Windows 7 first look: A big fix for Vista

Pre-beta Windows 7 addresses many Vista complaints -- and introduces a slew of changes
Paint app now uses ribbon

Paint app now uses ribbon

  • Paint app now uses ribbon
  • In Windows 7, the trusty Calculator accessory gets a makeover
  • Route music and video from PCs to streaming devices
  • Jump Lists provide easy access to common tasks
  • A lightweight Windows Media Player
  • Windows Media Player's Jump List
  • Federated search scans networked PCs
  • Libraries aggregates like content in different locations
  • Windows Solution Center replaces pesky systray balloons
  • If you frequently work with multiple windows and need to grab something off your desktop, you'll like the ability to quickly take a look. Here's a Windows 7 desktop before you click on the lower right-hand corner of the task bar
  • Device Stage: One-stop access to hardware-related tasks, information
  • Meet your next desktop: Sidebar dies, Gadgets live
  • User Account Control slider gives greater control over security settings
  • Easily check battery life
  • Windows 7 makes its prebeta debut
  • Here's the same Windows 7 desktop shown in the previous slide, but with the windows hidden
  • The new Magnifier feature lets you enlarge a part of a screen in Windows 7
  • Custom theme creation gets easier

What if Microsoft waved a magic wand and everything people hated about Windows Vista went away? You might have an operating system that you liked--and that's what Microsoft appears to be striving for with Windows 7. We checked out an early beta of the future OS, and though at this point many features are either missing or works in progress, the improvements to everything from user interface to memory management look highly promising.

Along with several dozen other reviewers and analysts, we got our first real look at the OS, preinstalled on loaner notebooks, over the weekend at a workshop on the eve of the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference. Microsoft planned to hand out installation discs later Tuesday, after the head of engineering for Windows and Windows Live, Steven Sinofsky, delivers his scheduled keynote formally introducing Windows 7 to PDC attendees. (We'll report on our experiences upgrading PCs from Vista to 7 later on.)

Of course, some of the promised features are things that Microsoft has pledged--and failed to deliver--before. Wasn't Vista supposed to be faster than its predecessor? We won't be able to test performance (and other under-the-hood features) for some time, obviously, but we can share with you what Microsoft is saying to back its claims.

On some details, Microsoft has said very little. As of Monday, the company had offered no new word on when the OS will ship--the official target date continues to be early 2010, but some insiders say that the actual date may move forward by a few months. Likewise Microsoft hasn't said anything about editions (and pricing) other than to indicate that they probably won't mirror the Vista lineup.

Microsoft has said all along that Windows 7 would refine (but not rewrite) the Vista kernel. However, some of the anticipated changes depend on support that Microsoft may not be able to control. For example, a number of cool network features will work only if your employer installs Windows Server 2008 R2 (also handed out to reviewers). Other new features require cooperation by hardware vendors, though this time their contribution won't extend to rewriting drivers. Still other changes involve slimming down the code by offloading applications (such as e-mail and photo management) that were once bundled with the code. With Windows 7 you'll get them either as downloadable apps or as Web services.

But the OS that remains tries very hard to please users by addressing some of the biggest gripes people had about Vista, and by generally making everyday tasks accessible and easy to perform. To the extent that these efforts are visible in our early beta, they look pretty good.

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Topics: Windows 7
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