Test Driving Windows 7

March 3, 2009 Updated: March 12, 2009

When I first heard about the features available on the Beta version of Microsoft’s Windows 7, I was a bit skeptical; but after thorough testing, I’ve found it to be a very pleasant workspace.

Following the near total failure of Windows Vista, Microsoft turned to customer opinion in its creation of Windows 7. The result is a clean, user-friendly workspace that carries some of the best parts of XP, Vista, and even some Mac-like elements.

Microsoft took quite a few measures to ensure that Widows 7 would be faster and smoother than Vista, and it really shows. The whole environment feels very smooth, and offers several noticeable improvements from previous Window incarnations.

On Windows 7, the computer also boots faster and didn’t seem to suffer from the long lag-times often associated with running large programs.

My favorite part of Windows 7 is the new taskbar, which gives the desktop a decidedly cleaner look. (It’s somewhat reminiscent of the taskbar in Leopard, Mac’s operating system.) Icons and shortcuts now share the same space and are lined up in small blocks next to each other. When opening multiple pages with any one program, such as a Web browser, it creates another layer on top of the icon. When you click the icon, it then displays all pages currently open within that program.

Next in line on my list of favorites would have to be the new window sizing functions. In Windows 7, dragging an open window to the sides of the screen will automatically resize it. Drag it to the right and the window resizes to the right half of the screen—and so on with the left side. Dragging a window to the top of the screen will fully enlarge it. It certainly is a helpful addition, especially when you are using two windows side by side.

If you have several windows open and want to close all but one, simply click on the window you want to keep, shake the window a few times, and all the other windows will close. Repeat this action, and all the other recently closed windows reopen.

The screen for managing plug-in devices (www.microsoft.com)
The screen for managing plug-in devices (www.microsoft.com)
A disappointing feature of Windows 7 is the one designed to automatically detect devices and open a special icon on the taskbar. For example, if you plug a phone into your computer, Windows 7 is supposed to automatically show an icon on the taskbar with a picture of your phone that opens a window offering various options for the device.

I tried it with both a Nikon D200 and an iPod Touch and the feature failed to respond to either device. This may be just an issue with the Beta version, or perhaps the feature only works with a select handful of products.

Other features to note on the new operating system include the new touch-screen capability and the home networking feature—which allows you to link with others Windows 7 users in your home. However, these additions require special hardware.

All in all, the best perks of Windows 7 aren’t so much in its program and shortcut features but rather in its clean, fast, and pleasant workspace. I look forward to the final version, expected to be available by the end of this year.

Follow Joshua on Twitter: @JoshJPhilipp