For months previous, Microsoft kept something from the public — A project which involved the creation of a new operating system. The results of this secrecy were felt among all members who were seeking new information on the upcoming Operating System. When news did come from the company, it came in great chunks — revealing various aspects of what is to come. In early 2008, the naming of “windows 7” was revealed. Although many thought that Microsoft actually codenamed this OS Vienna, in actuality they seemed to have stopped using codenames. I don’t blame them for that ; For a long time I recall seeing help topics and dialogs calling Windows Vista “Windows Codenamed “longhorn””.
One place where Microsoft was required to at least mention Windows 7, however, was the PDC (Professional Developer’s conference) 2008 event in Los Angeles. And more so they did. At the conference, everyone attending received a 160 GB hard-drive containing Windows 7 and its image. The build was labeled 6801, and contained numerous of the new concepts and features which Microsoft talked about throughout 2008. It is then, to no surprise that I am running Windows 7 as I write ; And here I wish to detail the new features which have come up at least in this release, compared to Vista. For clarification purposes, I recommend you read my previous review on the matter, called “Windows 7: The Background”, where I heavily discuss the original plans as well as what is to be seen in this and future builds.
build 6801: A revelation?
I here again wish to stress that Windows 7 is comparable to Windows XP to 2000. It is not a major release, just as XP was a minor one. The Operating System builds upon the foundations of Vista, adding new functionality and visually attractive programs or dialogs. The idea behind Windows 7 is simple (Quoting from Help and support, this may change in future builds):
Great ideas are often simple, singular, and clear. Here’s ours: We’re making Windows 7 for you.
With complete experiences and attention to detail, Windows 7 is:
- • Specialized for laptops
- • Optimized for entertainment
- • Designed for services
- • Engineered for ease of ownership
- • Personalized computing for everyone
The idea here is about the same as with Vista but with a small “twist”: More control, productivity, and ease of use. Vista was more built upon the ideas of security, stability, and ease of use. Based upon this, it is knowledgeable to state that 7 will in deed be minor, though not minor to the point where you should ignore it and not purchase it if you want to have an experience that is easier and more clear with your computer. Again, Vista’s idea was “clarity”, and the Spanish word means “clear” or “view”. Windows 7 is here to deliver more of that clarity and ease of use to your life.
Installation of 6801:
The install process of this build is exactly as is with Windows Vista: Easy, simple, and perhaps a notch faster too. You are presented with the same setup process, and there is only one minor difference: You are asked for your product key not at the beginning of install, but rather at the end, after entering in user data. To say the least, this means that you can no longer “chose” the build you want to install if you do not provide a product key, like you were able to in Vista’s install. I believe this may mean that Microsoft will sell separate DVDS for each Windows 7 edition, but we don’t even know detailed plans for editions yet. This will be revealed in the future.
Minor and major: The User Interface
7’s Interface, according to peers, is similar to Vistas, accept the nice lighter blue color which accompanies the background. There are also a few “lines” missing from the interface, and to some it actually has a clearer, more definite look. You can no longer change your start menu to classic, and this actually displeases me more than giving me joy. I liked the Classic Start menu for it’s easy-to-use quick navigation, because I could go into my start menu and right away, press a key to get to a program group, rather than landing in a strange search box. Speaking of this box, it is now given a proper title: “Search box”.
More control, More Items: Control Panel
Control panel is probably the place which has changed the most in 7. There are numerous new options which help you control your computer more and more. The layout of the application is also considerably different, Microsoft having removed the “classic view” from the links. Yes, this means that you cannot view the control panel as a list anymore. However, to facilitate this loss, there is an option called “All Control Panel items”, which displays all items without the confusing categorization, as links on a page.
Use those devices!: The Identification of Life
With the advances we are seeing in technology, it is not surprising to have Microsoft “jumping on the wagon”. Fingerprint scanners, built-in chips, eye scanning devices, whatever the future may behold — Windows 7 will certainly support. You now have a new option in control panel, called biometric devices — and here you can control how these life-detecting objects interact with your computer. You can do tasks such as clearing Fingerprint identities and turning certain devices on or off. In deed. More control.
Clear Type Text Tuner: Make it Look Clear!
With Clear Type fonts, it is possible to make your screen more readable. Clear type Text Tuner tries to do just this: Implement some neat Clear Type Text so that the screen becomes more visible. It has a wizard-like interface, allowing you to turn on clear type and “Click the text sample that looks best to you ” afterward.
Use That Location Sensor!:
GPS is not an uncommon piece of technology today. It is present in your car, in your home — and for some, with your braille note-taker or as a separate talking unit. Well, if you can connect it to your computer, you are ready to use a new host of applications, including Google Maps or Live Search.
And Control Panel only assists with this: If the developer can interface with your system, they can retrieve your location information just in case your GPS broke down or an asteroid destroyed all the satellites out there. An option, called “default Location”, allows you to provide your address. According to the applet: “You can provide a default location for programs to use when a location sensor is not available.”
