Microsoft has decided to pull back the curtains on Windows 7, less than two years after Vista appeared on the market. Windows 7 is still in beta, but it’s evident that Microsoft has taken several steps in the right direction by tweaking some of Vista’s great features.
Windows 7 uses Vista’s installer process, which is leaps and bounds ahead of the XP installer. I noticed fewer screens that require user input during a fresh install, and after the installation was complete I checked to see which drivers were not found in the device manager. To my surprise, it found almost everything.
Windows 7 has remedied problems with User Account Control by adjusting the default settings. The UAC now seems to know the difference between requests from a user and requests from a program. I was rarely prompted by the UAC to perform day-to-day tasks as I was in Vista.
Windows 7 also has completely changed how the taskbar works. The new taskbar combines the normal shortcuts available in the Quick Launch bar with windows of running programs. For instance, if you have a shortcut for Firefox in the new taskbar and you click on that shortcut to start Firefox, it does not open a tab in your taskbar for Firefox. Instead, Windows 7 treats the Firefox shortcut as a placeholder for that tab. Moving your mouse over the shortcut will display a small preview window of all the Firefox sessions you currently have running.
The new taskbar keeps things organized and lets notebook users with smaller screens move between many applications at once. You can also use the built-in search feature: Pressing the Windows button and then typing in part of the program or file you want will give you very accurate results and is more efficient than clicking on shortcuts.
Another change in Windows 7 is the Aero interface. Microsoft has made it possible to go directly to the screen resolution window by right clicking on the desktop. Dragging a window to the top of the screen maximizes the window, and dragging a window to the side reduces the window so that it takes up only 50 percent of the screen. The Aero Peek feature lets you view gadgets behind application windows.
DirectAccess is a new feature in Windows 7 that allows built-in virtual private network–like connections that require only an IPv6 connection. DirectAccess lets IT administrators deliver full network resources to mobile users without setting up VPNs or sacrificing network security.
AppLocker is a new security feature that will prevent unauthorized software from running on a user’s computer. AppLocker is basically a group policy that filters out which publisher, checksum or file name can run on a computer. This will reduce malware infection on large networks.
The Windows 7 beta release does not support Blu-ray, nor does it support .pdf or .rar files out of the box, but you can make these formats work with third-party software. Also, there is no way to mount an .iso file as a local drive. But these quibbles are not deal breakers; Windows 7 is a very solid operating system.
Justin Dover is network administrator at Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tenn.