Microsoft is scheduled to release Windows 7 at the end of October. I've been editing a bunch of articles at work about the upcoming Windows 7 release (based on the release candidate), and I must say that I'm pleased with some of the changes to the OS. Perhaps Microsoft finally got sick of being accused of copying the look and feel of Apple's OSes and hired some new people with new ideas, because these sound to me like bona fide unique additions. Granted, they're mostly bells and whistles, but they're the type of bells and whistles that I love to have fun with. Here are a few things you have to look forward to with Windows 7:
- Slideshow backgrounds: Instead of choosing one picture as a background, you can choose multiple pictures to create a slideshow background. Can it be long before we start seeing animated backgrounds, perhaps based on the trademarked animated screen savers of a decade ago? (I still remember a Disney screen saver in which Goofy physically moved file icons around the desktop, and Donald Duck, descending on a window-cleaner's trolley, painted over everything on the screen in plaid.)
- Aero Shake: This is just a neat idea. Say you have ten different windows open, and you just want to concentrate on one. Click and hold on to that window's title bar and then shake your mouse back and forth, and every window but that one automatically minimizes.
- Aero Snap: This is more than a bell or whistle: drag a window all the way to the left side of the screen, and it automatically docks there and shrinks to half-width. You can then do the same on the right side of the screen with another window, making side-by side windows a breeze with any applications.
- Expanded calculator: I don't know why, if Microsoft is going to take the time to upgrade the built-in calculator, they don't just go all the way and put in a complete graphing calculator. Windows 7's calculator offers Standard mode, your basic desk calculator; Scientific mode, for trigonometric calculations; Programming mode, for dealing with binary, octal, decimal, and hexadecimal calculations; and Statistics mode, for doing linear regressions and other statistical number-crunching. It also includes some special features that normally I would open Excel to calculate, like calculating a mortgage payment, making calculations based on dates, converting among measurement systems, and figuring interest. You can probably treat this like a Gadget by dropping its shortcut in the StartUp folder.
- Adjustable User Account Control settings: Microsoft promises that, even if you don't change a thing, you'll see fewer of those annoying UAC dialog boxes, but they also give you the opportunity to adjust how closely you want the UAC to watch what goes on. You can even turn it completely off.
- New parental settings: You can now set when, what, and how much a child can play on the computer. I'll definitely use this. (I wish Nintendo would build this into the Wii!)
- Frequently accessed/recent documents from the toolbar: From the Windows toolbar (which itself has undergone a facelift), you can access a pop-up window for each application showing a) any open documents or files; and b) a list of recently used or frequently used documents or files — presumably the same type of list that appears in the Office button of any of the Office programs.
- Internet-like search speed with auto suggestions: The online demonstrations of new Windows 7 search feature show it working a lot like Google does now. You start typing in the search box, and as you type, Windows suggests what you might be typing. (Assuming it works this well . . .) This type of searching won't seem "new," but the underlying Windows indexing and search process is supposed to be improved and extremely sped up, making it actually useful.
Although they aren't quite as exciting and/or useful, here are a few other changes you can expect in Windows 7:
- New Aero Glass colors: With Windows Vista,
Microsoft introduced Aero, the translucent window effect. Windows 7 offers more colors for translucency. If you look at the world through rose-colored glasses, you can now look at your computer desktop through rose-colored Aero Glass, as well as a few other colors.
- The Sidebar is gone, but the gadgets stay: Vista came (and no doubt Windows 7 will come) with a slew of gadgets that you could add to the Windows Sidebar — things like an analogue clock, a CPU usage gauge, a slider game, etc. — and plenty more were available online. I, for one, have a piano gadget that lets me play an octave worth of notes. The Windows Sidebar was docked to an edge of the screen and held all those gadgets. In Windows 7, the Sidebar is gone, but the gadgets can stay — they're now free-floating!
No word yet on what the upgrade will cost. The Mac OS X Snow Leopard upgrade hits shelves this week for a mere $29. Dare I dream that Microsoft will attempt to compete with this price? Would a $24.99 Windows 7 upgrade be too much to ask?