Microsoft’s making a big fuss about the newest version of its world-straddling OS but what’s new? Is Windows 7, as some people claim, simply just a glorified Windows Vista service pack or have Gates and the gang managed to create something genuinely innovative? Read on for the skinny on Windows 7′s new features and foibles.
Taskbar: now tarted up
The Taskbar has changed a lot in Microsoft’s visual tidy-up. Though the Start button and menus largely work like they did in Vista, in Windows 7, the Taskbar itself is now wider allowing you to see icons for each application you have open rather than text labels.
In a feature strikingly reminiscent to Apple’s OS X Snow Leopard feature Stacks, open windows are automatically stacked over the application they’re linked to. A shaded frame also sits over the top of the application icon to show you its open and the icons pulse insistently when there’s something that needs your attention. Again, they’re new features that echo Apple’s design touches in OS X, but they work, so that’s no bad thing.
Hover your cursor over an app’s icon on the Windows 7 Taskbar and thumbnails of active windows will pop up. The thumbnails are transparent, so you’ll not be blocking other important info you need to see. Click on a thumbnail and you’ll jump straight to that window. Another simple way of setting up shortcuts is pinning favourite icons to the Taskbar, right click on it and select “Pin to Taskbar” and it’s there for good.
All-in-all, the Windows 7 Taskbar is starting to look very similar to OS X’s super-easy to use dock. That’s no criticism though. If it makes Windows easier to use for the masses booting it up each day, it gets our vote.
Desktop turned toolbox
Microsoft made a big deal about the sidebar in Windows Vista. It let you stick gadgets and widgets within easy reach at the side of the screen. But the Big M has had a re-think and chucked it in the recyle bin. Widgets in Windows 7 are now free to colonise the desktop itself.
By putting widgets on the Windows 7 desktop you’ll be able to add RSS readers, calendars and other tools where they suit you best. The feature uses the same widgets as before but adds extra flexibility and ensure you see, and use, all those handy little tools rather than having them stranded off in a sidebar.
Jump to the start
The Windows 7 Start menu has one interesting new element – Jump Lists. Hover over an application icon and a list of items you’ve worked on will pop up. With Windows Media Player or iTunes, you’ll get recently played tracks while Word or Excel will show your most recent documents.
It’s a bonafide time-saver, and you’ll also get a list of common tasks, letting you do more with files than simply open them. You can also access jump lists by right clicking icons on the Task Bar. They’re everywhere, and extremely handy!
Share your tunes with any networked device
Your music isn’t just trapped on your hard drive with Windows 7. Windows Media Player 12 adds a wonderful new feature that’ll let you to send songs to any networked device, including your Xbox 360 and WiFi enabled radios. Right click any song in your library, select “Play To” and it’ll be pushed to the networked device. It’s like having a host of wireless speakers all around the house. If they’re within reach of your Wi-Fi network, you can pump sounds out through them.
Windows 7 is far faster than Vista and has been tweaked by Microsoft to mean that it’ll play nice with older PCs too. Even low-powered machines like netbooks will receive a boost with Windows 7 under the hood. Where Vista got a reputation as a Mr Creosote-style fattie, Windows 7 promises to be a leaner, meaner beast.
Windows Vista was like an irritating nanny, warning you constantly and making you feel guilty for ventuing online. With Windows 7, Microsoft has simplified the maintenance and security controls, moving all of them into one place – the Windows 7 Action Centre.
No, it’s not somewhere your boss will drag you for a teambuilding weekend. It’s where alerts and issues are listed, letting you know what needs dealing with immediately, rather than giving you a list of all the possible options.
Notifications, which once cluttered the system tray are now far easier to control. You can easily see when Windows notifies you, and what’s a potential risk, from the Windows 7 Action Centre.
For instance: If you’ve never been good at defragmenting your hard drive or dealing with the mounting piles of temporary files, Windows 7 will make it easier for you. Configure the Windows 7 Action Centre and it’ll remind you about maintenance issues and automatically set system restore points. It’ll also watch for updated drivers, which will come in handy if you have tonnes of peripherals.
Windows 7 Ultimate also includes BitLocker technology, letting you encrypt individual folders to keep you secretive stuff under lock and key, or at least, password.