Windows 7 is faster and easier than Windows Vista, has some good user interface tweaks – and it has crazy desktop backgrounds. Nicholas Kolakowski lists his ten top Windows 7 improvements
Microsoft is hoping Windows 7, its new operating system (reviewed here), will be a massive hit when it rolls out in general release on 22 October. The software and hardware partners within its ecosystem, many of them battered financially by months of recession, are doubtlessly hoping for the same thing.
Windows 7 represents one of the main pillars of Microsoft’s corporate strategy as it seeks to redefine its business and fend off aggressive competitors such as Google and Apple. In addition to the massive push behind its new operating system, Microsoft has also concentrated on slashing programmes — some of them, like Money, stalwarts with substantial legacies — that no longer align with thecompany’s goals within the marketplace.
The programmes that remain, such as Windows and Office, are being adjusted in light of new realities — Office 2010 will be offered in a Web-centric version, the better to compete against cloud-based productivity suites such as Google Apps.
And Windows 7 has been designed to run on mininotebooks, known popularly as “netbooks,” that currently dominate the PC-sales marketplace; certain design adjustments show that Microsoft is also looking to compete with Apple’s Mac OS on an aesthetic level.
A number of improvements to Windows 7 over XP and Vista may help both consumers and businesses adopt the OS on a more expedited basis. These refinements range from the fundamental, including adjustments to the code to make the system run faster, to the creative, such as a few very funky wallpaper options. Ten particularly notable ones are listed below:
1. Less of a Memory Hog
Testing has suggested that Windows 7, thanks to various programming tweaks, will run faster than Windows Vista, which was notorious for its memory-hogging qualities. Windows 7 features memory management that drives resources only to open windows, meaning that minimised applications no longer drain power like they did with Vista.
2. The Taskbar
Windows 7 makes a stab toward aesthetic simplicity (and a bit of the Mac OS) with a fundamental redesign of the taskbar, which reduces your open applications to thumbnail logos — hover your cursor over one of the logos, and tiny preview windows for the application will open.
3. Windows XP Mode
One of the main complaints about Windows Vista was the lack of backward compatibility with Windows XP applications. Microsoft did its best to address that particular issue with Windows 7, but as an insurance policy the company also created a Windows XP Mode, which will allow, thanks to virtualisation, old applications to run on Windows XP within a Windows 7 machine. This Release Candidate version of this option for “last mile” compatibility can be downloaded here.
4. Federated Search
Windows 7 upgrades its search capabilities with OpenSearch-based Federated Search, allowing users to explore local and network drives on top of intranet storage. Custom search connectors can be created to search online sites such as Twitter as well. Windows 7 also introduces a preview pane to search, which spares the user from having to open an application to view a found item.
The new Libraries feature offers users a higher degree of granular control over how they order and store their information. Users can take folders of content from around their system and group them within a Library (although the Library doesn’t “store” that content, per se, so much as index it), saving them from having to engage in a long hunt for content. For example, someone’s Documents Library might contain the folders “My Documents,” “Public Documents,” “Work Documents” and so on. In addition to Documents, other default Libraries include Music, Pictures and Videos.
6. User Account Controls
With Windows Vista, a number of users reported growing frustrated with the operating system’s constant prompts (which Microsoft attempted to alleviate at one point with a patch in SP1). With Windows 7, the User Account Control Settings can be adjusted, with users able to choose “Never Notify,” “Always Notify” and two options in between whenever a program attempts to make a change to their computer.
7. Start Menu
The Start Menu is now more customisable, with users able to adjust how links, icons and menus are displayed and behave.
Certain editions of Windows 7 (the Enterprise and Ultimate) include AppLocker, which can be used to lock down certain applications on an administrator level. This granular access control to applications can potentially make lives easier for IT administrators.
9. Chance to Get Rid of Vista and XP
Vista never made much of a positive impression on users, and XP, while a sturdy warhorse, is nearly 8 years old. It will be a welcome chance for many PC users to finally upgrade their desktop or laptop to a more efficient, 21st century operating system.
10. The Trippy Backgrounds
The new wallpapers being offered with Windows 7 are colourful, to say the least (we’ve picked an extract that seems popular on the blogs). In addition to a
number of standard-issue nature and geometric-architecture shots, there are also a few trippy images that look as if they were produced by Japanese anime artists after a week in a shed with a bottle of absinthe.