Microsoft is hoping Windows 7, its new operating system, will be a massive hit when it rolls out in general release on Oct. 22. The software and hardware partners within its ecosystem, many of them battered financially by months of recession, are doubtlessly hoping for the same thing.
Windows 7 represents one of the main pillars of Microsoft's corporate strategy as it seeks to redefine its business and fend off aggressive competitors such as Google and Apple. In addition to the massive push behind its new operating system, Microsoft has also concentrated on slashing programs-some of them, like Money, stalwarts with substantial legacies-that no longer align with the Redmond, Wash., company's goals within the marketplace.
The programs that remain, such as Windows and Office, are being adjusted in light of new realities-Office 2010 will be offered in a Web-centric version, the better to compete against cloud-based productivity suites such as Google Apps. And Windows 7 has been designed to run on mininotebooks, known popularly as "netbooks," that currently dominate the PC-sales marketplace; certain design adjustments show that Microsoft is also looking to compete with Apple's Mac OS on an aesthetic level.
A number of improvements to Windows 7 over XP and Vista may help both consumers and businesses adopt the OS on a more expedited basis. These refinements range from the fundamental, including adjustments to the code to make the system run faster, to the creative, such as a few very funky wallpaper options. Ten particularly notable ones are listed below:
1. Less of a Memory Hog
Testing has suggested that Windows 7, thanks to various programming tweaks, will run faster than Windows Vista, which was notorious for its memory-hogging abilities. Windows 7 features memory management that drives resources only to open windows, meaning that minimized applications no longer drain power like they did with Vista.
2. The Taskbar
Windows 7 makes a stab toward aesthetic simplicity (and a bit of the Mac OS) with a fundamental redesign of the taskbar, which reduces your open applications to thumbnail logos-hover your cursor over one of the logos, and tiny preview windows for the application will open.
3. Windows XP Mode
One of the main complaints about Windows Vista was the lack of backward compatibility with Windows XP applications. Microsoft did its best to address that particular issue with Windows 7, but as an insurance policy the company also created a Windows XP Mode, which will allow, thanks to virtualization, old applications to run on Windows XP within a Windows 7 machine. This Release Candidate version of this option for "last mile" compatibility can be downloaded here.
4. Federated Search
Windows 7 upgrades its search capabilities with OpenSearch-based Federated Search, allowing users to explore local and network drives on top of intranet storage. Custom search connectors can be created to search online sites such as Twitter as well. Windows 7 also introduces a preview pane to search, which spares the user from having to open an application to view a found item.
The new Libraries feature offers users a higher degree of granular control over how they order and store their information. Users can take folders of content from around their system and group them within a Library (although the Library doesn't "store" that content, per se, so much as index it), saving them from having to engage in a long hunt for content. For example, someone's Documents Library might contain the folders "My Documents," "Public Documents," "Work Documents" and so on. In addition to Documents, other default Libraries include Music, Pictures and Videos.