Thursday, January 10, 2013

Windows 8 - Eleventh Pass: Start Screen Email vs Desktop Email

One of the challenges with Windows 8 is that many of the same apps we use every day come in two flavors for Windows 8. One is the Start Screen, or old Metro style, that runs on the Surface RT, and the other is a full desktop version of the app.

A few examples include Skype, SkyDrive, and Email. So what’s the difference between apps for the Start Screen and apps for the desktop? Do you need both? What about disk space of running the same app twice on your traditional laptop or desktop?

For starters, there is a big difference. Start Screen apps work on a small cache and prefer to be online. Start Screen apps are also the only apps that can provide notification icons on the Windows 8 lock screen. Those are the little icons below the time and date when the computer is locked. However, these apps are also limited in functionality, as they need to be online and designed for touch screen functionality.

In terms of email, you have the default Start Screen email app and you have Outlook. Outlook is my preferred email client however, Outlook (any version) doesn’t have Live Tile that can update to show you recent messages, Outlook can’t update a lock screen icon with the number of new messages you have, and Outlook can’t provide a fade in/fade out notification on the Start Screen in Windows 8. Outlook can only provide a fade in/fade out notification down above the taskbar if you are in the Windows 8 desktop.

Conversely the Windows 8 Start Screen email app can do all of the above but how much disk space does it take up? My Outlook profile is 3-4 GB and I definitely didn’t want to have two PST files containing the same Outlook profile on my laptop.

The default Start Screen Email app doesn’t take up any disk space. I set it up to access the same Exchange account that Outlook accesses and my disk space didn’t change at all. The reason being the email app works online and doesn’t cache very much. The downside to that being if you aren’t online you won’t see much of your email but the Start Screen email app assumes you are always online via a Wi-Fi or cellular connection on a touch screen type device like the Surface.

So my recommendation is if you have a cloud based email account that you run both the Start Screen Email app and Outlook so you can have the best of all the above worlds. That way you can access your email whether you are online or offline, can take advantage of all the Windows 8 notification mechanisms, have easy access on a traditional piece of hardware, and maximize your access to email if you are using a touch screen only or hybrid device.

Oddly enough, the Start Screen app notices pop up several seconds before any Outlook notices.

Similarly, you may want to run both the desktop version and Start Screen version of Skype and SkyDrive. For example, with SkyDrive, the Start Screen app doesn’t download and store anything. It simply provides you with online access to your SkyDrive files. If you want your files downloaded and updated to the SkyDrive folder on your laptop/desktop then you will also need to run the desktop version of the app.

There are also benefits to running both version of Skype especially as Windows Live Messenger will be retired the first quarter of 2013 according to Microsoft.

In other words, with the variety of hardware types available to run Windows 8 and the various methods of interacting with it you will want to research based on the type of hardware you plan to use what the benefits are to running each type of Windows 8 app. This is all part of the fun when you try to combine too many uses into a single platform.