What’s New in Windows 7?

Excerpted from our book Windows 7 Plain & Simple.

What’s new for you depends on which operating system you’ve been using. If you’ve been using Windows XP or an earlier version of Windows, you’ll find many new remarkable and powerful features to enhance your time on the computer. If you’ve been using Windows Vista, you’ll already be familiar with many of the features in Windows 7, but you’ll find many of them much friendlier and easier to use.
The first thing you’ll notice is that Windows 7 doesn’t look like Windows XP. An impressive feature of Windows 7 is its Aero Glass appearance. If your computer’s hardware supports this feature, parts of windows and other Windows elements can be transparent, semitransparent, or colored as you want. You can see dazzling 3-D effects when you switch between windows, and everything on your screen looks really clear and sharp. You’ll notice improvements in other visual effects, including the increased clarity of pictures and videos, and you’ll see some significant differences between the features of Windows 7 and those of Windows XP. For example, the Start menu doesn’t have all those cascading submenus to navigate, and the folder windows aren’t cluttered up with different toolbars; instead, the toolbar that remains changes its content depending on the types of folders or files contained in the windows. You’ll also notice that the menus seem to have disappeared. Fear not! They’re still there (just press the Alt key) but are hidden and mostly unnecessary. You’ll see that folder windows can have different panes so that you can easily navigate among folders, see detailed information about an item, and even peek at a preview of a file without opening the file. Available previously only in special editions of Windows, the Media Center and Tablet PC tools are now included in Windows 7. With Media Center, you can watch movies and even live TV. You can record shows, play music, and make your computer the center of your entertainment world. The Tablet PC tools are specialized tools that give you the power to do most of your work directly on the screen, especially if you use the Ink feature, which enables you to use your own handwriting in your programs.

Another remarkable feature of Windows 7 is its ability to conduct any type of search from almost anywhere on your computer. If you need to find a document, just search for it from the Start menu or from within any window. If you’re saying, “Well, what’s so new about that?”, try this: Press the Windows key, and then type part of the name of any program, folder, or file. The Windows key opens the Start menu, and, as you type, the results of your search appear on the Start menu. Type another letter or two, and the search results get narrowed down.

You’ll find other features that make working on your computer easier than ever, including links in each window—some set up by Windows and others you create yourself—that allow you to jump to your favorite locations. There’s also the Address bar, which helps you locate all the different places you want to explore. Windows 7 has grouped many of the tools and features you need into task-oriented centers. For example, there’s the Mobility Center, which helps you set up your portable computer when you’re on the road; the Network And Sharing Center, which helps you configure, control, secure, and navigate your network; the Ease Of Access Center, which helps you modify computer settings to improve your access to the computer; and the Action Center, where you track all your security and maintenance needs and make whatever adjustments are required.

If you’ve used Windows Vista, you’ll find all sorts of additions to make your work easier. The new Jump Lists on the taskbar and Start menu reduce the number of steps it takes to find and open files or execute your most commonly used actions. You’ll find the taskbar to be much improved—you can attach your frequently used programs directly to it, so starting a program is just a click away. Finding files is also a lot easier, with files of the same type arranged in common libraries regardless of where they’re stored. This means that a Pictures Library will hold all your pictures, whether they’re in your My Pictures folder, your Public Pictures folder, or some other folder you’ve included in that library. Windows creates libraries for your documents, music, pictures, and videos, but you can also create additional libraries. The libraries are also shared with Media Player and Media Center, so all your music, photos, and videos will always be available. You can even share these libraries over your home network with other computers running Windows 7 by creating a homegroup. A homegroup is a new networking tool that makes sharing files, printers, and other devices simple and easy. Windows 7 is loaded with new wizards that step you through some of the more complex operations, and new troubleshooters that help you solve problems. A powerful but annoying security feature that was introduced with Vista—the User Account Control (UAC)—has been substantially improved and made a lot less annoying! Designed to prevent either malicious or accidental damage to your system by requiring Administrator approval for many actions, Windows 7’s UAC not only greatly reduces the number of times this approval is required but also lets you set the level of protection you want.

Sometimes just a few simple changes make your work on the computer a lot easier. Windows 7 introduces three features that make working with windows much more pleasant: Aero Snap, Aero Shake, and Aero Peek. Aero Snap helps arrange the windows by snapping to certain sizes—taking up the left half of the screen, for example, by dragging the window to the left edge. Aero Shake is one you’ve got to try: When there are multiple windows open on the Desktop, just use the mouse to grab one by the title bar, shake the window a bit, and all the other windows become minimized. Aero Peek is controlled by a little bar at the end of the taskbar: Point to this bar, and all the windows become transparent so that you can see the Desktop. Click the bar, and all the windows become minimized.
Windows 7 also has some features for specialized equipment. If you have a computer that supports multi-touch input, many Windows features really come alive. And with the Play To feature in Media Player, you can send your multimedia to different devices—another computer, a networked photo frame, or even an Xbox 360 console. You’ll also find much more support for and information about those devices that you can attach to your computer.

One of the most notable changes in Windows 7 is what isn’t included. You might have become used to using Windows Mail, Photo Gallery, MovieMaker, and Messenger. These programs no longer come with Windows, but enhanced versions of them, as well as some additional programs, are available for download as part of the Windows Live Essentials suite. Another missing part for some people is Internet Explorer; in much of Europe, for example, Internet Explorer isn’t included in Windows. It’s up to the computer manufacturers to decide which browsers are available on new computers. However, you can always download Internet Explorer from Microsoft.
So what’s new for you in Windows 7? Aside from all the new tools and features we’ve just described, perhaps what’s new in Windows 7 is a feeling of renewed confidence that you can easily and safely do what you want on your computer without worrying that someone or something will cause you all sorts of trouble.