Microsoft Windows 7 RC1

Windows 7 Release Candidate 1 (RC1) is a polished piece of work, ready for prime time

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Microsoft Windows 7 RC1
  • Microsoft Windows 7 RC1
  • Microsoft Windows 7 RC1
  • Microsoft Windows 7 RC1

Pros

  • Early beta tests suggest that the OS will be quicker than Vista

Cons

  • Too soon to make a proper assessment of the operating system

Bottom Line

It's way too early to make a proper assessment of Windows 7, but Microsoft has made its intentions clear: Windows 7 is intended to right the wrongs Vista wrought, but retain that operating system's good points. And at this point, we can't argue with that. Our early beta tests suggest that the OS will be quicker than Vista, which can only be a good thing. We'll be updating this review as we get more information on and time with Windows 7, so be sure to bookmark this page.

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Windows 7: devices and hardware

Since Windows 7 is more of a major refresh than a departure from Vista, it doesn't require new drivers for peripherals: if something works with Vista, it should work with Windows 7. Nevertheless, Microsoft has instituted some changes to help people use connected devices such as cameras, mobile phones, media players, and printers with their PCs.

Instead of the Auto-play window that appears in Vista and XP when you hook up one of these peripherals, you'll now get — if vendors play along — a more useful Device Stage window that shows not only a photorealistic rendering of the device but also a list of associated services and tasks. For example, with a multifunction printer you might see an icon for launching the scanning software — and you'll almost certainly see a link to the vendor's site for toner or ink supplies.

Windows 7 device stage

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 mobile 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.

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