coming weeks and months, we'll be adding more features, tightening up Windows integration, improving performance and responsiveness, and finishing up all the necessary work to deliver a first-class Firefox experience for Windows 8," he wrote in a Mozilla blog post.