A first look at the first beta of Microsoft's Windows 7 shows an operating system that takes advantages of features first introduced in the troubled Windows Vista while offering its own share of new enterprise features. Changes to the Start Menu and taskbar in Windows 7 are improvements over Vista and XP, but for some tasks, users will have to rely on third-party applications.
Without a doubt, the first beta edition of the Windows 7 operation
system indicates that Microsoft is on the right track to shore up many
of the perceived flaws of Windows Vista.
While not a ground-breaking release-Windows 7 is at its core very
similar to Windows Vista-the new OS has adeptly taken advantage of
under-developed features first introduced in Vista, creating a more
intuitive and flexible user experience.
Windows 7 offers enterprise customers several compelling new
features, such as BranchCache file caching, DirectAccess
VPN-replacement technology, and out-of-the-box readiness for BitLocker
(features I will look at in depth in part two of this review next
week). The primary thrust of Windows 7 is to provide users a better
experience in the way they use computers today. And at its heart,
Windows 7's greatly improved emphasis on workflow and organization
makes the operating system much more palatable for heavy-duty users
used to operating with a large number of open windows and applications.
Click here for eWEEK Labs' walk-through of Windows 7 beta.
I spent the bulk of my time using the 64-bit iteration of Windows on
a Dell XPS M1330 laptop that came with 3 GB of RAM and a 2.6 GHz Intel
Core 2 Duo T9500 processor (Windows Experience score of 3.0, with the
disk drive as the lowest common denominator). I also spent some time
with the 32-bit iteration of Windows 7 installed within a VMWare
ESXi-based virtual instance.
The New Taskbar, Start Menu and Desktop
The most immediately obvious improvements to Windows 7 are the
significant changes to the taskbar and Start Menu. With each of the
last few iterations of Windows, Microsoft has taken a stab at updating
the look and feel of the default desktop experience, changes that in
the past failed to keep me from reverting to a previous "classic" theme
So far, though, I am really taking to the Windows 7 look, which is
fortunate since Microsoft appears ready to cut ties with the past,
making it more difficult to revert to an old look than was the case in
Windows XP or Vista.
With the Windows 7 taskbar, Microsoft has removed some of the
distinction between running and dormant applications. From an icon in
the taskbar, users can launch a dormant application or view and select
from open windows if the application is already running. As with
Windows Vista, users can hover the cursor over the taskbar icons to
display thumbnails of open windows and dialog boxes for that particular
application (by default, up to 10 thumbnails will show for a given
application-any more and the user will instead see a list).
Microsoft Watch's Joe Wilcox takes a look at Windows 7.
However, with Windows 7, users can now hover over a thumbnail to get
a full screen preview of the window in question. They can also easily
close open windows from the thumbnail by clicking on the small red X
displayed when hovering over the
By default, Windows 7 comes with three applications displayed on the
taskbar (Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer, and Windows Media
Center), but users can pin shortcuts to other programs to either the
taskbar or the Start Menu. Users can also arrange the taskbar icons in
any order they wish, as Windows 7 automatically creates keyboard
shortcuts to fire up these taskbar-borne applications, based on their
order, left-to-right (by pressing Win+1, for instance).
Windows 7 also introduces the concept of jump lists, which is
basically an organized set of application-specific links. For instance,
right-clicking on the IE icon in the taskbar displays the browser
history, allowing the user to go immediately to a recently visited
site. Similarly, right-clicking on a Microsoft Word icon shows a list
of recently opened documents.
This feature is certainly handy, but there are a few drawbacks. For
some applications, I'd like to see the ability to customize the jump
list-for instance, making the IE jump list show bookmarks rather than
history. Obviously, third-party ISVs also need to code the jump list
feature into their offerings, as I found applications such as Firefox
and Adobe Reader could not offer this handy shortcut feature at this
The Start Menu, meanwhile, looks similar to the Windows Vista
default. On the left, users see a running list of recently used
applications (although users can choose to pin shortcuts here as well).
On the right, users see links to commonly used folders: personal ones
such as Documents, Music, or Pictures; and system-specific destinations
such as the Control Panel or Computer. Users can also customize the
Start Menu to change the links to these locations to menus.
Users can also easily view or access the desktop, no matter how many
windows might be open at the time. The absolute right edge of the
taskbar contains the Show Desktop button. Hovering the cursor over the
button shows a preview of the desktop, or clicking on it sends the user
straight to the desktop (and clicking it again returns the user to the
last screen in focus).
However, with the new organization of the taskbar and Start Menu,
I've found little reason to return to the desktop. I've organized my
taskbar with links to the applications I use on a daily basis, and
populated the Start Menu with a second tier of applications that I use
less frequently. Unfortunately, third-party applications still tend to
clutter the desktop with shortcut links, a practice I hope will
disappear once Windows 7 gains some market share.
An otherwise empty desktop could leave room for Gadgets, a feature
that never took off in Windows Vista. In Vista, Gadgets were confined
to the Sidebar-a feature that used a lot of system resources and took
up a good amount of screen real estate. In Windows 7, though, the
Sidebar is gone and Gadgets can be moved freely around the desktop.
Unfortunately, the same measly collection of Gadgets exists (CPU meter,
RSS reader, Calendar, Weather, etc), but with their new freedom and a
less cluttered desktop, perhaps interest in developing new Gadgets will