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.

  • 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.)

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