Windows 7 public beta: first impressions

At CES, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced the public availability of the Windows 7 beta release.

Windows 7.

Windows 7.

A feature that we noticed during our earlier trial of the beta but weren't able to try out first-hand was the Jump List. Fully functional in the public beta, jump lists add a handy submenu to many applications, so you can see items that you recently worked with in a given app, or look at further options you have for starting new documents or accessing often-used features. In my trials, the jump lists helped me get more out of the apps I worked with. But if this feature is to become even more useful, developers must embrace them in upcoming versions of new programs.

Another improvement in Windows 7's interface compared to Vista's is the simplified Shutdown control on the Start Menu. Gone is the unhelpful icon; in its place are clear, concise textual menus that tell you exactly what will happen when you click on them. So you no longer have to reconfigure your Start Menu to determine whether your PC will shut down entirely or merely go into hibernation when you click the button.

Action Center

A new addition to Windows 7 is the Action Center, which pulls a variety of security and maintenance features together in a single menu for simpler management. Though it's unlikely to wow many advanced users, the Action Center's clearly labeled options should make it easier for beginners and intermediate users to set their system security preferences with confidence, manage backups, and troubleshoot minor performance problems or return to a previous restore point if things go awry.

User Account Control

As noted in our look at the earlier beta, Microsoft has tweaked User Account Control in some important ways that should go a long way toward addressing many Vista haters' complaints. It now offers four levels of protection: always notify, notify only when programs try to make changes (this is the default), notify when programs try to make changes but don't dim the screen (my preference), and never notify. I won't win many allies by saying this, but the setting I was hoping to see added to this list is an option to require a password when programs try to make changes, which would add a level of actual security to UAC: Any fool with access to your computer can click Continue, but requiring an admin password would add a meaningful level of security. This missing feature is standard on more-secure operating systems such as Linux, and it would be a worthwhile (though admittedly unpopular) addition. In any case, having four options built in is a major step up from the old Vista UAC workarounds.

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Robert Strohmeyer

PC World (US online)
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