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What to look for in Windows 7

In this gallery and the accompanying blog post, Ed Bott walks you through the main features in Windows 7 and explains the best ways for you to evaluate the changes.
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1 of 34 Ed Bott/ZDNet
By Ed Bott
What's the best way to approach Windows 7? Start by throwing away preconceptions from earlier Windows versions and approach the new OS with an open mind. That's the best way to decide whether to incorporate Windows 7 into your home or business PCs. In this gallery, I highlight some features you'll want to pay special attention to.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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In Vista, this measurement of system performance was capped at 5.9 for each of five measurements. In Windows 7, the top of the scale moves up to 7.9 (check the top two numbers here) and the individual tests are much more intensive.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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This diagnostic tool was introduced in Vista and gets a major overhaul in Windows 7. On the CPU tab, for instance, you can drill down into details about exactly which Registry keys and modules are being used by a running process, including system services. The graphs on the right let you spot performance issues at a glance.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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Action Center is a completely new feature in Windows 7, designed to consolidate various alerts and status messages into a single location. In this view, you can see a pair of color-coded alerts. I’ve expanded the Maintenance section to show options that are normally hidden.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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The old-school Device Manager is still available for those who prefer its stark tabbed simplicity. This new view, called Devices and Printers, is designed to filter that view so it shows devices you’re most likely to need to interact with.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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When I plugged in this portable MP3 player and clicked its icon in Devices and Printers, I was pleasantly surprised to see this custom interface. It’s especially appropriate for media players, phones, scanners, and other devices that typically require user interaction to sync or manage.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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If a device doesn’t appear to have driver support after you complete setup, just wait. Even at this early stage, there are thousands of Windows 7-compatible drivers available via Windows Update, and updates are delivered regularly for crucial categories like network card and display adapters.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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Alas, fully functional multi-touch drivers aren’t available yet, but even the basic drivers enable tablet and touch functions that are significantly improved from Vista (and light-years ahead of XP Tablet PC Edition 2005). Note the automatic spelling suggestions at the top of the keyboard here. Imagine this interface on a small, light netbook with a touch screen.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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In this shot, I have three Windows Explorer windows open at once. When I point to the Windows Explorer icon on the taskbar, it displays these live previews. Pointing to the first preview, as I’ve done here, brings that window to the front and hides all others, leaving “wire frames” where they are located. Click once more to switch to the window, or move the mouse away to return to where you were.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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The thumbnail previews (top) are not just static snapshots. They’re live displays, and in fact you can watch a high-def movie play in the thumbnail. Jump lists (bottom) appear when you right-click a taskbar button. They include pinned locations or documents, recently used items, and (as in the Media Player example on the right) common tasks.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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By default, Windows 7 hides new icons in the Notification area along the right side of the taskbar (aka the system tray), showing only a few crucial system icons. The rest are in a corral accessible by clicking an up arrow next to the leftmost tray icon. If you want an icon always visible, you can drag it from the corral to the tray directly, or use this dialog box to manage all available icons.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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The RC build of Windows 7 includes the seven Aero themes shown here. You can build your own easily, by mixing the four items from the bottom of the dialog box and then clicking the Save Theme link. The support for multiple desktop backgrounds (changing at timed intervals) lets you build a personalized theme using favorite photos.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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By default, the Windows 7 taskbar uses large icons with no text to indicate running programs as well as those you’ve “pinned” to the taskbar for quick access. Shading options help you see which programs are running and which have multiple windows open. If you prefer XP/Vista style buttons with text labels, adjust the Taskbar Buttons option shown here. The result (bottom) uses more space but might be easier for you to work with.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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If you’re moving from XP to 7, this will be one of the most overwhelming changes. The navigation bar on the left is reorganized to highlight common locations and favorites. The center (contents) pane has several extra views plus grouping options. Metadata in the details pane (bottom) is fully editable. And that preview pane on the right can be toggled on or off with a click of the button just above it.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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If the new Navigation pane is too radical a change, you can switch it back so it's closer to an old-school folder tree. Right-click any empty space in the pane and then click Show All Folders on the shortcut menu, as shown on the left here. That immediately changes the pane so it looks like the one on the right. Click the arrow to the left of the Favorites node to collapse it and use folders exclusively.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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The most important function of a library is to aggregate content from multiple locations into a single virtual folder. This Music library, for instance, gathers music files from two local folders and one shared folder on a Windows Home Server. Using the drop-down menu at the top right, I can then change the view to organize the files (using metadata such as album and artist, here, or authors and file types in a documents library). Using this view, I can search for files, and the buttons on the Command Bar allow me to play my selection or burn it to a CD.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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Every Windows user is familiar with the standard folder views in Windows Explorer—Details, Large Icons, Tiles, and so on. This Contents view is new in Windows 7 and is best suited for search results. In this case, I entered a search term (kentucky) in the box at the top right. The highlighted results pack in copious amounts of detail, and the search result is highlighted in each one.