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

Other options might include a link to a PDF of the manual (which would save you the trouble of having to track it down on the Web) or, in the case of a cell phone, software for syncing Outlook contacts (even with a non-Windows Mobile handset).

To make these services readily accessible once you've installed a device or peripheral, Windows 7 lets you create a device icon that acts much as taskbar application icons do: The image of the peripheral appears on a taskbar button; and when you hover over it, the services in Device Stage appear as a jump list.

The Device Stage for a peripheral exists only if the vendor creates an XML document based on a Microsoft template; in order for this to happen, the vendor would have to get Microsoft to sign off on the document (Microsoft says that this prerequisite is necessary to ensure quality control). It's not clear at this point whether the overhead involved will discourage vendors from participating, but Microsoft says that the OS will download such documents whenever they're available (using the same Windows Metadata Services technology that transparently downloads cover art for albums in Windows Media Player).

Device Stage has the potential to help vendors integrate their hardware with Windows more successfully and save money on tech support (since, if you have the manual handy, you may not need to call in). The technology also gives vendors a marketing opportunity: They can prominently display their logo next to the rendering of the device on the upper half of the Device Stage window.

Another hardware-related innovation is the ability to go beyond adjusting the font size on a high-DPI (dots-per-inch) display, which you can already do in Windows Vista, and use a new Magnifier feature to enlarge a part of the display--for example, if you need to read a small block of tiny type.

Windows 7 will also pack some easy-to-use tools for adjusting external displays--specifically, to help people connect a notebook to a projector.

Networking Made Easier

Networking features in Windows 7 address a number of problems that arise from the use of corporate PCs on noncorporate networks, particularly by workers who take their laptops home after work and on weekends. If you've ever spent hours trying to print on a networked home printer from a laptop tied to a corporate domain, you'll appreciate the W7-given ability to associate your notebook with a HomeGroup for easy access to printers and files on other PCs--without any tinkering with your IT department's carefully applied domain configuration settings. We haven't tested this capability yet, but Microsoft says that HomeGroup will also prevent other PCs on your home network from accessing any of the (potentially sensitive) corporate data on your laptop.

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