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New versions to arrive before launch date

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When Reg contributor Tim Anderson reviewed Windows 8 in August, he described the built-in Metro Modern UI Windows Store apps that ship with the OS as being "a bit rubbish." Microsoft must have agreed, because it's already planning to deliver updates for at least 13 of those apps, most of which should ship before Windows 8 even hits retail stores.

In a blog post on Thursday, Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live division, said the updated apps will be made available to OEMs to preinstall in new PCs soon. In the meantime, early hardware buyers and those who have already installed the Release to Manufacture (RTM) version of Windows 8 should expect to download the updates through the Windows Store.

First out of the gate is an updated Bing app, which shipped on Friday. According to Sinofsky, the new version features richer search results for local content and images, and allows users to zoom on searches to find related queries. It also now integrates with Bing Rewards, Microsoft's loyalty program for online searches.

Sinofsky writes that the rest of the polished-up apps will roll out in the weeks leading up to October 26, which is the official launch date for Windows 8, as well as Microsoft's Surface line of tablet devices, the first of which will run Windows RT on ARM-based processors.

Most of the updated apps will include actual new features, rather than mere cosmetic fixes, although users who have yet to experience Windows 8 might be surprised to learn that the added capabilities weren't there to begin with.

For example, the improved app for Microsoft's SkyDrive cloudy storage will allow users to search within their SkyDrives, rename files and folders, and display items in a custom sort order. The SkyDrive website already allows all three – though, to be fair, the SkyDrive app for Android doesn't.

The new Mail app will also improve search and will add a conversation view to inboxes. In addition, Sinofsky said it will also offer "complete IMAP account support," though he declined to explain exactly what was wrong with the (reportedly shabby) IMAP support that shipped with Windows 8 RTM.

Maps will introduce a bird's eye view, plus maps of over 3,000 indoor locations. It will also make improvements to navigation and layout, and add hints for driving directions.

Several of the other bundled apps, including Finance, News, Sports, Travel, and Weather, will integrate with additional content sources and offer users more ways to display and organize their content.

But none of the updates will do much to address the main complaint in Anderson's review, which was that Windows 8's built-in Windows Store apps are really little more than simplified gadgets for doing things you're already used to doing using desktop applications.

The Mail app, for example, will never be a suitable replacement for Outlook. And if you're already committed to using Outlook some of the time, how often are you really likely to switch over to the Mail app for a quick peek at your inbox?

Still, the fact that Microsoft is releasing this raft of app updates so early is proof, at least, that Redmond is committed to Windows 8's bundled Windows Store apps and it doesn't plan to let them stagnate. Whether the broader developer community will get on board, on the other hand, remains to be seen. ®

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