LABS GALLERY: Windows 7 Provides Plenty of Improvements

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LABS GALLERY: Windows 7 Provides Plenty of Improvements

by Andrew Garcia

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Gone is the beta fish background featured in the beta and RC versions of Windows 7, replaced by a giant Windows logo.

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Aero Themes

Thankfully, Windows 7 includes many alternatives to the Aero theme.

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Pin to Taskbar

Like Windows Vista, Windows 7 allows users to pin frequently used shortcuts to the Start menu. New to Windows 7, however, is the ability to pin a shortcut to the new Taskbar.

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Thumbnail Views

Applications ready for Windows 7's Aero-infused views provide different takes on running applications. By hovering over the Taskbar icon, users can see all open instances of an application. The view changes depending on the number of open windows.

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Jump Lists

Jump Lists provide a shortcut from the Taskbar to an application's commonly accessed sites or features. Some applications use Jump Lists better than others.

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Customized Start Menu

Users have a lot of flexibility in terms of what gets included in the Start menu—and how it is displayed—including the length of the new Jump Lists.

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Users can control the items that get displayed in what has commonly been called the System Tray. Users can now hide inert applets, calling them to attention only when a notification or alert occurs.

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Windows Explorer features Libraries, essentially clustered shortcuts to similar content types. For example, users can aggregate pointers to documents stored locally and to those on remote file shares.

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Desktop Search

In Vista, I could easily filter results by type via the Show Only bar. Windows 7 wants me to filter before the search (bottom).

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Preview Pane

A major enhancement, Windows 7 search now provides a preview pane, obviating the need to view the result in the appropriate application. Annoyingly, there are no previews for PDFs.

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UAC Slider

Windows 7 tweaks User Account Controls, giving the user options between "on" and "off." By default, Windows 7 notifies only when programs, rather than the user, try to make system changes. The Always Notify option at the top provides an experience more analogous to Vista, although prompts have been reduced systemwide here, too.

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BitLocker full disk encryption comes only on the Ultimate and Enterprise versions of Windows 7 (same as Vista). BitLocker needs a TPM chip on the computer motherboard, or administrators can reconfigure Group Policy to allow use with a USB stick.

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BitLocker Checks

BitLocker runs through a series of checks before encrypting the disk, ensuring that a secondary partition lives on the hard drive, that the keys are created and stored appropriately, and so on. Once ready, encryption can take more than an hour, depending on the amount of data present locally.

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BitLocker ToGo

Windows 7 Ultimate and Enterprise include removable disk encryption called BitLocker ToGo. Users can encrypt the drive right from Windows Explorer (left) or via the BitLocker Control Panel applet.

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Bitlocker Togo Decryption

Vista and XP users can extract BitLocker ToGo-protected data using a tool included on the drive and a password.

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Bitlocker ToGo At a Glance

When inserting a BitLocker ToGo-protected drive into XP or Vista, users see only a few files by default—namely, the decryption viewer (left). Mac users, on the other hand, see a lot more, but not the protected data. Mac users also can't easily delete what they see.

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The Enterprise and Ultimate versions of Windows 7 include AppLocker, the evolution of Software Restriction Policies. Configured via Group Policy (locally or via Active Directory), AppLocker allows administrators to explicitly define which applications are allowed to run, provided the necessary service is started (right).

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Windows 7 guides users attempting to upgrade to download the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor (currently in beta) to evaluate whether an upgrade is possible given existing hardware and software. If an upgrade is not possible, the app will tell you right away. (At lower right you can see the result of an attempt to go from 32-bit Vista to 64-bit Windows 7.)

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Windows 7 RTM installation disks come in two flavors (32- and 64-bit), each capable of installing several versions of the new OS (with the right key, of course).

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Install Times

Windows 7 shaves a good amount off Windows Vista's installation time, both with 32-bit and 64-bit iterations. (All times shown are for Ultimate installations.)

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Performance Boost

Windows 7 provides a performance boost over its predecessor on various levels of hardware, and on both 32- and 64-bit installations.

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Full PCMark Suite

Shown here are the full results obtained from FutureMark's PCMark Vantage test suite. System 1 is an off-the-shelf Dell XPS M1330 with 3GB of RAM and a 2.6GHz Core2Duo dual core processor. System 2 is a do-it-yourself system with a Quad Core Phenom II 945 3.0GHz processor, 4GB of DDR3 1066 RAM and an ATI 4870 X2 video card. On both systems, all drivers except for the video drivers came with Windows or via Windows update. The video drivers were downloaded from Dell and AMD directly.