Betta fish gets hooked

For those who checked out the Windows 7 beta or release candidate, you'll remember the default desktop featured a betta fish. The final desktop shipping with Windows 7 showcases the Windows logo and some swirly accents, instead.

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Stylin' in Windows 7

Windows 7 is the easiest operating system from Microsoft to customize. Nearly every new feature can be reverted to an older version or turned off completely, and theme packages are easier than ever to manage and customize.

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Get a peek

Aero Peek and the new taskbar are the stars of Windows 7, and you're going to be hearing a lot about them. While the taskbar offers enlarged program icons that you can pin to it, Aero Peek gives users mouse-over preview panes.

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Peek at the desktop, too

Aero Peek gives previews of the desktop as well as individual programs, and adds a faint reflective glass look to your desktop. Mouse over the narrow rectangle on the right side of the taskbar to make all your programs temporarily transparent. The Alt+Tab hot key finally offers a "desktop" option in addition to your other opened apps.

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Aero goes snap

Aero includes some nifty program window resizing. By dragging a program to either the right or left edge of the screen, it will snap to half the screen's width. Drag a program to the top of the monitor to maximize it, or drag it away to return it to its windowed mode.

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Pin it

Microsoft is betting that users will love the new taskbar pinning feature, and so they've given you multiple opportunities to pin files and programs to it. You can drag and drop onto the taskbar to pin, or you can right-click on just about any icon to reveal a context menu that includes pinning as an option.

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Pin and jump

Along with pinning programs to the taskbar, Microsoft wants you to cut down on clutter by using jump lists. These lists of recently-opened files and bookmarks associated with a particular program, like your browser or word processor, mean you can open a recent or regularly used file with one click.

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Toggle your pins

You can add a file to pin to a program's jump list by dragging it onto the program icon. Users can also remove a pin by mousing over the file in the jump list and toggling the pin icon.

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The new Windows Media Player

The new version of Windows Media Player that ships with Windows 7 is such a drastic improvement, it's almost a crime to associate it with its predecessors. The new mini mode, for example, cuts down on desktop clutter by including controls in the preview pane.

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Windows Media Player gets modern

The Windows Media Player metadata lookup is quite slick, offering synchronization for all the relevant album, artist, and track data. It didn't include an art sync, but we were able to copy album art to the clipboard and paste it directly into WMP.

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Media controls in preview

Media controls in Windows Explorer's preview pane are nothing new, but the layout in Windows 7 gives fair play to both your file list and the song or movie you want to enjoy, allowing you to enjoy both without looking awkward.

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Media streaming in WMP

Perhaps the best feature in the new Windows Media Player is Internet streaming of your media library. Accessible from any other Windows 7 machine, it closes the gap significantly when compared to iTunes' integration with the Mac.

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Not an MP3 player

Not all is perfect in Windows 7. Besides some notable sluggishness in benchmarking, driver support in the RTM isn't perfect. This 1 GB Mimobot USB key got recognized as an MP3 player in Windows Media Player.

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Easily tweak autoplay

Windows 7 contains a fix for the autoplay bug, and won't automatically play files from USB keys or other portable media without user approval. It lets you configure behavior differently for each portable medium, too.

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Action made simpler

Windows 7 condenses all its actionable concerns into one interface, accessible by clicking on the Action Center system tray flag icon.

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Control Panel: Security

If you didn't like the Control Panel redo in Vista, you're not going to be fond of Windows 7. The clutter is still there, and there's even a bit more of it.

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Fingerprints by default

Windows 7 comes with baked-in drivers for fingerprint-reading devices.

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Devices on center stage

The new Device Stage gives users one place to corral and handle their devices, from USB-connected cameras to networked printers. With the proper drivers installed, users will be able to use control panel-style text buttons to synchronize and configure their devices.

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Better Wi-Fi management

Windows 7's Wi-Fi management has greatly improved, with Wi-Fi virtualization for turning your built-in Wi-Fi card into a virtual router for other devices and computers.

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Wi-Fi action

The new Wi-Fi management will even tell you when you need to take additional action, such as logging on to a Web site to get access to a public Wi-Fi.

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Battery taskbar

Windows 7 includes federated searching, but also zippy search abilities from the Start menu or from Windows Explorer. In addition to checking file names, it will automatically look inside the files themselves to find your query.

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Improved search

Windows 7 includes federated searching, but also zippy search abilities from the Start menu or from Windows Explorer. In addition to checking file names, it will automatically look inside the files themselves to find your query.

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Windows 7 is touchable

There are deep touch-screen hooks in Windows 7, including native support for multitouch gestures--if your hardware supports it. There also an onscreen keyboard and handwriting recognition.

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Easy shutdown

To turn off your computer, Microsoft has made the default setting in the Start menu Shut Down. Users won't have to be frustrated by Vista's default multiple steps to close their computers.

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No need to close everything

Windows 7 doesn't require you to close all your programs before you quit, and assuming you've saved your data you won't do any harm to your programs. However, if it does detect a conflict, it'll ask you to close the program yourself.

Windows 7 will also tell which program is using a file you're trying access elsewhere.

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