While Google Maps remains the gold standard for online mapping, Microsoft is getting ready to push out a huge update to its Bing Maps service that looks like it'll compete well with Google's offering. The Bing Maps preview is available today, and it's a much-needed update that brings in far more contextual information than the service previously offered. When you search for a destination or landmark, Bing Maps now pulls up a "card" on the left side of the screen that contains info like open hours, Trip Advisor or Yelp reviews, Wikipedia info, and much more. It's far more useful than the bare-bones details that Bing Maps previously offered.
There's also a set of buttons to bring up nearby attractions and destinations like restaurants, shopping centers, local attractions, and so forth. Travel directions have been updated to show you multiple routes based on current travel time estimates and local traffic, rather than the single option the older version would give you. And the map view itself has been redesigned — rather than the lefthand info column always obscuring a large chunk of your view, Bing Maps now takes up the full browser window by default, with location details popping up on the left when needed. Right-clicking a location now brings up the option to save and sync a location across your Microsoft account and to the Windows Maps app, and you can jump right into the streetside view there, as well.
While Microsoft is just calling this update a "preview," anyone can start using it now right here. There's no doubt that this update pulls a lot of its design from Google Maps, but that's not a bad thing — even as a preview version, the new Bing Maps feels far more useful than the old service. There's no word on when this will become the default view for Bing Maps users, but Microsoft wants users to try it out now and send in any feedback and bugs they find.