Ramblings of a Coder's Mind

Got Tech? Will Hack.

Windows 7: A second look

I’ve had a bit of reprieve from work here and I finally got some time to install Windows 7 on my laptop. Though my desktop has had the latest builds available to me, they have all been on a test drive. My laptop however had to wait until I was done with my academic work before it could move permanently to Windows 7 and afford any issues that might come its way.

So here are a few things I’ve found interesting in Windows 7 that should make your Windows 7 User eXperience a lot more enjoyable.

Basic Application Overhaul

This one is something that us users have known would be part of Windows 7 for months prior to the first Public beta. Windows ships with a lot of basic applications that make life so much more awesome. These applications have been more or less the same for ever now. Well, its 2009 and its time for a facelift and some bottox ;) The most notable ones are Paint, Wordpad and Calculator

Virtual WiFi

Bhavik Vora told me back in 2007 about Microsoft working on a certain technology to connect to multiple WiFi networks virtually by using continuous switching. I was excited back then to see this in action but the lack of an actual WiFi device other than my Windows Mobile made practical applications limited. You’ll be happy to hear that Windows 7 is shipping with this technology (limited a tad bit though) allowing you to do more with your Windows. Read the original post by Long Zheng on Windows 7 adding native Virtual WiFi technology from Microsoft Research. If you’re asking yourself why do you need Virtual WiFi, refer to my reply to AI’s comment which says..

@AI: Why wouldn’t you? :P Ad hoc networks are totally awesome. With the ability to (virtually) connect to multiple networks, you can create mesh and relay wireless networks. Say user A is in range of an access point X but user B isn’t. But user B is in range with user A. User A could relay the connection from X to B providing B with an active connection to the network. Also, you can play multiplayer games without need for any ethernet cables on your laptops or any other infrastructure for that matter. No need for a router or any other hardware to create a local area network ;)

If you can have all this, why wouldn’t you want virtual WiFi? ;)

UI Standardization

Windows 7 products UI consistent with first looks at Office 2010 previews. A couple of days ago Long posted some blurry screencaps of Office 2010 which are consistent with the UI seen in Windows 7. Do you notice the similarity in the new Ribbon on the two products? Not that Vista and Office 2007 weren’t in sync, its just that a lot of the applications packaged with Windows Vista weren’t all in the same UI style. Some still seemed to style legacy looks. Windows 7 does seem a lot more complete though there are still some exceptions.

Open in new process

Here is something new. Pressing shift+right clicking on a folder/app allows you to launch it in a separate process. If you do this to open a folder, you will see a second explorer.exe in your task list. This could open up whole new avenues for polygamy ;)

PowerShell is in!

And its about freaking time! I first came in contact with PowerShell a day after its v2 release (a coincidence). I needed to use it to do a couple of things and it did it really well. I loved the power it possessed but I never really needed it again. I was always wondering why they took so long to make it main stream. I’ve known about it for years now, blame Matt for it :P

XP Mode

Do you have applications that don’t work on Vista? Usually using Vista’s compatibility wizard helps. Still, there are some which don’t work. Windows 7 has a much more elegant solution (at least in my opinion). Install XP in Virtual PC and start up XP mode ;) For more information, read the Life Hacker page on Setting Up and Using XP Mode in Windows 7

In-built and custom create-able Troubleshooting wizards

Windows 7 became the first operating system that I know of, at least in the Windows line up that has in built support to fix issues. Jus click start and search for “Fix” and the first result you get should be “Fix problems with your computer”. If you have issues listed there, the tool will provide you with a chance to fix it ;) How does it work? Simple! Its a collection of uber-powerful Powershell scripts. Can you make your own? Sure you can! Just head on over to WithinWindows.com and Rafael will explain the rest ;)

I don’t know about you but I certainly loved Windows Vista. I wasn’t a fan of its UAC, but I liked the OS. One of the things that made me love the OS so much were the nifty keyboard shortcuts which keyboard lovers like me can’t live without ;) Two of my favourite ones were the Win+ to access quick launch icons and Shift+right click to open command prompt in specified folder. Considering that the new Windows 7 Superbar has no such thing as a quick launch, the Win+ shortcuts now refer to the icons on the superbar ;) The shift+right click to open command prompt in specified folder sure does save a lot of time for users like me who are command prompt addicts. ;)

Remembering System Tray Icon Status

This is one that almost everyone would know out there but its important enough for me to put up because it was really irritating for me in Windows’ past Operating Systems. Now, if you ask Windows to hide an icon in the System Tray and then the application crashes, you no longer need to reset the status (Hide always, Hide when not being used or Show always) when restarting the application. Sure, you still need to wave your mouse over the icon to make it disappear and until then, two copies are shown but that’s still better than having to reset the status.

Also there are a few things that need to be fixed.

New User Account Control

Well, I’ve already made it clear that I find UAC on Vista extremely irritating bugging simply because I needed to (at least in Vista RTM) acknowledge an action multiple times. Microsoft did make a few changes to UAC since then to make it single prompt but it still remains off on my desktop. On my laptop, considering I don’t often do work that would set off UAC (unlike work on the desktop), I let UAC stay. When it comes to Windows 7, Microsoft has made a few changes to the implementation to make them “less irritating” by allowing auto-elevation of processes. A few concerns were raised by certain tech users made popular by Long Zheng and Rafael Rivera in posts such as Malware can turn off UAC in Windows 7; “By design” says Microsoft. Clearly, Microsoft needs to move back to Secure Desktop for changes to UAC. We don’t mind UAC prompts as long as we don’t have to go through multiple windows like Vista RTM where you’d have to sometimes go through a normal prompt and a secure desktop to perform a restricted action (For example: addition/modification/deletion of Start Menu entries).

High Quality Icons

As I’ve already mentioned in my previous post, with the arrival of Superbar, the icons being shown need to be of a much higher resolution to avoid tearing. Yet some icons are still not up to the mark. This is like Windows Vista’s non-standardized UI all over again just not as bad. Microsoft has put in a lot of effort into revamping the UI on most applications but I guess it has missed out on a few. Nothing that can’t be fixed in a giffy ;)

There are more features in Windows 7 just waiting to be discovered. Windows 7 RC does look quite promising. These are just some of the things that make this such a great OS. Quite a few of them are minor, probably don’t feel like much when being mentioned while others are fixes to old problems that have plagued users for many a year but all of it contribute to make this a worthy successor to Windows Vista :)

Created: 16th May 2009
Category: Review
Tag: Windows 7