Windows 7: This time Microsoft gets it right

In his hands-on review of the Windows 7 pre-beta, Preston Gralla decides that Microsoft's upcoming OS shows great promise.
Those who listen to music or play videos on their PCs will be pleased to see that there is now a built-in way to do both without having to launch Windows Media Player.

Those who listen to music or play videos on their PCs will be pleased to see that there is now a built-in way to do both without having to launch Windows Media Player.

  • Those who listen to music or play videos on their PCs will be pleased to see that there is now a built-in way to do both without having to launch Windows Media Player.
  • Designed for home networks, a Homegroup makes it easier to share files, folders and devices such as printers with other computers on your network.
  • When you're on the main Control Panel screen and click any applet, the applet's main screen slides into place on the right and displays a list of relevant actions on the left.
  • Windows Media Player now features a bare-bones, stripped-down view in a small window suitable for playing media.
  • The wireless networking icon in the system tray displays a small star on it when wireless networks are available. Click it and a list of available networks appears.
  • Windows Backup, which in Vista was essentially worthless, is finally useful. You can now customize your backups by choosing to include or exclude specific drives and folders.
  • It's now somewhat easier to clean the Notification Area --- the far right of the Taskbar --- and keep it free of icons, with a new dialog box.
  • In Windows 7, UAC has been tamed and is actually now a useful security tool. With Windows Vista, UAC was either on or off. With Windows 7, you have some control over how it works.
  • The Taskbar pops up alerts that are more detailed than Vista's when it finds problems with your security or hardware.
  • Windows 7 comes with some nice extras, including a simple sticky-notes applet that mimics the sticky notes you leave around your desk.
  • You can more easily choose and customize themes by right-clicking the Desktop and choosing Personalize. The applet is far better organized and simpler to use than the cluttered one in Vista.
  • Windows 7 search has been considerably improved. It is now much easier to search through other PCs and network folders, and you can include folders from other locations on your network in your Libraries.
  • Some Windows 7 applets, such as Paint and Word, now sport a ribbon interface, much like the one in Microsoft Office 2007.
  • The new Network and Sharing Center displays a better-organized set of links for accomplishing network-related tasks, and offers a way for you to immediately see the most important information about your network.
  • The biggest tweak hasn't been built into this beta: a drastically redesigned and more functional Taskbar that will be somewhat similar to Mac OS X's Dock. (Screenshot courtesy of Microsoft Corp.)

The Windows Backup program, which in Vista was essentially worthless, is finally useful. You can now customize your backups by choosing to include or exclude specific drives and folders. Particularly nice is that when you plug in a device that can be used for backup, such as a USB hard drive, a wizard can be launched that walks you through creating a backup. Overall, you'll need fewer clicks to create a backup.

Network administrators will welcome another addition: the PowerShell scripting command line language that helps IT staff to perform system and network administration.

Also notable about Windows 7 is what's missing. Windows Mail, Windows Photo Gallery and Windows Movie Maker -- all solid applications -- are now gone. However, all of them will be available as free downloads from Windows Live.

Also missing are applications that most of us never used and will not miss. Windows Meeting Space, for example, a fairly worthless application for setting up ad hoc networks, is gone, as is the related application People Near Me.

The bottom line

Windows 7 is in pre-beta, so there's no way to come to a definitive, bottom-line conclusion about the operating system. However, it's surprisingly stable, solid, well-done and speedy at this early stage in the development cycle. Some important features of it are still missing -- notably, the new Taskbar.

However, even at this early stage, it's clear that Windows 7 is a real improvement over Windows Vista. It cleans up some of Vista's rough edges, adds useful new capabilities and most likely won't have the same problems with hardware that Vista did. We'll have to wait for further betas to offer a more definitive conclusion.

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Preston Gralla

Computerworld
Topics: Windows 7
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