Seven things you may not know about Windows 7

CNET News' Ina Fried offers a peek at several features in Windows 7 that haven't gotten much attention.

LOS ANGELES--While Windows 7 has gotten plenty of attention over the past two weeks, there are some features in there that haven't gotten as much attention. I wrote on Friday about a new programming interface for location-based services . Here are seven more features that caught my eye.

1. Standard approach to mobile broadband
Windows 7 treats cellular modems as a standard connection, much like a Wi-Fi network, popping them up in the same available wireless networks dialog.

Sierra Wireless has already said it will support the new approach, which should make life much easier for road warriors (myself included). One of my few gripes about the prebeta Windows 7 laptop I'm using is that it doesn't recognize my relatively new USB Sprint modem.

2. Help with public Wi-Fi spots.
This was a little feature I discovered on my own. With many public Wi-Fi hot spots, once you connect to the network, you have to do something in your browser, such as agree to certain terms or enter a password. Windows 7 pops up a notification that tells you that, although you have to be connected to the network, more action may be needed and it gives you a direct link to open your browser.

When logging onto a Wi-Fi network that requires additional information via a browser, Windows 7 pops up this warning. (Click on image for a short photo gallery.) CNET News

3. Windows Troubleshooting
Sure, it would be better if your computer worked problem-free. But, acknowledging that's not the case, Microsoft has added a central place in Windows 7 to try to figure out what went wrong and why.

Among the kinds of problems that Windows Troubleshooting aims to help solve are issues with networked printers, detecting hard drive problems, and even some proactive things, like figuring out how much life a laptop battery has before it will likely need to be replaced with a new battery.

4. New sensor support
Windows 7 adds base-level support for all kinds of sensors, from GPS, to ambient light sensors, to accelerometers. Light sensors, for example, can now be used not only to light up a keyboard, but an application could sense daylight and make type larger so that it's easier to read.

At WinHEC, Microsoft handed out 700 free sensor developer kits that included a light sensor, touch pad, and accelerometer. The kit was a big hit with the developers, prompting one of the only long lines of the show.

5. Improved battery life and playback of DVDs
Microsoft is trying to do a couple things to make the DVD-playing experience better in Windows 7.

First and foremost, it has changed things so that DVD movies just start playing, as opposed to bringing up a long list of options.

Second, the company has worked to adjust power settings while playing back movies to enable better battery life.

"I'm hopeful it will have battery life equivalent to a portable DVD player," Microsoft's Jon DeVaan said in an interview. The issue is personal, he said. If Microsoft can reach its goal, he might be able to only bring a laptop on outings. "I hope to spare my back on family trips," he said.

6. Windows Biometric Framework
According to a press release from fingerprint sensor make AuthenTec, the operating system features improved biometric support that should enable a more standard way for fingerprint management applications to work with fingerprint readers in Windows 7.

"This provides ease of fingerprint sensor integration for PC manufacturers and a more consistent user experience," AuthenTec said in its release.

7. Enhancements to Windows Media Center
Microsoft hasn't given up on its dream of having Windows gain a prominent spot in the living room and its main effort in this area--Windows Media Center--is back in Windows 7.

BetaNews has a look at some of the new features, including support for H.264 video, an on-screen keyboard, and better method of scrolling through large libraries.

No word on whether the new Media Center will offer the long-anticipated support for DirecTV .

Click here for more news on Windows 7.

About the author

    During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried has changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley. These days, most of her attention is focused on Microsoft. E-mail Ina.

     

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