"Product Spotlight: Windows 7"
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CNET First Look
CNET First Look
Product Spotlight: Windows 7
>> Hi, I'm Seth Rosenblatt. And in this Product Spotlight, we're turning our focus on Windows 7.
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>> There's a lot of new exciting stuff that Microsoft has crammed into their latest operating system. Windows 7's interface will be familiar to fans of Vista's Aero Team, but both XP and Vista users have a lot to look forward to. Before we jump in, I just want to let you know that the version we're demoing today here is the Windows 7 release candidate. There are no expected to be any major feature differences between the RC and the final build that will be released to the public, but if there are, we'll update this Spotlight accordingly. If you're coming to Windows 7 from XP, right away the biggest change you'll notice is the interface. The first thing that should standout is the new task bar. This is one of the best improvements Microsoft has made and can compete handily with the Mac OS X dock. You can pin your program to keep it there permanently, mouse over one program, and all the associated Windows appear in preview; mouse over the preview pane to reveal an X to close the window, hover over the mini preview to show the preview at full size or click on the preview to bring it to the front. Jump lists are another new taskbar improvement that makes recently open documents easier to get to. Right-click or left-click and drag on any program icon pinned to the taskbar to see a list of files that you've recently used in that program. If you've noticed the missing Show Desktop icon, that's because it's been baked into the taskbar itself. Mouse over to the right corner; hovering over the Show Desktop box reveals the desktop, and then hides it when you mouse away. Dragging programs is now a simple way to resize them. Drag a program window to the top of your monitor to expand it to full screen. If you want to work in 2 windows simultaneously, drag one to the left edge and one to the right edge of your screen, and they'll automatically resize to half your monitor's width. Dragging a program away from the top or sides will return it to its original size. This is an entirely new feature in Window 7, which should prove easy to adopt because it mimics and expands on the maximize/restore button that users have been using to resize windows since Windows 95. Theme packages also make it much faster to change the look of Windows 7. From the Control Panel, you can change the theme under Appearance and Personalization. Click on one to download it, and it instantly changes the color scheme and background. No need to reboot. Users can create their own themes, as well. One of the biggest new features makes Windows Media Player useful again. You can now stream media files from one Windows 7 computer to another across the internet and out of network. Windows Media Players at mini mode looks much slicker too, emphasizing the album art, sometimes at the expense of clearly seeing the controls, but it's a definite improvement. The new Device Stage makes managing peripheral significantly easier, combining printers, cellphones, and portable media players into one window. Device Stage can also be used to a pre-set common tasks such as synchronization. Device Stage support for older devices makes one of Windows 7's best features applicable to peripherals and externals that don't need to be upgraded. One annoying changes that broad Bluetooth support no longer comes baked into the operating system. If your Bluetooth device won't automatically connect to Windows 7, there's a good chance that you're missing a driver. Your best solution will be to go to the product's website and download a replacement. A less glitzy but no less important change to how removable drives are handled also can affect your media. Unlike Windows XP and Windows Vista, Windows 7 will no longer AutoRun external hard drives and USB keys when they're connected. This kills off a risky malware infection vector that has been the bane of many security experts. Other usability changes to Windows 7 include cold booting and launching programs faster, all from the same hardware that runs Vista. Windows 7 won't require the hardware upgrade that Vista demanded. Part of that is because the hardware that Vista needs to run is now more common, but it's also because Windows 7 manages available resources better. In my test, Aero Peek runs fine on an older Pentium 4. There are other little tweaks too. When you try to use a file already in use, Windows 7 tells you where it's being used so you can manage the situation faster. The bloated verse will appreciate that it doesn't come with a slew of Windows Live programs at least for now. UAC access has been streamlined from Vista and users familiar with Vista's UAC should find the process to be less annoying overall. However, one major bug allows UAC to be disabled remotely without notifying the user. Given that the flaw has been publicly known since January 2009, Microsoft doesn't appear to care to fix it. It was not fixed in the RC build that I tested. Windows 7's native search feature has been improved. Files added to the hard drive were indexed so fast that they were searchable less than 5 seconds later. Windows 7 supports touchscreens from its core, which means that even programs that were never designed to work with touch features will be compatible assuming you've got the hardware. Some of the basics that are supported include tap and drag, scroll, right-click, back, forward, zoom, and rotate. Experts and people or companies who hope to use Windows 7 for business situations will appreciate the new XP mode. It doesn't have much of a practical application for the home consumer, but if you need to access programs designed for Windows XP that have not been upgraded to Windows Vista or 7, XP mode creates a virtual environment within Windows 7 that should assuage any fears of upgrading without backward compatibility. But be warned it's not easy to set up. Judging by the release candidate, Windows 7 looks like the Windows operating system that we've all been waiting for. Despite its imperfection, it shows a lot of promise for the future while presenting a stable platform that can compete comfortably with OS X and should reassure the world that Microsoft can still turn out a robust and useful new operating system. For CNET, I'm Seth Rosenblatt with the Spotlight on Windows 7.
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