Microsoft Windows 7 RC1

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

Microsoft Windows 7 RC1
  • Microsoft Windows 7 RC1
  • Microsoft Windows 7 RC1
  • Microsoft Windows 7 RC1
  • Expert Rating

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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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Vista's Taskbar introduced thumbnail-size previews of windows that would appear when you hovered the mouse over an app in the Taskbar. They were fairly handy, but if you had multiple windows of an application open — say, several browser windows or several word-processing documents — you could see only one of them at a time. In Windows 7, thumbnails for multiple windows appear onscreen simultaneously, in a ribbonlike horizontal strip. Hover over a thumbnail, and you get a full-size preview of the window; you can also close windows from the thumbnails.

Click on an icon in the Taskbar — or on a program in the Start menu — and you get a "jump list", a new Windows 7 feature that's a twist on the context-sensitive menus that the OS has had for years. Jump lists provide one-click access to various tasks associated with an application — Play All Music for Windows Media Player, for instance, or a list of recently opened files in Word or Excel.

Not every jumbo icon in the Taskbar represents a running application, however. In Windows 7, the Taskbar can include icons for devices you've attached to your PC, too. Hook up a digital camera, for example, and an icon for it will appear in the Taskbar; click its icon, and you'll move to the Device Stage, a new control centre for activities involving peripheral devices.

Unfortunately, most of what makes the new Taskbar intriguing isn't yet ready for beta — let alone prime time. The preview version of Windows 7 has the old-style Taskbar. Still, judging from our brief hands-on time with the new Taskbar, it could make life in Windows more pleasant in meaningful ways that Vista's splashy effects never did.

Windows 7: icon clutter begone

Windows 7's Taskbar still contains the Notification Area, also known as the System Tray — a feature that has traditionally packed more aggravation per square inch than any other area of Windows, since it tends to bulge at the seams with icons for applications that you don't remember installing and that often pester you with balloons alerting you to things you don't care about.

In Windows 7, Microsoft finally supplies tools you can use to tame the mess. For each app, you can choose to display or hide its icon, and to show or suppress its notifications. The overflow area — where icons that don't fit in the Notification area live — remains, but it's far less unwieldy: it now pops up, rather than shoving applications in the Taskbar to the left, and you can move icons between it and the Notification area by dragging them from one place to the other.

At the far right of the new Taskbar you'll see a little rectangle of what looks like unused real estate. Click it, and all open windows will minimise so you can see the desktop. This feature duplicates an icon in the now-defunct Quick Launch toolbar, but if you're a fan of the desktop applets known as Windows Gadgets, you may use it more often. That's because the Sidebar, which formerly housed Gadgets, is gone, and they sit right on the desktop. (Microsoft says that users complained that the Sidebar ate up too much precious on-screen real estate, especially on laptops with no pixels to spare.)

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