Windows 8 is finally here, and if you've ever started with a brand-new operating system, you know that one of the first things you do is download the apps that make your life easier and maybe even a little more fun while you're at it.
The Windows Store is pretty new and is not stocked with everything you might want just yet (frankly, it's pretty anemic at this early stage), but we've hand-picked a collection of apps that will be useful for new users of Microsoft's latest OS. All are highly rated and come from many of the popular categories such as news, music, social networking, entertainment, and games. And while most of our list is made up of free downloads, we just couldn't resist tacking an awesome paid app on there as well.
Clearly Microsoft would prefer that you use Bing for all your Web searching, but there are a lot of people who simply want quick access to Google. Fortunately, Google was one of the early apps ready for Windows 8 and it's only a tap away on the Windows 8 UI. The experience is almost exactly like being in a Web browser, but you can't beat the easy access.
Sure, you could go to the browser versions of your favorite social networks, but this app lets you sign in to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and displays updates for all of them. You can update statuses on Facebook and Twitter, browse your friends and colleagues from all services, and view Instagram photos. It's important to note that you cannot upload photos to Instagram, however; you can only view photos.
Hulu Plus lets you sign in and watch all your favorite shows and movies straight from the Start menu. The interface is similar to what you get on the Web and you can swipe to browse shows and movies before launching them full screen.
If you're not a Hulu+ subscriber, you probably have a Netflix account, and on Windows 8 the browsing experience is excellent. Swipe sideways to scroll through themed collections, view top picks based on your previous selections, and launch movies from the large, but limited Watch Instantly collection. Just like the Web and mobile device versions of the app, you'll be able to pick up where you left off on your most recently watched show.
Sometimes there's no substitute for live radio and TuneIn Radio is one of the best we've seen on iOS and Android devices. The app works similarly on Windows 8, and you can launch the app, find a station (AM, FM, or Internet), and of course, listen while you work on other things as TuneIn Radio plays in the background.
If you want more information on just about everything under the sun, you can now access the king of reference sites straight from the Start screen. Upon launch you get a home screen with featured pictures, featured articles, "on this day" content, and recent changes. When reading an article you swipe to the left to read more instead of the vertical scrolling you find on the site and we thought it worked great on the touch screen. You also get a button to view the same page on the actual site if you want.
Easily one of the most popular weather apps available, WeatherBug in Windows 8 gives you a quick weather outlook right on its live tile. Jump into the app to explore the latest forecasts for your area or any other location where you want to view the latest weather info.
You can always use a Web browser for the latest headlines, but the app experience in News Bento is tough to beat for aggregating stories. Culled from an impressive variety of news sources, you can browse by the latest headlines or check your favorite categories and sites to get up-to-date info. Right when you launch the app, News Bento also runs through headlines so you can tap if you see a story that interests you.
One of the great things about having a tablet is you can bring it almost anywhere -- even if it's just to your kitchen. With the Windows 8 Allrecipes app you can prop up your tablet for hands-free recipe reading, or swipe to browse categories to find something interesting to make.
One of the best apps out there for syncing notes, images, to-do lists, and voice reminders is now on Windows 8. This app works on just about any smartphone or computer you can think of, and is enormously useful for transferring ideas and content from one machine to another.
What computer is complete without a paint program? Fresh Paint has a great looking and intuitive palette with several tools and canvas types to paint your masterpiece. But it's also great for kids, with packs you can download that let them draw on your tablet just like a coloring book.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane ($9.99)
Most non-desktop-style games in the Windows 8 UI are like apps you might find on Android and iOS devices. But this particular game comes from XBox Live and is an incredible visual racing experience using tilt controls on a tablet or the keyboard with a desktop setup. You can even use a Xbox controller via USB and play the game as it was intended. Though this is the only paid app on this list (that's not a subscription) we definitely think it's worthwhile if you want to see what app-style gaming can be like in Windows 8.