The New Windows Taskbar
The Taskbar, the strip along the bottom of the Windows desktop that shows active applications, has been redesigned. Now, it feels and behaves a lot more like Mac OS X’s dock. You can reorder applications by dragging them. You can further customize the Taskbar by dropping in icons that launch your most-used apps. And, you can see live thumbnails of what’s inside the window of each open application right there in the Taskbar. If you have multiple tabs open in your browser, you’ll see each browser tab in its own thumbnail, and you can jump straight to the tab you want. If you’re listening to a song or watching a movie, hovering over the thumbnail will bring up cover art and controls to pause or resume playback.
These context-sensitive menus are available for each program in your Taskbar and your Start Menu. Click on the programs’ name or icon to get a list of the most recent or frequently-requested tasks. For example, you can click on the Internet Explorer icon in the Taskbar and see your recent browsing history or choose from a list of your most-visited websites. Or, click on your MS Word in the Start Menu and see a Jump List of your most recently viewed documents.
Aero’s New Moves
Microsoft first debuted the glossy, animated Aero user interface environment in Windows Vista. At the time, many noted that several visual cues within Aero seemed borrowed from the Mac OS X desktop. Aero returns in Windows 7 revamped and pumped-up. One of the new enhancements, Aero Peek, seems to borrow from Mac OS X’s own animated window manager, Expose. Hover your mouse over the far right side of your Windows Taskbar and your active windows become transparent, exposing the desktop.
The new Snap feature lets you expand and maximize windows simply by dragging them to different edges of the desktop. Drag a window’s top edge to the top of the screen to maximize it, and drag it away to restore it to its original size. Line up any window’s edge to either side of the desktop and that window will snap to fill up that half of the screen. Do the same with another window on the other side and you’ve got two equal-sized windows on either side of the screen.
The old Start Menu gains a greater amount of utility in Windows 7. The clunky nested menus are gone, and they’ve taken with them all the guesswork involved in finding your favorite apps. A search box in the Start Menu offers lightning-quick suggested search results as you type. Search extends into contacts, e-mail subjects, names of documents, playlists, song titles and even the names of individual settings in your Windows Control Panel. It also learns from you, bringing the things you use the most to the top of the results.
Fewer Annoying Pop-ups
Remember the famously intrusive User Account Control system in Vista? The feature that constantly displays yes/no prompts asking you to approve system status updates, butting in all too often like a nagging nanny? How could you forget, right? As expected, Microsoft has scaled back the pop-ups for all users. Furthermore, advanced users with admin rights can set a slider based on their own preferences. That way, only the most important messages get through, and notifications for things like the built-in firewall can be disabled.
Put multiple Windows 7 PCs on a single network and they’ll all find and connect to one another, forming a HomeGroup. Users can then browse all of the media stored across the multiple PCs as though they were all on the same hard drive. Sharing within any folder can be disabled for security reasons. You also get location-aware printing — click print and the system will pick the printer closest to you.
Device StageWindows 7’s device manager gives you a single window for interacting with your various gadgets. Plug in your cameras, MP3 players and printers, and you’ll be able to see all of them listed in the Device Stage window. Click on a device to get details on its status — battery charge, available storage space, the time and date of your last sync and so on. From within the same interface, you can sync it, manage your photos, music or ringtones you have stored on it, or any other device-specific task. We haven’t tested Device Stage, so we don’t know how well it will work with iPhones and iPods, but for cameras and Windows Mobile smartphones, it looks very cool.
- by: Michael Calore