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5 Great Improvements in Windows 7

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Did you know that even though Windows Vista was first released more than four years ago, 86% of corporate PCs continue to rely on Windows XP.* Vista offered a flashy new interface but its sluggish performance, nagging software, incompatibility with too many third-party peripherals and programs, and lack of compelling features kept most people sticking with the Windows XP operating system Microsoft launched in 2001, a lifetime ago in the tech world.

With such a weak acceptance to Vista, is the recent release of Windows 7 worth the wait? It's not revolutionary and it didn't have to be. It just needed to be better. Overall, Windows 7 appears to be the worthy successor to Windows XP that Vista never was. Putting aside glitzy effects, Windows 7 finally focuses on giving back control to the user with a practical, well-designed, and slightly faster upgrade over Vista. Let's look at some of the top features in Windows 7:

1. The Taskbar Gets a Facelift

The Windows Taskbar has been given a thorough makeover with larger, unlabeled icons for running programs replacing the old small icons and text labels. If you don't like it, you can shrink the icons and/or bring the labels back. Windows 7 eliminates Quick Launch which gives you one-click access to programs. Now, just drag an application's icon from the Start menu or desktop to the Taskbar, and Windows will pin it there so you can quickly launch a program without digging around the Start menu. You can also organize icons in the Taskbar by moving them to new positions.

In Windows Vista, hovering the mouse pointer over a program's Taskbar icon created a thumbnail window view known as a Live Preview. But when you have multiple windows open, you see only one preview at a time. Windows 7's version of this feature is better designed and more efficient: hover the pointer on an icon, and thumbnails of the windows slide into position above the Taskbar, so you can quickly find the one you're looking for.

2. The Convenience of Jump Lists

Right-clicking a program pinned to the Taskbar introduces you to Jump Lists, a menu of options that includes everything from Web sites you've recently visited to tasks appropriate to the application such as opening a document. Jump Lists have neat headers for recently-used documents, tasks, and other actions but you won't see the full value of the feature until these menus are written into other non-Microsoft software programs.

3. Snapping Windows

One small but extremely useful improvement in the Windows interface is the ability to snap windows to the left or right side of the desktop by either dragging them to the side or hitting the Windows key and one of the arrow keys. When snapped, a window takes up half the desktop. This slick feature makes comparing two windows easy. If you nudge a window into the top of the screen, it will maximize to fill all of the display's real estate. Another cool, fun, and useful feature is the Aero Shake feature which allows users to grab the title bar of a window and shake it back and forth, flinging all other open windows to the bottom of the screen, where they'll be minimized.

4. Grab Control of the System Tray

In the past, no feature of Windows generated more frustration than the System Tray (the area in the bottom-right corner of the Taskbar). New controls in Windows 7 prevent the System Tray from overflowing with unwanted programs and distracting you with unhelpful, irrelevant messages such as a prompt that you have unused icons on your desktop. It's easy to drag programs into the System Tray or out of it again so you enjoy complete control over which applications reside there.

In other areas as well, Windows Vista is notorious for pelting you with alerts, warnings, and requests. In Windows 7, system messages are collected in the new Action Center so you can respond to them on your schedule-not when Windows feels like interrupting you. With Windows 7, you also have more account controls to skip the constant prompts and screen dimming in Vista which angered many users and annoyed just about everyone else.

5. Reasonable Hardware Demands

In the past, new versions of Windows have required twice the amount of CPU power and RAM needed by their predecessors. But Windows 7 runs a bit better than Vista on the same system. It's even manageable on a netbook. Microsoft's official hardware configuration requirements of Windows 7 are nearly identical to those it recommends for Windows Vista: at minimum a 1-GHz CPU, 1 or 2 GB of RAM, 16 or 20 GB of free disk space, and high-end graphics. More power, however, is always better in the computing world and Windows 7 is no exception.

Upgrading to Windows 7 from Vista is straightforward; all you have to do is insert a disk and follow the on-screen steps. Unless you like tinkering with software and hardware, however, a move from Windows XP to Windows 7 is arduous and may be best saved for your next PC purchase. Once you upgrade, you'll find that Windows 7 not only corrects Vista's annoying and frustrating actions, but provides a more intuitive interface, stronger performance, and it's the upgrade we've been waiting for.

* Source: Forrester Research

Dawn Bjork Buzbee, MCT, The Software Pro

Dawn Bjork Buzbee is The Software Pro and a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) as well as a certified Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Master Instructor, certified Microsoft Applications Specialist (MCAS) Instructor, and a certified Microsoft Office expert. Dawn shares smart and easy ways to effectively use software through her work as a software speaker, trainer, consultant, and author of 8 books.

This article and more can be reprinted at no charge in your publications and website with copyright and attribution.
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Windows 7 still understands the handy shortcuts you might have used in Windows XP or Windows Vista. For example, press [ALT] + [TAB] to switch open programs without touching your mouse.
 
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