Windows 7 – Welcome to Wow!
It’s been a very long time since I was amazed by a Windows operating system but it is no understatement that Windows 7 is truly an surprising leap forward for Microsoft. I’ve been using Vista for almost a year now and while I didn’t loathe the OS from day one I was never really taken by it. At best Vista contained some nifty features but I never got over the feeling that it was sluggish and offered little reason to upgrade. We’ve all been skeptical about Windows 7 due to its expedited release schedule and Vista’s underwhelming experience but I’m glad to report that today my skepticism has turned to optimism.
Today I loaded Windows 7 RC on one of my primary laptops. I’d tested the beta version a few months ago in a virtual machine just to see it but you don’t get the “feel” of an operating system until you fully install it as the primary OS, and believe me Win7 feels good. Let’s hit the high points.
Aero Snap – Many times minor GUI (graphical user interface) changes can make a big difference and this change’s effect is huge. Drag the title bar of an active window to the left or right of the screen and it will auto resize to the side-by-side position (full size vertical, 1/2 size of your horizontal screen), drag the title bar back toward the center and it will resize to its previous position. Additionally, you can drag the bar to the top of the screen and it will maximize the window. Lastly, you can click->hold->and shake the title bar of any active window to minimize all other windows, give it another shake to return them. These small tweaks are a true time savers and productivity aides.
The Dockbar – Quick Launch shortcuts and taskbar tray icons have both been smartly rolled into a single wonderful dockbar (see image below). You can pin shortcuts to the dockbar and once they are opened they are simply highlighted by a glossy square, multiple instances are represented by cascading squares. This saves a massive amount of dockbar real estate for minimized windows’ icons which behave in the same manner except for the fact they disappear once the app is closed. The dockbar also provides excellent thumbnail previews of open applications and if you have multiple tabs open in Internet Explorer it will show multiple previews. (Here’s hoping Mozilla can do the same with the next release of Firefox). Sure the Mac users are feeling smug that we “windoze” folks are excited about a dockbar, just ignore them and enjoy this excellent addition.
Libraries – Folders like My Documents & My Pictures are no longer tied or mapped to a specific folder. They are now libraries that can contain multiple folders. (The cheering you hear is thousands of Window’s admins that deal with My Docs redirection and mapped drives.) The end result is a smarter My Documents that can contain group folders, network shares, and local doc folders.
Transparent Windows – This cool little feature enhances the “show desktop” icon of days of old. A small semi transparent rectangle exists and the far right of the dockbar, click it once and it will minimize all your windows but if you just mouse over the box it will make all your windows transparent so that you can see your desktop without minimizing everything. Move your mouse off the box and everything pops back. Quite nifty.
Speed – Windows 7 is fast. I won’t bore you with specs and benchmarking but I’m running the 64bit edition and it screams.
Driver Support – This isn’t a feature per se but it is worth noting that Win7 detected every single piece of hardware on my laptop. I didn’t have to load a single device driver. I’ve been loading Windows boxes for over a decade and it’s been a long time since that has happened.
There are a ton of other features like better UAC, home network groups, security enhancements blah blah blah… those are great but the above changes should be enough to cause anyone to seriously consider Windows 7. Here’s the standard disclaimer, Windows 7 is still a release candidate and not meant for production systems. (It is worth noting that it is running every piece of software that I had running in XP/Vista just dandy including all my networking and security apps).
In short Windows 7 is a breath of fresh air that offers compelling reasons to upgrade your operating system. Microsoft got this one right. Win7, welcome to Wow!