The most useful new Maps feature is the ability to download maps so that you can use them when you're offline. This can be welcome if you're using a tablet or laptop beyond the reach of an Internet connection, or if you're traveling overseas and want to save on data use.
Is there anything about the Maps app that might persuade a dedicated Google Maps user to switch? Likely not. There's no Street View, for example, which for me is a deal-breaker.
As for other built-in Modern apps, Microsoft made some changes to Photos, which is still a work in progress. It now automatically enhances your photos by eliminating red eye and changing brightness and contrast levels. But many promised features are still missing, including the ability to automatically group related photos into albums. Also missing are basic features such as the ability to tag photos.
There are also minor changes throughout the operating system that are less important. File Explorer, for example, has more colorful, brighter icons, as well as the ability to pin a folder so that it's always within reach. You can now schedule a specific time for Windows to reboot and install updates. There's also a beta version of the new Windows Store (the old one is here as well) with a simpler, cleaner interface.
The Windows 10 launch is expected to be some time in the second half of this year. Many things that Microsoft has promised are still missing from this build. Most notable is its new browser code-named Spartan (in this Windows build there's only Internet Explorer). Spartan, as its name implies, strips away many menus and icons, and features a new rendering engine. Spartan will also come with a way to annotate and share websites with others.
Also to come in the future, says Microsoft, is the ability to put music into OneDrive and have it be automatically shared among all Windows devices. And when Windows 10 ships, Microsoft is going to include versions of Office for Windows 10 that will be touch-enabled. Microsoft also says that the Start menu will get a number of changes as well, including the ability to be resized and personalized.
The bottom line
This consumer-focused preview of Windows 10 (available to members of Microsoft's Windows Insider program) reveals an operating system in transition from the kludge of Windows 8 into one that feels polished and natural on multiple devices. Killing the Start screen and replacing it with a Start menu that adjusts itself according to the device you're on is a big step in unifying Windows into an operating system that can work equally well on desktops, laptops and tablets.
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