Windows 7 is still some way from final release, but Microsoft has now allowed an early peek at the next version of its platform, and it promises to fix many of the flaws of Vista while adding compelling new features that users will want.
We looked at the pre-beta release of Windows 7, and found it surprisingly stable and more responsive than Windows Vista. The fact that Microsoft is able to deliver such a polished release at this early stage bodes well for the final product, which is expected sometime towards the end of 2009.
On the downside, the version we saw – build 6801 – was missing many of the snazzier features Microsoft showed off at its Professional Developer Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles last week, which are likely to put in an appearance in the first beta.
First off, Windows 7 boots up a lot faster than Vista, or at least it did on the evaluation system Microsoft supplied us with, a Lenovo ThinkPad X300 with 2GB memory. We had the Windows desktop visible and could use the computer just a little over 30 seconds after hitting the power switch.
The next thing you notice is that Windows 7 has a much cleaner desktop. The Windows Sidebar has been removed, but users can instead place Sidebar Gadgets directly onto the desktop wherever they want them.
The taskbar has also been given a makeover, now featuring the translucent glass effect applied to windows. For laptop users, the taskbar now features an icon that at a click shows any wireless networks in range and lets you connect to them.
Users can also choose to hide some icons in a special notification area, such as those for Windows Update and Windows Defender, if they prefer to check manually for notifications.
At PDC, Microsoft demonstrated how applications on the taskbar are represented by a thumbnail of their Window, expanding to a larger preview if you move the mouse over it.
Another user interface addition is Jump Lists, associated with each application on the Start menu or taskbar. These provide shortcuts to the application features, such as the playlist in Windows Media Player or recent documents for Word.
Some new features sound trivial, but are designed to make life easier. For example, dragging a window to the top of the screen automatically maximises it. Likewise, working with two applications side-by-side is made simple by dragging each to the opposite side of the screen, whereby they automatically resize to fill half the space.