When Microsoft demonstrated the features of Windows 7 at its professional developer conference (PDC) last year, I couldn't wait to try it out. Sadly, the version supplied to attendees lacked many of these features, so I've had to wait for the first beta like everyone else.
The verdict? Based on what I've seen so far, Windows 7 looks like a winner. It fixes many of the gripes users have had with Vista and adds in new tweaks to make life easier. It starts up quickly, and doesn't seem to be a drag on performance as I have found Vista to be. It could be regarded as Windows Vista the way it should have been.
With the ISO image of the beta downloaded and burned to DVD, I chose to install on the same laptop I've been using to test the earlier Windows 7 version, a Lenovo ThinkPad X300 with 2GB memory and a 60GB Flash SSD. I decided to upgrade rather than do a fresh install from scratch, which preserved all of the applications and files I already had on the system. This non-destructive install should also work for users upgrading from Vista.
The install took close on an hour, rebooting the system several times and even downloading updates from the internet via my home Wi-Fi network during the process, but not requiring any input from me once the upgrade was started.
Identified as build 7000, the Windows 7 beta has a slightly different look to the earlier version, with larger icons on the taskbar. These are larger to make them easier to select with a finger when using a PC with a touch screen. I hope to try out Microsoft's touch user interface soon and will report in a later blog.
The other user interface enhancements include Jump Lists, menus providing quick access to functions from applications on the task bar. The Jump List for Word 2007 is shown here, with links to recent documents, while that for Media Player allows the user to select a music or video file for playing.
Users can also easily see the content of open applications by hovering the mouse over the relevant application icon on the taskbar, which shows a thumbnail of the screen. This comes into its own with Internet Explorer, as you can see a thumbnail of each open tab and quickly select the one you are looking for.
You can also see the desktop, and information such as Gadgets on it, simply by moving the mouse pointer to the clear box in the bottom right corner of the screen. This makes all open applications transparent, as shown here.
As in the earlier release, the alerts and message have been moved to a special notification area on the taskbar, instead of constantly popping up and annoying you. There is also an icon that shows available wireless networks and lets you connect.
One of the more exciting features of Windows 7 is the HomeGroup, which is intended to make it easy to set up a network of Windows 7 computers able to share files and information with each other. This obviously requires more than one computer with Windows 7, so I hope to test this out in the near future as well.
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