Ever since Microsoft released the Windows 8.1 Preview back in June, readers have asked me whether Stardock’s useful utilities like ModernMix and Start8 will work with the new OS version. With the recent leak of a near final Windows 8.1 build, I decided to test ModernMix on my daily-use PC. And I think this is going to be a very useful transition tool indeed.

I think it’s fair to say that Windows 8 has presented a certain challenge to many if not most of the 1.5 billion Windows users worldwide. The cause is obvious: Windows 8 is a “touch-first” version of Windows that ships with its first-ever mobile environment, originally called Metro. And this new Metro environment was unceremoniously and awkwardly tacked onto the classic Windows desktop. The result is a disjointed experience that is optimized for neither touch nor mouse and keyboard.

Enter Windows 8.1. This very major update to Windows 8 (and RT) provides users with the OS that Microsoft should have shipped originally. Windows 8.1 includes major improvements to both the Metro and desktop environments, making this system a far better fit for those users that prefer either. It also eases the transition between the two, which is important because Windows will be moving further down that mobile path in future releases as the desktop is deemphasized and then made optional or removed.

Depending on your mindset, that future is either dystopian or utopian, but let’s not get bogged down in things we can’t change today. For now, we have Windows 8, imperfect as it is, and Windows 8.1, which finally offers some apps—like the improved Mail, Calendar and Xbox Music, among others—that are good enough that even desktop users should start paying attention. But doing so on traditional (non-touch) PCs is still a bit awkward, despite the useful advances in Windows 8.1

Enter Stardock. This Michigan-based firm has been around for over 20 years and been developing useful Windows-based utilities for years. With the advent of Windows 8, Stardock has stepped up to the plate and released a series of very useful products that help ease the transition to Windows 8 and make this less-than-optimal system work the way Windows users expect.

I’ve written about a few Stardock utilities in the recent past, including ModernMix (Windows 8 Tip: Run Metro Apps in Windows on the Desktop) and Start8 (Windows 8 Tip: Boot Directly to the Desktop with Start8) and recommend both highly. But now that I am using a near-final version of Windows 8.1, I find myself curious about using some of those new app versions at home, on my desktop set up (which is currently a jury-rigged Surface Pro docked to a large desktop display, keyboard, mouse and other peripherals, but is normally a tower PC). The thing is, these full-screen apps, good as they are, still don’t work well on such a PC configuration.

So I’ve been using ModernMix to see whether this utility can help cross that final divide between the future (mobile apps) and the present (my desktop PC with keyboard and mouse). And though there are a few bugs that I attribute to the pre-release nature of Windows 8.1, the answer is … yes. Most definitely.

New Windows 8.1 apps running in windows on the desktop

ModernMix provides what I think is a better “mix” (hence the name, presumably) of mobile apps and desktop. It lets you run Windows mobile apps (Mail, Calendar, Xbox Music, etc.) in windows on the Windows desktop, just like real desktop applications. This means they can float, be resized, be pinned to the taskbar, and so on.

What’s interesting is that ModernMix is so mature that it’s smart about how these apps work. I’ve pinned Xbox Music to the desktop, for example, and when I launch it from there it runs in a window as I want. But if I launch the app from the Start screen—which I might do when out and about in the world with the Surface, now used as a tablet—it will run normally, in full-screen mode. Which is also what I want.

This dual-mode use is why ModernMix is so useful as a transition tool. Yes, if you’re just going to use Metro apps on a desktop PC, you may simply want them to run in a window. But if you’re transitioning to this mobile future, not just through software but with a hybrid mobile device like a Surface, Lenovo Yoga, or whatever, you can have it both ways.

Choice is good. And while I applaud the changes Microsoft has made in Windows 8.1, some people will always believe that they’ll never go far enough. For those, and for any user that simply wants an easier transition from the desktop systems they’ve spent over 15 years using, ModernMix is a great (and, at $4.99, inexpensive) option.

You can download ModerMix from the Stardock web site.