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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In Windows Vista, the Search window includes a complex pane, normally hidden, that you can use to choose search criteria. It’s gone in Windows 7. To pick criteria from lists, you click in the Search box and use a search filter. When you click a filter (the selection of filter types varies depending on the type of data) you get a list drawn from the dataset you’re using. For dates, a search filter uses the powerful calendar control shown here. If you’re reviewing the Windows 7 RC, make sure you try this feature.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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As with Windows Vista, you can search for content anywhere on your computer by entering terms in the Search box at the bottom of the Start menu. In Windows 7, the list of results is much richer. Each category shows the top results and includes a number in parentheses showing the total number of results. Each heading is a live link as well; click it to open Windows Explorer with your search terms applied to that item type, whether it’s music files, Outlook items, or documents.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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Just for fun, compare the Windows Firewall settings dialog box for Windows XP and Vista with the one shown here. It does a good job of displaying current settings and providing links to common tasks in the pane on the left.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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Windows 7 Ultimate and Enterprise editions support BitLocker disk encryption. New in Windows 7 is a feature called BitLocker To Go, which allows you to encrypt the entire contents of a USB flash drive or other removable device. If it’s lost or stolen, the thief will be unable to access the data without the password. To start, right-click the flash drive and use this shortcut menu.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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Adding BitLocker encryption requires you to enter a password (or use smart-card credentials). After entering a strong password, click the Start Encrypting button. The actual time it takes varies depending on how much data is on the drive. Any additional files you copy to this drive in the future will automatically be encrypted on the fly.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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When you attach a flash drive whose contents have been encrypted using BitLocker To Go, it appears in the Computer window with a key icon, as shown here. Double-clicking the drive icon opens the dialog box shown here. Enter your password and click Unlock to gain access to the data. Although you can create and manage a BitLocker-encrypted volume only on Windows 7 Ultimate, you can open, add, and delete files from any retail edition of Windows 7, including Home Premium.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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You’ve used BitLocker drive encryption to protect the contents of a USB flash drive. So what happens if you insert that drive into a PC running Windows XP or Vista? In that case, Windows displays the dialog box shown here. When you enter the correct password, the contents appear in the BitLocker To Go Reader, shown here. As the name suggests, you can copy and open files from this location, but you can’t add new files or change or delete existing one. (The BitLocker To Go Reader does not work with OS X; to read an encrypted drive on a Mac, it must be running Windows.)
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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With business editions of Windows 7, you can install an add-on that allows you to run Windows XP in a virtual machine. Any application you install on that virtual copy of XP is published to your Start menu. Using the shortcuts shown here, you can open a program running under XP on the Windows 7 desktop.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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With business editions of Windows 7, you can install an add-on that allows you to run Windows XP in a virtual machine. Any application you install on that virtual copy of XP is published to your Start menu. Using the shortcuts shown here, you can open a program running under XP on the Windows 7 desktop.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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Although XP Mode gets all the attention, the work is being done by a new version of Windows Virtual PC. If you’ve got enough memory (and if your CPU supports hardware virtualization and that option is enabled in the BIOS), you can create multiple virtual machines for different tasks. The settings here are for the included, licensed copy of Windows XP.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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Although XP Mode does a good job of hiding its virtual roots most of the time, they do pop up occasionally. Confusing dialog boxes like the two shown here might appear when you’re not even aware a virtual machine is running.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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Homegroups are a fascinating (and potentially confusing) feature available only between Windows 7 PCs connected over a local area network. When you attach a new PC to a network that already has a homegroup set up, you’re prompted to join, with the option to adjust sharing as shown here.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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All the PCs that have joined a homegroup show up in Windows Explorer under this navigation heading. In this case, I’m browsing the shared music library on a different PC. Using the search box (upper right corner) I’ve set up a search filter using an album name. The results show up immediately in the contents pane.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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Clicking the wireless icon in the Notification area pulls up a list like this, showing available access points with signal strength for each one. Let the mouse pointer hover over any item to see details in a ScreenTip like the one shown here.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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In Windows 7, Media Center adds a new killer feature called Movie Library. Designate the local or network folders that contain movies—ripped in DVD format or as H.264 files—and they’ll display here, along with any movies from your Recorded TV folder. You can even stream ripped DVDs across a network using an Xbox 360 or Media Center Extender.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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This feature never fails to impress anyone who sees it. Go into the Setting menu in Media Center and tell it how to find your favorite pictures—using star ratings, or the date, or the contents of a specific folder. Then go back to the main Media Center menu and wait for the screensaver to kick in. Photos in this layout move to the forefront and switch smoothly from B&W to color. If you’ve been diligent about rating your photos, the results are especially satisfying.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.
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If you have a TV tuner in one Windows 7 PC, you can watch the programs it records using Windows Media Center on another PC over the network. The three shows in this library are from a different PC and were recorded in HD using a digital ATSC tuner. You can also push the More Info button (or right-click) and make a local copy using the shortcut menu. That option is handy if your goal is to fill a notebook hard drive with movies and TV to watch on a plane or in a hotel room.
This gallery is a companion piece for my in-depth review of Windows 7 based on the final release candidate. Be sure to read "What to expect from Windows 7" to get the full story.

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