A first look at the Windows 7 PDC release

After months of keeping Windows 7 under tight wraps, Microsoft has finally showed off its long-awaited OS upgrade in public, at the Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles. This gallery shows features from the pre-beta release as well as later internal builds not yet publicly released.
By Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor
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The most significant desktop improvement is the taller taskbar, which combines the functionality of the taskbar and the Quick Launch bar from previous Windows versions. Gadgets no longer live in a sidebar that steals valuable screen space; instead, they can be placed anywhere on the desktop.

See Ed Bott's Microsoft Report blog for more on Windows 7.
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Hover the mouse pointer over a taskbar button to display dynamic thumbnail-sized preview images of all tasks under that button. Hover over one of these thumbnails to display a full-sized preview image—without actually switching to the application. Hovering over an Internet Explorer taskbar button shows each open tab.

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Right-click a taskbar icon to display a “Jump List” of options. Pre¬-Windows 7 applications that use the recent items API (such as all Microsoft Office 2007 applications) display a list of recent documents along with common tasks. Extended APIs in Windows 7 allow developers to add other items, such as favorites or browsing history.

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Gadgets are typically used to show information that you need to glance at, but that doesn’t need to occupy prime screen real estate all the time. To sneak a glance, hover the mouse pointer over the Show Desktop area at the right end of the taskbar; Windows leaves the window outlines onscreen as the desktop and gadgets become visible. As in previous Windows versions, click Show Desktop to minimize all windows.

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Windows 7 introduces “libraries,” which are collections of locations with files. Searching a library lets you expand a search scope beyond a single folder and its subfolders. The addition of links to search tags in the search box makes it easy to construct complex queries without remembering search syntax.

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The search scope can include a SharePoint site. This so-called federated search can combine locations on servers and local drives.

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A library is simply a collection of locations with files. A library may include folders from one or more local drives, network drives, or other locations. In addition to helping with file organization, the library concept makes it easy to expand storage to another drive without moving existing files.

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In Windows Vista, displaying or hiding the Preview pane requires you to click Organize (!), Layout, Preview Pane; in Windows 7, simply click the command bar button. The Views button (as in Vista, it gives you a slider for setting icon size) is nearby.

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The ever expanding galaxy of notification area icons gets corralled in a pop-up box, which appears when you click the arrow at the left end of the taskbar section still best known as the system tray.

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Notification area icons not only add visual clutter, but many annoyingly pop up messages for the most inane reasons. Control the clutter and tame those pop-ups by specifying whether a notification area icon should display its icon, its notifications, or neither.

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System icons that occupy the right end of the notification area can now be controlled from a single dialog box.

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Click the Power icon to display current battery status, select a power plan, and set other power options. The box also suggests changes you can make to maximize battery life.

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A single dialog box now gathers links to four theme components—wallpaper, glass, sounds, and screen saver—and shows previews of available theme collections.

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Setting the text size now has a more intuitive name (this feature is called DPI Scaling in Windows Vista) and a snazzier interface.

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The Display Settings dialog box, which has been largely unchanged since Windows 95, also has a fresh, new look.

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Device Stage provides an intuitive interface for managing a hardware device—but don’t expect to see it looking this good for pre-Windows 7 device drivers.

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In its first overhaul since Windows 95, WordPad (the basic word processor included with Windows) now sports a ribbon interface in the style of Word 2007.

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The capabilities of Paint, the basic image editor included with Windows, remain largely unchanged—but it too now has a ribbon interface.

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The applet with the most visible changes in Windows 7 is the lowly Calculator. It now offers four modes (standard, programmer, scientific, and statistics) and a calculation history window (much like the paper printouts from adding machines of yore). Perhaps most interesting is the new pane on the right side, which can perform date calculations, unit conversions, and various financial calculations.

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Windows Firewall displays its settings for different network profiles in a clear, understandable window. The appropriate profile kicks in automatically when you connect to a network.

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The numerous sharing controls are now gone from Network and Sharing Center, leaving a simpler display with links to all relevant tasks.

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To connect to a wireless network, click the network icon in the notification area. A box pops up that shows all available wireless networks. To connect to one, simply click it, click Connect, and then (if the network requires it) enter your security password.

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Homegroup provide a simple, secure method for sharing documents, music, pictures, other files, and printers with other users on your home network.

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When you create a homegroup, you specify the resources you want to share.

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When you create a homegroup, Windows generates a password. You must enter the password on other computers to join the homegroup.

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Perhaps the most widely anticipated—and welcomed—change to Windows 7 concerns User Account Control (UAC). A slider now lets you control the degree of annoyance you’re willing to endure to increase security.

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Solution Center incorporates the security monitoring items previously found in Security Center, and adds links to troubleshooting and maintenance tasks.

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Reliability Monitor continues to log software installations, crashes, warnings, and other errors tracked over time to generate a 1-to-10 stability score. In Windows 7, Reliability Monitor tracks more types of events, offers new options for viewing and working with the monitored information.

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Backing up and restoring files or complete PC images are tasks for the Backup And Restore Center. In Windows Vista, backup capabilities varied in the consumer and business editions. Microsoft has not yet announced whether all versions of Windows 7 will get the full backup treatment.

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If things really get hosed, you can reinstall Windows using a wizard. You’ll need an installation disc or a recovery partition installed by the computer manufacturer.

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Unlike previous versions of Windows, with Windows 7 you can specify the amount of disk space that System Restore is allowed to use.

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Windows 7 can store logon credentials for websites and servers that require authentication, and it now provides a pretty interface for managing those saved credentials. The same window provides a clean interface to a really obscure (but often necessary) feature: certificate management.

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Windows 7 offers troubleshooting wizards unlike any in previous Windows versions. Accessible from the Solution Center (and, in some instances, from messages that pop up), these wizards ask only a few questions, run some diagnostics, and then, in many cases, resolve the problem. The troubleshooter generates a report that describes the problems encountered and the solution that was applied.

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When you encounter an older program that doesn’t work properly in Windows 7, use the Program Compatibility Troubleshooter. It asks a few questions and then applies a shim that, in most cases, enables the program to run normally.

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BitLocker Drive Encryption protects your files by encrypting an entire drive using strong encryption methods. In the original release of Windows Vista, BitLocker could be used only on the boot drive. Service Pack 1 added the capability to encrypt other hard drives. With Windows 7, you can also encrypt removable drives, such as USB flash drives or external hard drives.

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Hovering the mouse pointer over the Windows Media Player taskbar icon displays a live thumbnail of the item playing. The thumbnail includes basic playback controls.

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This space-saving configuration offers access to every control you need.

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With the new Play To command, you can play media to other PCs and to other digital media receiver (DMR) devices. Depending on the capabilities of the receiver, you can drive the entire process—even including volume control—from a window on your PC.

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Thedark blue background is familiar, but the typeface used in menus is cleaner and more readable.

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Digital media enthusiasts finally get a built-in way to modify Media Center meus without hacking the registry.

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The Media Center desktop gadget can display the names of recently recorded television shows so you know what’s available for viewing.

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No TV tuner? No problem. Settings for the Media Center gadget in Windows 7 support Internet TV as well as shows received via a television tuner card.

See Ed Bott's Microsoft Report blog for more on Windows 7.

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