Is Windows 7 the operating system of the future? Probably not. But it is the operating system for the immediate future, so I am going to break from my normal editorial posts and talk a little bit about Windows 7 because I've had a chance to install it and play around with it, and I want to share some highlights.
It's not so much new features that interest me when I work with operating systems--those of you who know me are probably all too familiar with my tendency to become irate with the little annoying things Windows computers do that just piss me off. There's a website dedicated to this, called annoyances.org, full of advice for fixing these hundreds of little things that just make you want to put your fist through the display. I've referenced this website many times in the past, to retain personal sanity.
Below, I've compiled a list of 7 things from Windows XP that pissed me off, and how Microsoft fixed them in Windows 7. This list ist not intended to be exhaustive--in fact, they are all related to the first things you see when you start up.
Oh incidentally, I didn't bother with Vista, and I hope you didn't either. So if you were even THINKING about saying "they fixed that in Vista," you probably bought Windows ME when it came out, too. And liked it. Shame on you!
Anyway, without further ado, here's my list of 7 Things Microsoft Fixed in Windows 7:
1) Installation was a snap. I purchased a second drive because I didn't want to overwrite a perfectly good working copy of Windows XP. The installer recognized my existing XP installation and my new drive, and I had the option to format and install to the new drive. Only one screen to fill out, then I could go snack on doughnuts during the rest of the installation. The system also now recognizes that I have two operating systems installed, and it asks me which one I prefer to boot on startup. Easy.
2) They fixed the Start menu. Leo Laporte described the old Windows XP version as "Fisher Price." Apparently these computation devices have been around for a while, and we're ready for something more sophisticated. The new popup menu is considerably less cluttered, and Windows 7's little round bubble with the windows logo (bottom left in this screen capture) is more than adequate. That brings me to #3.
3) Partial screen capture, which made this blog post possible. MacOS has had this forever. It's about time Windows caught up here. Unfortunately the "Snipping Tool" dialogue disappears before you can take a capture, so I haven't shown a picture. You can see it running in the new task bar, however (bottom right) which brings me to #4.
4) When I browse the web I typically have multiple windows of Firefox running simultaneously, and likely other applications as well. Windows XP made it very difficult to identify, for example, a specific Firefox window. Windows 7 offers thumbnail previews for open application windows, which is almost as cool as Apple's Expose'. Hovering over these thumbnails will quickly display the whole window, which is very useful for identifying exactly what window you want to jump to.
5) The Task Tray. This was actually my least favorite feature in Windows XP. No, that's too kind. It's arguably the worst thing to ever happen to an operating system. Ever. By now, you should have figured out that it's basically a dumping ground for one nag window after another. Windows security balloons, Windows update messages, Java updates (sometimes two at a time!), wireless connection warnings, anti-virus software, media player launchers, instant message programs, USB device notifications--it's like you're playing some twisted version of whack-a-mole in the bottom right corner of your screen. Hint for you newbies who might be reading: if your computer is running like molasses, this is the first place you should look when taking out the garbage. Windows 7 has finally put a cork in it, and not a moment too soon. The endless stream of nag has been consolidated to a little white flag that you can check to identify issues that may need attention.
6) Action Center. That little white flag is a useful tool for navigating hardware and software issues. In general, the operating system is more verbose when describing potential issues with hardware or drivers. I was caught by surprise when it correctly identified exactly where I could download the updated driver for a power-saving feature on my motherboard (AMD's Cool 'n' Quiet function, for those burning with curiosity). This is much more useful information than "Your computer might be at risk."
7) Silence is golden. Sometimes you just want to see what's on your desktop--maybe you want to make sure a file saved correctly, or maybe you just want to stare at your wallpaper. Windows XP used to have a button to display the desktop but it always seemed to keep vanishing. Now there's a little blank space that you can click on to make your windows transparent and see that beautiful background.