Microsoft Windows 7 review

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WINDOWS 7 – EASE OF USE

Windows Vista probably had more opprobrium heaped on it than it truly deserved, but if there’s one area where the OS merited every last anger-filled adjective, it was ease of use. From the early compatibility issues to the clumsily implemented Universal Account Control to the ineffective eye-candy of Flip 3D, Vista largely failed to make our computing lives easier.

Has Windows 7 raised the usability bar? Indisputably, magnificently, yes. The most obvious improvement comes in the form of the new desktop interface. Gone are the flat taskbar labels and fiddly Quick Launch icons next to the Start button; in come bold, chunky icons sitting in a beefed-up taskbar.

For the first time, applications can be “pinned” to the taskbar even if they’re not open, meaning everyday apps such as email clients and web browsers are never more than a click away. What’s more, taskbar icons can be dragged and dropped in your preferred order – settings that are retained even after the PC is shut down – so it soon becomes pure instinct to find, say, Outlook next to the Start button.

A right-click on each icon also reveals another excellent new feature: Jump Lists. Click Word’s Jump List, for example, and up sprouts a list of recently opened documents – again accessible with a single click. As with the taskbar, items can also be pinned to Jump Lists – regularly used forms and templates tucked away in the nether regions of the company intranet are now easily within reach.

Windows 7 Jump Lists

In some instances, Jump Lists provide shortcuts to features (such as Internet Explorer 8’s InPrivate Browsing mode), and it’s only a matter of time before software makers find even more time-saving uses for them.

The taskbar has its foibles: new software with an unfamiliar icon can be harder to recognise without its text label, and the practice of stacking multiple icons belonging to the same app on top of one another is unwieldy – especially when you have, say, three or four Word documents open at one time. But it’s a welcome overhaul of a taskbar system that had outgrown its Windows 95 roots.

Snapping windows

Many of the usability improvements in Windows 7 aren’t as immediately apparent as the new taskbar. Drag a window to the top of the screen, for example, and it immediately fills the screen; drag it back down again and it returns to its original dimensions (Microsoft Word 2007 being a bizarre exception to the latter).

It’s equally effortless to compare two documents side-by-side by dragging their respective windows to either edge of the screen, giving each precisely half the screen. Flip 3D, meanwhile, remains like a geriatric uncle in the armchair in the corner that everyone ignores.

Windows 7 snapping

Unlike early Vista systems, the Aero Glass interface and its transparency effects don’t necessarily hamper performance. We’ve had it running smoothly on netbooks with 1.6GHz processors and a mere 1GB of RAM. That said, Windows 7 is snappier on netbooks with Aero Glass switched off.

Networking made easy

Networking is another area where significant progress has been made. The new HomeGroup feature makes accessing files on another Windows 7 PC on the home network almost as simple as retrieving files on the PC itself.

Installing printer drivers is now a one-off job, with PCs joining the homegroup automatically sharing the settings. Microsoft’s decision to allow only Windows 7 PCs into homegroups seems a cheap trick to convince people to upgrade, but the emergence of Family Pack upgrades makes such shenanigans a little more palatable.

And, after more years of unnecessary dialog boxes than we care to remember, connecting to a Wi-Fi network is now merely a matter of left-clicking on the icon in the System Tray and choosing your network.

Talking of the System Tray, this too has been tidied up. Icons no longer spew forth – only three are permitted to show by default, with the rest tucked away in a pop-up overspill area. Meanwhile, the new Action Center (curiously represented by a white flag icon) swallows up all Windows updates, maintenance and backup issues, with pop-up reminders now thankfully banished.

The revamped User Account Control (UAC) is less needy, with a sliding scale of alert options ranging from Never to Always Notify. A step above Never is all that’s needed to avoid pointless disruptions, but to still be warned in advance of major (or potentially malicious) activity.

Details

Software subcategory Operating system

Requirements

Processor requirement 1GHz or higher

Operating system support

Other operating system support N/A

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