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As a fairly new Windows 8 user, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole Modern (or Metro) concept. While giving up the Start menu was surprisingly easy, I’m still having a hard time getting used to the new Start screen. It’s not that I don’t use it – I use it exactly the same way I used to use my Start menu – it’s that I don’t really make use of the tiles, the apps, and pretty much all the new things this system has introduced.
As a Windows 8 user, you have two options: Installing a Start menu replacement and forgetting all about the Modern part, or embracing the new system, making the best of what it has to offer. Since my laptop is equipped with a touch screen, I can really and truly enjoy the new Start screen, but how to convince myself to use it? What do most users access most often? Ironically enough, that would be Google apps, and quick access to these Google services can also do wonders for your productivity.
Microsoft and Google might not be the best of friends, but integrating Google products with Windows 8 could be a great way to utilize Modern UI by accessing common services such as Google Search, Chrome, Gmail, and others through the Windows 8 Start screen. So what are the best ways to do this?
Google Search (& More)
This is the only official Modern Google app available, and it’s a beautiful one. If you’re familiar with Google’s Search app for iOS, this is very similar, and works very well with both a mouse and touch interface. To get it, head over to the Microsoft app store, or search for it in the Store on your own computer.
The app is a full-screen Modern-style app, and includes voice search, history, and everything else you’ve come to expect from your Google Search.
A bonus: By tapping or clicking the “Applications” button on the app’s main screen, you can get access to various other Google services such as Gmail, YouTube, Calendar, Translate, Google+, and Reader (at least for now). Loading these services is identical to loading them in your browser, but they remain under the app’s grey header, and always launch in full-screen.
Aside from using Gmail as available in the Google Search app (or your browser), you can also configure your Gmail account to sync with Windows’s native Mail app. There’s a caveat, though. Since Google’s decided to remove Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync support for free users, this option will only work until July 31 of this year.
After that, you’ll have to use IMAP to sync your Gmail account to Mail app. Already some restrictions apply to this method, allowing you to only sync your mail, no contacts (there’s a trick to doing this though, keep reading).
To connect Gmail to Mail, launch the app and press WinKey+I to access the settings. Choose Accounts –> Add an account –> Google. You will now need to enter your Google credentials. Make sure you don’t check the box next to the words “Include your Google contacts and calendars”, or the syncing might fail due to Google’s new restrictions.
You can also set your name, the update frequency (manual or automatic), signature, and more. Note that automatic updates come with an email icon on your lock screen. If you choose to disable these notifications, you’ll also find yourself restricted to manual updates.
Windows’ Mail takes some getting used to – it doesn’t support threaded conversations, and sports a huge preview pane next to your email list, but you’ll find that all your labels have been imported intact, and the overall experience is pretty slick.
If you use Gmail and/or Android, you’ve probably accumulated a huge list of Google contact. Due to Google’s new restrictions, you can no longer sync your contacts into the Mail and People apps. But what good is Mail without your contacts? Microsoft offers an alternative way to do this that so far seems to work.
Go to your Microsoft account page and sign in with the same Microsoft account you used to set up Windows 8. Click “Permissions” and choose “Add accounts”. Choose Google from the list, and connect the two accounts.
After granting access, wait several minutes, and check the Mail and People apps again. You should now have full access to your Google contacts directly from your Microsoft account.
Chrome is not officially available as a Modern app – that honor is saved solely for Internet Explorer – but you can still use Chrome as a full-screen Modern app on Windows 8 machines (not Windows RT tablets or laptops), and make use of of Windows 8 Charms such as Search and Share. In order to do this, you’d have to set Chrome as your default browser. If you’d rather not, this option is not going to work.
To launch Chrome as a Modern app, open Chrome on your desktop and click on the Settings menu. From here, choose “Relaunch Chrome in Windows 8 mode”.
To get the full experience, you can also pin a Chrome shortcut to your Start screen by finding Chrome in your apps (Press WinKey, start typing “Chrome”), right clicking it and choosing “Pin to Start” from the bottom. If you’ve launched Chrome in Windows 8 mode, it will launch this way again by default next time you use it.
There are no other Modern Google apps available, but you if you’d like to have an incentive to use your Start screen, pinning some Google apps shortcuts to it could be a nice touch. You can actually do this with almost any Google service you can think of. Launch Chrome and sign into a Google service such as Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Translate, Offers, etc. From the Settings menu choose Tools –> Create application shortcuts…
You will now get to choose whether you want a desktop or a taskbar shortcut. Choose desktop and click “Create”. Now head over to your desktop and locate the new shortcut. Right click it and choose “Pin to Start”. You can now remove the shortcut from your desktop if you wish.
Do this with all your favorite Google services to be able to access them from your Start screen. The shortcut will not open a standard Chrome window, but a standalone window for your app. The only downside to this method is the very low-resolution icon it provides for your tile, but you can customize these using third-party apps.
Unfortunately, the integration between Windows 8 and Google is not seamless. The rivalry between the two companies results in us users getting the raw side of the deal, and unless nothing changes, things will become even less intuitive come July 31st.
Even so, if you decide to put a little effort into the matter and follow all the above steps, your Windows 8 machine and your Google account should be fairly well integrated. Enough to encourage you to use the new system as its meant to be used, and make your life easier when accessing your Google apps.
Looking for more useful Windows 8 information? For the ultimate in Windows 8 help, check out our free Windows 8 guide.