Microsoft will update Windows 8 apps before launch. Let's hope they'll actually become useful.

Microsoft yesterday announced that it will be updating some Windows 8 apps before the official launch of Windows 8. I only hope that they're more than minor, cosmetic changes, because some important Windows 8 apps are now so underpowered as to be nearly useless.

Yesterday on the Building Windows 8 blog, Microsoft announced that it would be updating its built-on apps for Windows 8. (These are the apps once referred to as Metro apps.) Bing is the first to be updated, but virtually all the others will be updated as well, including SkyDrive, Mail, Calendar, Photos, Maps, Finance, and others.

Microsoft included a list of some of the features the apps will be getting. For example, Photos will finally let you crop and rotate photos, and you'll be able to search inside the SkyDrive app.

Those are clearly badly needed changes. But from the list provided, it's not clear they'll be enough. Take SkyDrive, for example. The SkyDrive app right now is really nothing more than a front end to your SkyDrive, and not even as functional as visiting SkyDrive on the Web. But even if it had as many features as visiting SkyDrive on the Web, it still wouldn't be good enough. It should do the same thing as Microsoft's Desktop-based SkyDrive client. That client is a great piece of syncing software, letting you keep files and folders automatically updated on all of your PCs and devices. Given that Microsoft touts Windows 8's cloud-based and syncing features, shouldn't the Windows 8 version of the app do at least the same thing? Right now it doesn't.

Mail also needs some serious help. It doesn't let you set rules for automatically handling incoming mail, as you can in Outlook. It doesn't allow for threaded messaging. It doesn't let you mark messages for follow-up or set their level of importance. Windows 8 Mail doesn't measure up to a email client like Outlook, or even a Web-based one like Gmail. Heavy email users will find it unsuitable as an email client.

As a general rule, the apps built into Windows 8 are simple and underpowered, more like tablet apps than apps written for full-blown computers. If Microsoft wants to convince people that Windows 8 has been written for full-blown computers, not just tablets, it needs to beef up those apps. We'll see, in the next few weeks, whether that happens.

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