Windows 7 - Part 6 detailed review
This is Part 6 in the ongoing Windows 7 review series. Read Part 5 here.
There are a host of new features in Windows 7 which make it a much better experience, some small, some large. Many are just refinements to the many new features that Windows Vista introduced.
The internals of Windows 7 remain similar to Vista, and as such, any software written for Windows Vista should run on it. In-fact, drivers written for Vista will generally work with Windows 7 as well!
Here's a list of Vista functionalities which have been improved in Windows 7:
- UAC is now much more configurable, and is less annoying by default. There is a definite reduction in UAC prompts.
- Bitlocker to Go now allows you to password protect your portable drives as well.
- Windows 7 includes many of the common codecs which are required to play multimedia files: DivX, MP4, MOV, H.264, AAC etc. are all playable on a fresh Windows 7 system.
- Windows 7 improves support for multiple network connection (i.e. being connected to two networks at the same time) and can apply different firewall profiles to connections from different computers
- Troubleshooting features introduced in Windows Vista are expanded, and it can now download new troubleshooters to help dealing with problems which might be discovered later. You can develop your own troubleshooting packs using PowerShell 2.0
- Windows Search can now use off-computer sources, such as websites for data sources. Using a new filter for TIFF files, Windows 7 can automatically perform OCR (optical Character Recognition) and index the text content of such files, allowing you to search for text appearing in images.
Windows Vista introduced too many changes to the underlying OS and the applications and features, and some of them were of questionable utility. While you could expect an installation of Windows to reach a size less than 2GB after a year or so of usage, Windows Vista for some users managed to reach as much as 20GB after a few months!
Windows 7, as mentioned before, has reduced a lot of the bloat introduced in Windows Vista, and made it a much tighter system. However it is still based on the architecture of Windows Vista, which is actually a good thing as despite its flaws, Windows Vista did manage to improve security, add some useful infrastructure for search, improve the way documents and files are displayed and managed (sorting, grouping, and stacking), improved navigation using breadcrumbs, the Desktop Window manager, etc.
What is interesting to note is that many of the changes in Windows 7 are operating system features which earlier needed the installation of third-party utilities:
- You can now have multiple images set as your wallpaper and set how often the wallpaper is to be changed (a wallpaper slideshow).
- Themes support has been improved quite a bit, and a use can now create and manage their own themes. Windows 7 can also package these themes for sharing with your friends.
- The sidebar in Windows Vista is now upgraded to a proper gadget framework which allows one to place gadgets anywhere on the desktop (although they can be lined up to a side of a screen if desired).
- It is now possible to burn .ISO files to a disk, as an .ISO burning utility is now included in Windows itself.
- VHD (virtual hard disk) files can now be mounted and managed in Windows itself. In fact, it is possible to install Windows 7 on an VHD file and boot it directly from a virtual partition!
- Transcoding files is built into the system, and Windows can automatically transcode files while copying to a device which uses a different format (i.e copying an HD video file to a media player which can only play SD files)
A new Devices and Printers Control Panel item now offers a central place to manage devices connected to your computer easily. Instead of overloading the user with information about devices they don't know or care about, it shows only the devices which an average user would manage. It does not replace the old Device Manager, rather it just provides user with an easier interface the manage the devices they connect to their computer.
To make managing connected devices simpler, Windows 7 also introduced Device Stage, which gives the user information about devices such as media players and mobiles connected to the computer, and allows them to perform common actions such as copying music to and from the device, or synchronizing contacts, etc.
Windows 7 also brings native support for sensors such as GPS, and supports multi-touch screens, making it well-suited for tablet PCs and other mobile devices.
For the first time, Windows has released a new product which is smaller, lighter and more compatible than their older one! As Windows 7 can run on older hardware and can run older applications than Windows Vista. Using a new Virtual Windows XP mode add-on which can be downloaded and run on computers which support hardware virtualization; Windows 7 now supports running any Windows XP application.
Windows XP mode basically runs a Windows XP in a virtual machine using Microsoft's Virtual PC virtualization software, however it is well-integrated into the system. Applications which you install in the virtual Windows XP appear on your Start Menu, and can actually be set as default file handlers. Documents can be directly opened by applications installed in the virtual Windows XP instance. Windows 7 thus does away with any concerns you might have about application compatibility with previous versions of Windows. Due to Windows 7's shared heritage with Windows Vista it will run any Vista compatible application, and with Windows XP mode, you can run all Windows XP applications, which essentially makes it compatible with any applications which came out in the last eight years!
As you can see, a lot of the changes Windows 7 makes are evolutionary, it is just that they should have happened much earlier back in the evolution!