Microsoft today announced it would start pushing updated versions of several long-criticized Windows 8 apps, including Mail, Calendar and People, the "Modern"-style program for keeping track of contacts, to the Windows Store tomorrow.
Mail, Calendar and People run in the new "Modern" user interface (UI), formerly called "Metro," that's included in Windows 8 and the default UI of Windows RT, the limited-function edition designed for tablets and ARM processor-equipped notebooks and hybrids.
Today's announcement was expected: On Friday, Microsoft-centric blogs said that the refreshed apps were imminent.
The updates will officially launch Tuesday, although a Microsoft spokeswoman said they will appear "as early as this evening." Rather than rely on the familiar Windows Update service to download and install the apps, however, users must manually steer to the Windows Store from within Windows 8 or Windows RT, then click on the "Updates" link at the upper right, to retrieve the new versions.
These were the first major upgrades to Windows 8's and Windows RT's bundled apps since the two dueling operating systems launched last October, and foreshadow a faster upgrade release cycle for the two OSes themselves.
Microsoft announced the updated apps in a blog post, which also described some of the changes. Mail, for example, will now filter messages to display only those not yet read, automatically complete addresses in the To: field based on prior messages, and support rights-managed emails, which typically restrict practices like forwarding or printing.
But Calendar will drop support for synchronizing with Google Calendar, according to The Verge, which quoted a Microsoft program manager.
Microsoft confirmed that to Computerworld today.
That, too, was in the cards. In December 2012, Google announced it would abandon Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync (EAS), a popular enterprise-grade synchronization service that is also widely used by consumers to sync their smartphones and tablets with company email, contacts and calendars.
Google said it would drop EAS support for new consumer customers as of Jan. 30, 2013, but promised that it would continue to sync accounts of existing free accounts and all paying Google Apps customers.
Initially, it wasn't clear whether Microsoft's Modern-style Calendar would drop EAS support for all Google users, including those, such as Google Apps for Business customers, who can still sync through EAS.
"If [Microsoft] pulls sync support for corporate [Google] accounts -- like me -- this will get real ugly, and fast," said Patrick Moorhead, the principal of Moor Insights & Strategy, in an email.
It appears that's exactly what Microsoft is doing.
"No, Google's paying customers and those with business accounts will not be able to sync their calendars in the [Microsoft Calendar] app update," said a Microsoft spokeswoman in an email reply to additional questions. "Although they might still be able to sync their mail via EAS since Google hasn't technically dropped that support yet."
Windows 8 users have complained about the quality of some of the operating system's core apps since the OS was in public preview, with most focused on Mail. Today, several people applauded the upcoming updates in comments appended to Microsoft's announcement-by-blog. But most still griped about something.
"The Messaging app needs updates, too," said a commenter identified as Leo Preuss Jr.
Microsoft, however, did not mention Messaging, its instant message and chat app, fueling speculation that the company has plans to kill the program and instead push people to Skype.
But one analyst simply shrugged off today's news.
"The speed with which they update [core] apps from the [Windows] Store, that's not that big an issue, because for me, their functionality is so poor that no one is using them in volume," Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft, said in an interview.
"The functionality is so poor that I don't care if they release updates," Cherry continued, noting that he gave up on all three on his Windows 8 and Windows RT devices.
Windows 8 users can run alternate software on the Windows 7-esque "classic" desktop -- including Office and its Outlook email and scheduling application -- but that's not possible on Windows RT, which is stuck with the Windows Store apps. Even Office 2013 RT, included on each Windows RT tablet, isn't a solution, since it lacks Outlook.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.