Monday, November 10, 2008

10 Awesome Windows 7 Features

Enough mucking about: here are ten Windows 7 features that are genuinely worth getting excited about.

10. Easier and better wireless networking. Windows 7 takes a little from XP and a little from Vista, and rolls it all into a neat little package. Connection switching only requires two clicks and it can be done right from the system tray icon. Windows 7 also detects three more access points near my home than XP and Vista, and the connections to my work and home routers resume instantly when my laptop wakes.

9. Device stage. Right now, Windows treats multifunction devices like separate entities.This really doesn't make much sense: is your all-in-one three separate pieces of hardware? No? WIth device stage, you'll see only a single device in the control panel which you can then explore to access its multiple capabilities. To see it in action, check out Engadget's video from WinHEC.

Device Stage will improve integration with cell phones, PDAs, personal media players, cameras, and more - and it's a sign that Microsoft is more concerned about simplicity and ease of use than they were with Vista.

8. Better battery lifeEngadget talked about it, and I've been seeing it in action. By managing wireless lan and bluetooth radios more intelligently and tweaking the OS kernel to allow both lower CPU frequencies and higher idle times, Windows 7 yields a gain of 11-15%. The stats from my MSI Wind jive: its 6-cell battery lasts almost 40 minutes longer.

7. Network file sharing is wicked fast. While I haven't pulled out the stopwatch just yet, I do know this: files accessed from the machine I use to serve my repair apps open in a flash since I installed Windows 7. With XP and Vista, there was always a momentary hiccup after issuing a run command (like \\service\spyware) to connect to a share.

Now, the hiccup is gone. With the same networking hardware, my SMB shares now open almost instantly.

6. Improved UAC. Vista's UAC is brutal, nagging like the email solictors that keep trying to push Viagra on me. On any Vista install I've used for more than a few days, I've ended up disabling it entirely. It should have been a good thing, helping to prevent accidental and unwanted changes to the system.

UAC in Windows 7 is much smarter. If I initiate something manually, I'm not prompted. If I tell Windows once that an application is trusted, that's it - no more nags. Faith and begorah, I don't have to authorize my mouse click on ridiculously simple things like change date and time any more.

5. The new taskbar. There have been a number of improvements, including re-ordering icons, better visual task tips, and a more customizable system tray. Windows Media Player's tip view even provides basic playback controls automatically - no need for a special taskbar mode. The icon only mode is also a welcome change: it helps reduce taskbar clutter and pinning simplifies access to my favorite apps.

4. WinMin. We haven't seen much of it yet, but we know it's there somewhere. The promise of instant-on features in Windows 7 is a big deal for mobile users. As a netbook owner, I know I'd love to be able to boot a minimal shell with access to essential apps like my web browser and IM client.

3. Libraries. Hey, they work for Media Player, so why not make them a part of the OS? Windows 7's libraries provide a powerful addition to Explorer. They simplify file sharing, speed browsing and searching, and improve organization. They're a fantastic way to group related content regardless of where it's stored - especially if you suck at maintaining a logical folder setup like me.

2. PC Safeguard. Vista is a bit better at staying virus-free than Windows XP (I say this because my customers with Vista don't come in with SmitFraud infections nearly as often). 

Windows 7 has taken restricted user accounts to the next level: by enabling PC Safeguard, you can force all changes a user makes to be discarded at log off. That means shortcuts, downloads, documents, temp files - everything just disappears. It's easy enough for the average home user to configure, and provides an additional layer of defense against malware and reckless computer use.

1. The new image backup system. Mac users love to flog Time Machine, and Windows 7 will finally provide a built-in answer for PCs. Yes, that took long enough. Yes, Mac had it first. Who cares. It's here, and is an amazingly simple way to back up your system to a networked or external hard drive. Windows will even create a bootable restore/rescue disc and it remember the location of your last backup - making the restore process dead simple.

And the best thing to look forward to about Windows 7: once it's finally released, you'll only be reading about it for another eight years.

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