Toolbox for Windows 8: A Veritable Swiss Army Knife

Windows 8 already offers limited multitasking functionality within it’s Modern UI, through it’s unique snap split view implementation. Toolbox, by Vectorform,  takes multitasking a step further and allows users to split it’s application into up to 6 different applications, or Tools as they are called. Is Toolbox a worthy tool to add to your Windows 8 app arsenal? Let find out!

Interface

Toolbox has a very clean and elegant interface. It uses slick, but simple animated transitions when adding tools and first loading. I’ll talk more about the applications, or tools as they are called below. And more on the UI when we talk about Toolbox’s multitasking implementation.

The Tools

Toolbox comes with 9 different Tools including: Web Browser,  Calculator,  Converter,  Facebook, Voice Notes, Notifier, Clock, Weather, and Doodle. Let’s explore each one.

Toolbox Tools

These are Toolbox’s current tools.

Web Browser

The built in browser seems to be a version of IE 10. It supports bookmarking via favorites that can be accessed through a drop down screen. It isn’t possible via Windows 8′s built in share capabilities to share a website like you can in IE 10. The browser is fast and fluid. Zooming and scrolling are quick, even when more than one browser is available utilizing Toolbox’s multitasking capabilities.

I wasn’t able to click and download files in the version I used, so be aware that isn’t possible. YouTube videos played smoothly, however some did not play because Flash player is not available. The large box containing button controls was a bit obtrusive and seems to take up too much screen space with unnecessary tools. The refresh button for instance is visible twice. If you are in the Modern UI this is a great way to have multiple browser windows open side by side.

Web Browser from Toolbox

A fairly capable browser.

Calculator

The Calculator is a pretty simple implementation. No scientific calculator is available, but it will get the job done. A useful tool, but not groundbreaking.

Converter

This is a tool designed for the kitchen, or anywhere else you need to make quick unit conversions. I can envision looking up a recipe in the browser in one window and having the converter tool in another to ensure measurements are correct. This Tool is a welcome addition.

Facebook

The Facebook tool is a simple implementation and does its job. In some ways I like how much cleaner it is compared to the options on other platforms and it being at hand while browsing the web or doing other tasks is a nice bonus. I did notice some slight alignment issues within my profile, and it was slow to load content at times.

Voice notes

What an awesome tool. It allows you to record audio notes that you can then email, or even save to your SkyDrive. A very useful tool for things like recording class lectures or meetings so you can review them later. The only negative is that if you leave the Toolbox application it will stop recording.

Notifier

A simple alarm tool that you can set to notify you at a certain point in time. I saw no way to change the alarm sound. The alarm also didn’t go off when I clicked stop within the Tool, but continued until I closed the Windows notification box.

Clock

Keep track of time Modern UI style. It’s a beautiful and simple clock with a variety of time zones at hand.

Toolbox Clock Tool

I love Toolbox’s Clock. So clean!

Doodle

Write or draw with a stylus or a finger. This Tool is wonderful for taking notes. I wouldn’t put it at the same level as OneNote, but it complements OneNote. For example, notes taken in Doodle can be sent to OneNote, Email, Skitch, Twitter, SkyDrive, etc.

Doodle provides different pen sizes and colors. A eraser tool, pan tool, and zooming is also available. The undo is implemented in a slider concept that is similar in many ways to Paper’s rewind feature.

Toolbox Doddle

A very useful note taking Tool.

I’d love to see a text editor and Twitter added to the available Tools. It seems odd that these two Tools were left out of the application. On that note, according to the developer, the next update will be adding a Tool “store”, where users will be able to download new Tools that will be available as either free or paid additions.

One of the first new Tools will be Twitter. A Notes Tool (text editor) will also be coming. They have big plans for Toolbox and I quote, “hope to have 50+ tools available for download”, by this time next year.

Weather

The information is provided in a simple and elegant way.

Multitasking

Toolbox handles multitasking by splitting the view into up to six sections with each section capable of running one of the available Tools. A group of sections is called a Toolset and a number of Toolsets are provided by default. My favorite is brainstorm which provides a Toolset which contains Voice notes,  Web Browser, and Doodle. This results in a very nice note taking setup. I was able to record some audio notes, fact check in the browser, and take handwritten notes all within a single application.

Brainstorm Toolset

Brainstorm Toolset is a setup designed for the student.

A user can easily create a custom Toolset by starting with one of the available layouts and adding the tools they desire. All the tools for this are available in the AppBars. Once the desired setup is achieved it can then be saved and named as desired. Toolsets can then be managed later within settings. It’s also possible to pin a Toolset to the start screen for quick access to your favorite Toolsets.

 

Toolbox AppBars

A variety of Toolsets and layouts are available.

When Toolbox is using Window’s 8 snap you can only have two tools available. But it’s possible to quickly switch them out.

Wrap-up

Toolbox provides a set of tools, that would otherwise require a user to switch between multiple applications, all within a unified interface. While using Toolbox I began to wonder why Windows 8 isn’t like this as a whole. The snap feature is definitely useful, but it lacks the versatility that Toolbox demonstrates is possible. 

Being able to have multiple browser windows stacked in a variety of configurations, or even multiple weather locations is just a beautiful thing. I couldn’t help but imagine a Windows 8 that could do this with every application.

I can’t recommend Toolbox enough, and I hope that the few kinks I came across get worked out of It, and that we will indeed see some additional Tools added.


Summary

Vectorform takes multitasking a step further and allows users to split it's application into up to 6 different Tools.

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