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If the predictions are to be believed, Windows 7 will be available by the end of the year. With Microsoft recently offering the Release Candidate version to consumers for free, they are hoping to turn around their image, damaged by the plagued Vista operating system. Now that people are using it, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive with reports of a faster, less resource hungry and more intuitive operating system, finally fulfilling the promise of what Vista should have been.

With each new OS, the question on every PC users lips is “is it worth getting?”. Obviously, until it becomes available and installed on the Smarthouse Test PC, we can’t give a definitive answer but based on the improvements that we have seen in the RC version, the future is looking up for Windows.

There are a large number of fixes to things that were mind numbingly annoying and smart changes to the way media, devices and daily tasks are handled.  The idea is to make the system easy to use and powerful without making it a massive leap from what has come before it.  If you are familiar with XP, using Windows 7 won’t require you to relearn much at all.  If you have stuck with Vista, the new OS, looks and feels very much like Vista without the drawbacks.

While there are a great number of new features and improvements, we’ve locked in on the top 20 that most users will be looking forward to in no particular order: 

1. Will run on most PCs

With every new operating system, it seems that in order to run it you will need to upgrade your PC.  Unlike the resource hungry Vista, Windows 7 can run on relatively low spec machines.  If your PC ran windows XP well, it should run Windows 7.  By making it more efficient, Microsoft has primed the operating system to be utilized by manufacturers in the booming Netbook market. 

2. No more annoying security messages

Anyone who has used Vista will agree that the UAC (User Account Control) messages were the single most annoying thing about the software.  Thankfully, with W7 the UAC issue has been retooled.  Using a slider, you can control the level of notifications and security.  Whether you want to never hear from it or know every time a piece of software does something suspicious, W7 has you covered.

 

 

3. Stream your media

Windows Media Player has undergone some improvements as well.  You can stream your media to devices attached to your home network whether it be other PCs, or dedicated media streaming devices. You can choose where to send the music while never leaving your desk.

4. Smarter System Tray

The whole idea behind the system tray is a meant to be a one stop location for important system software and tools.  That has been bastardised quite a bit and has become a source of a constant stream of notification bubbles instead.  In W7, all notifications are silently contained within one icon.

The “Windows Solutions Center” icon will light up when new notifications are created without showing them on-screen.  The number of icons shown in the tray has also been reduced with only a handful being shown and the rest hidden. If there is a tray tool that you want to add, you can allow it to be shown, otherwise it gets hidden within the overflow menu.

5. Home Group

Networking has always been a bit of a mystery to the average PC user.  While networking wizards have helped to a point in the past, networking a printer or sharing files still presented itself with challenges that required too much know how to be considered user friendly.  With W7 a new feature has been added called HomeGroup.

 All you need to do is set up one Pc on the network and any other Windows 7 PCs that are connected will be detected and added to the group.  This will make streaming files across a network or sharing printers a breeze. Of course, it also means that all your PCs will need to be running W7 so cross platform streaming and sharing could still present the usual issues.

6. iTunes support

The new windows media player will support iTunes file formats natively.  This allows AAC files to be played without opening iTunes and also streamed to other PCs over a network.  It doesn’t cover DRM enabled files though but it’s a good step in the right direction.

7. Goodbye SideBar

Desktop gadgets are no longer bound to the annoying sidebar.  With W7, you are free to place gadgets anywhere on the desktop. The sidebar is a thing of the past. They can also be resized too, so you can make the more important ones more prominent.

 

 

8. DeviceStage

When connecting a supported device, a context homepage provided by its manufacturer can be easily accessed from the desktop. This can provide links to things like relevant websites like support pages or locations to buy accessories and whatnot.  It has the potential to be abused as a marketing tool though so it whether it is useful or not will be in the hands of the manufacturers.

9. Easier customization of windows features

In the past, if you wanted to turn off an integral windows feature you would need to have the installation disc and essential install or uninstall them.  Now, this has been greatly simplified with simple toggle “switches” within the control panel.

10. Desktop glimpse

the Show desktop button has been around for a donkey’s age, but using it meant having to collapse all your windows at once.  The new iteration allows you to mouse over the show desktop button making all windows transparent take a glimpse at what’s behind them.

11. Getting touchy feely

Windows 7 will also support touch interfaces better than before with many Apple-like multi touch commands.  This will path the way for an expected boom in touch desktops and notebooks.

12. Window snapping

If you want to compare two documents or put two windows side by side on the one desktop, its as easy and dragging and dropping it to the left or right of the screen.  Windows will snap it in place and automatically resize it to fit them side by side.

 

 

13. USB drive security

USB storage has become a huge security risk for sensitive documents.  With W7, you can encrypt the contents of a USB drive simply by right clicking on the icon and turning on the BitLocker To Go feature.  You can also similarly encrypt internal drives as well.

14. Larger screen and multi-screen support

Not really a new feature but more a streamlining of an existing one.  W7 has added keyboard shortcuts for customizing multi displays.  Also, for those with large screens that struggle to read the tiny text, you can also zoom the text on screen by up to 150%.

15. Smarter searching

Using the start menu to search for files and features in Vista was a little too hit and miss.  In Windows 7, this feature has been given an overhaul and returns more relevant results with less reliance on exact file names.

16. Jumplists and the new taskbar

The taskbar can be set up to use icons for programs, expanding on the quick launch bar idea and similar to a Mac. You can right click on the icons to produce jumplists which offer options specific to the programs.  For example, right clicking Windows Media Player would give you play, stop etc or recently played tracks.  Right Clicking Microsoft Word might give you recently opened documents, create new document etc.  Jumplists will also be available from the start menu as well. 

17. Better Bluetooth support

The new Bluetooth wizard will make it easier to pair Bluetooth devices with windows 7, via support for Bluetooth 2.1.

 

18. Easier WiFi

Rather than have to open various windows, select a network and get connected, WiFi is now handled by one icon which can be clicked to bring up a menu of available networks to connect to.  It should make connecting to hotspots and new networks much quicker and less annoying.

19. Better user migration

If you are upgrading or reinstalling your operating system, using the migration tools under windows is promised to be a much faster experience in the past.  Rather than move files around on the hard drive, the new migration leaves them where they are and installs files around them to cut down on migration time.

20. Internet Explorer 8

Even though we have had IE8 for a while now, the version that will ship with Windows 7 is supposed to be faster and more efficient than the current beta that is available for Vista.  While other browsers still outperform IE8, the differences between them are becoming fewer.

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