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Uninstall native Windows 8 apps you don't need

The Windows 8.1 Start screen is loaded with shortcuts to pre-installed apps you may not want or need. Here's how to clear out the clutter.

Windows 8.1 Start screen options
Uninstall or unpin multiple built-in Windows 8 apps at once to streamline the Start screen. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Think of those poor, lonely apps pre-installed on Windows 8 PCs that are destined to remain unopened: Travel, Reminders, Maps, Camera, Notes...Reading List?

These are only a few of the many programs preloaded on my Windows 8 PC that I have never opened and am unlikely to use in the future. Windows 8's Start screen is jam-packed with shortcuts to orphan apps such as these. If you'd rather not live with an overcrowded Start screen, you can remove the unused programs -- or at least unpin them from the screen -- with just a few clicks.

Unclutter the Win8 Start screen

To remove an app's shortcut from the Windows 8.1 Start screen or to uninstall a program, press and hold or right-click it to bring the Start screen options into view at the bottom of the screen, as shown in the image at the top of this post.

You can then select other Start-screen shortcuts to perform the same action on several of them at once. Your options are to unpin the shortcuts from the Start screen, uninstall the programs, resize the selected tiles, and prevent "live" tiles from automatically refreshing.

In a post from last June, Lance Whitney explained how to customize the Windows 8.1 Start screen.

If you later decide to re-install an app you've removed, open the Windows 8.1 Store app, press and hold or right-click an open area of the screen, and choose Your Apps in the options that appear at the top of the screen.

Windows 8.1 Store app options
Re-install a native Windows 8.1 app you previously uninstalled via the Store app. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

By default, the apps not installed on your PC are listed. The list includes the apps you've uninstalled previously.

Windows 8.1 Store app uninstalled-programs list
The Store app of Windows 8.1 lists the programs that aren't currently installed. Select one to re-install it. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

To re-install one of the apps, select it and then choose the Install button. You may be prompted to provide billing information even if you selected a free app, but you can skip this step.

Microsoft gets into the app-store act

It would appear the prospect of offering native Windows 8 apps hasn't caught on with software developers. Last November, ZDNet's Matt Baxter-Reynolds analyzed the prevalence of questions posed on the developer site Stack Overflow for each platform. Not surprisingly, questions relating to Android and iPhone app development dominated the site's forums.

How did Windows 8 stack up? According to Matt's analysis, in a 28-day period of 2012 there were 3,368 questions posed on the site about Android development, and 3,264 questions asked about iPhone app development. Compared to a total of eight questions relating to Windows Store app development over those 28 days.

In an equivalent period in late 2013, Android-related questions totaled 4,505; iPhone questions dropped to 3,079; questions about Windows Store apps soared all the way to...80.

As Matt points out, developers follow the money: there were five times as many questions asked in the time period about Java and .NET development than there were about Android and iPhone app development.

Of course, quality matters more than quantity. There are plenty of useful apps offered in the Windows Store, many of which are free. Last November, Maximum PC listed 49 of the "best" Windows Store apps. The roster is dominated by big names such as Amazon, eBay, Netflix, and Adobe Reader, but also includes Shazam and Plex media players, Network Speed Test from Microsoft Research, and Fresh Paint's touch-based paint program.

Some folks say Microsoft's "one OS to rule them all" strategy doesn't make sense in a multi-platform world. As Roger Cheng reported at the end of February, the Windows 8.1 update expected in the next few weeks will move the OS closer to its Windows 7 predecessor, and perhaps further from the new Metro interface, at least for users of non-touch PCs.

Sure, switching between the new and old Windows looks can be disconcerting. But most MS Office users ultimately got used to the ribbon interface -- albeit with more than a little kicking and screaming. One of these days we'll bid the Windows desktop adieu. The fate of the rest of the OS depends in no small part on third-party software developers.

If there's money to be made in developing Windows Store apps, you can bet somebody will be chasing after it.