Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate

It’s received a major makeover–actually, the biggest one it’s ever gotten since it debuted in Windows 95. Gone are the bars with the names of apps and tiny icons. In are much larger, labeless icons. The stacks of thumbnails you got when you hovered on an app with multiple windows in the Taskbar have been replaced by a more efficient ribbon of thumbnails. Devices connected to the computer (like a digital camera, say) show up in the Taskbar along with apps. Overall, it’s quite slick, and you won’t encounter any new Microsoft Windows 7 feature more often. Unfortunately, it’s also missing from the preview edition of the OS. (I had some brief hands-on time with it, and liked it.)

The System Tray (officially known as the Notification Area, although I don’t know of anybody who calls it that Microsoft Office 2010). If it were possible to pick up an operating system element and hurl it through a plate glass window in sheer rage, I would have done so to the System Tray countless times by now. With Windows 7, Microsoft finally gives us tools for managing the mess. You can selectively choose which applet icons appear in the Tray and whether they’re allowed to bug you with word balloons, and shuffle icons between the Tray and the overflow area (which now pops up rather than shoving apps in the Taskbar to the left) as you please. It would be better still if Microsoft Windows 7 let you prevent applicatios from shoving stuff in the Tray in the first place, but the new features are still a giant leap for Windowskind.

These appear on the Start menu and when you clicks apps in the Taskbar; they’re context-sensitive lists of actions relating to the app in question. Windows Media Player, for instance, gives you ones relating to music playback, as seen below. Jump Lists aren’t yet implemented in the preview version of W7–I think they’re a good idea, but want to try them before I commit to an opinion of MS Office 2010 .

More control over User Account Control. The infamous UAC now has settings that go beyond On and Off. You can choose to have it tell you when apps are installed or settings change but not to make you grant approval, or to alert you only when a program changes Windows settings. I’m not sure whether these chages are enough to turn UAC from legendary nuisance to trusted friend, but they should quiet the worst gripes about it.

Microsoft says it’s doing a number of things differently to make Windows 7 run faster and more reliably than Office 2007 . It’s working to speed bootup times by doing things like handling multiple startup tasks in parallel. And it’s taking a new approach to memory management designed to let you open gazillions of windows at once without hobbling the OS. It’s pointless to express any opinion about an operating system’s speed until you’ve benchmarked a final or near-final version. But for what it’s worth, W7 loads quickly and feels pretty darn zippy on the Dell notebook Microsoft loaned me, which is unencumbered by third-party adware and junkware.

W7 introduces a new networking feature called HomeGroups that intends to make it easy for multiple computers on a home network to share files and peripherals as easily as if they all resided on one PC. I thought that that was what Windows’ networking features were always supposed to do; in reality, they’ve remained convoluted and unreliable until now.(Microsoft Office 2007) I look forward to giving HomeGroups a spin on my own personal home network.

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