Correlating to this is an option called “Location and Other Sensors”, which, when attached, will allow you to configure your GPS devices.
Control those Notifications!
With Windows 7, you have the ability to control which notifications pop up in Windows, and from which applications. There is also an option called “always show Icons on the taskbar”, which allows you to display program icons right on the taskbar, so you won’t have to open up the start menu. This is where the new Taskbar comes in, where it is split into 2 parts — one containing your currently running programs, while the other has your recently accessed programs.
There are also more options for recovering your system, found under the “recovery” applet. Here, you even have the ability to open a recovery image and restore your system that way. An interesting new option is “Return Windows to Original Settings”, where all the modifications are returned to factory defaults. You of course need to provide a Windows Installation DVD to do this ; after a reboot, the options you changed in Windows will be the defaults.
Finally, another major new feature of 7 is the Workspaces Center. Here, you can setup a workspace, which a quick and easy way of accessing remote information, such a webpage t work. So far, I have not been able to use this feature, as the help documentation is not even complete on the topic. I believe this to be a way for people to “work at home” more efficiently and with ease of use.
To finish off the Control Panel, there are in deed new options in the Folder Options dialog, allowing you to “always show menus” and turn certain visual aspects of folder on or off.
User Account Control (UAC) has also gotten a nice lift: It is no longer as annoying, and for once I can actually live with it being turned on. When running Windows applications, for example, I found that I do not get UAC popups, and when I do, it no longer “hides” my other windows from view. In Control panel, you now also have the ability to control the amount of notifications you receive by UAC using a nice slider (from “Always notify” to “only Notify when programs try to make changes to my computer”). This, again, enforces the theme of more control over your computer.
Now, let’s get into the more application standpoint of 7.
Since Microsoft’s attempts at integrating applications with Windows Live, Windows 7 no longer includes some of it’s core apps. These include Windows Mail, Movie Maker, as well as Photo Gallery. Users who wish to use these programs may simply have to head over to Microsoft’s Windows Live Website and download them there. I am not a big supporter of this idea…
In deed, these 3 programs are missing from this build.
Windows Media player: Appwide changes!
Windows Media player in 7 reports itself to being version 12. The player itself looks more like a media player, with a 3d shape to it as well as containing tool-bar buttons. For users of Screen Reading products, the player poses more than just a visual change: The various buttons are assigned odd names (“transport mutegroup Mute button. SV baskets Tabs topchrome_BG button.) There is only one known workaround for this problem: Use your Insert+Up arrow to read your current line and this way you have proper button titles.
Calculator: Wow, it actually looks like a calculator!
This time, Microsoft has put in effort to creating a regular calculator. The application looks more like one, and features nice round buttons. No screen reader to my knowledge has been able to navigate the application. You can’t really calculate with it.
XPS Viewer: Who’s the copycat now?
Windows 7 includes a new program, called XPS Viewer. From what I know, .XPS is a filetype, made by Microsoft, which is like .pdf from Adobe. It is Microsoft’s way of competing with Adobe….
XPS Viewer now includes the Ribbon User Interface, something found in Microsoft Office and other applications. For the Visually Impaired, you move between the ribbon buttons using right/left arrows, and to access a particular menu, hit the space bar. I have not yet tried reading .XPS documents, never having received any.
Sticky Notes: Write your notes and stick them!:
A new application is included with Windows 7, called Sticky Notes. It allows you to write notes and save them. Later, you can read these notes back. I found the program quite easy to use and very simple: Write your note, quit the application. When you return, your note is there, and you have a buttons for deleting your note or creating a new one.
Windows Update: More precise, more control!
With the revised and better-sounding Windows Update, you now have a few new abilities: Allow users who do not have administrative rights to download updates. When looking at the updates list, you also have the ability to see the update’s size, a feature which I missed since Microsoft switched to the Interface-based Updating system.
wordpad: The pad just got a whole lot better and is wrapped in ribbons!
That’s right. We are seeing the ribbons popping up everywhere now, it seems. While they do make wordpad a more office-like product, ease of use seems more difficult, as you can no longer simply hit alt+f and a to bring up the save as dialog. Therefore to save a file, you can either exit wordpad and hit “save” in the resulting window, or scroll through the ribbons to find the save-as option.
I feel the ribbons will confuse many, as not only do they allow a user to choose certain options, but also to change and type in information when it comes to “font size”, “font name”, margin settings, etc… Finding options within them is another difficulty.
Well. We’ve seen the first public build of Windows 7. Overall, I’m not too impressed. Microsoft is incorporating technology to try and “make things simpler” for the end user, but so far a lot of things (ribbons included) have only made myne a tad more difficult. When Vista first hit the market, I felt the same. Is there such a thing as a “limit” to simplifying? I leave that up to the reader to decide.