Keen to know what features are new in Windows 7? Or why many people say they like it so much? There’s plenty of information available on the web, but here are our own ‘Top Ten’ best Windows 7 features, starting from 10th place…
10. Better backup & restore.
To be fair, older versions of Windows did come with a really quite powerful backup program, but it was so nasty to use that few actually mastered it, plus it was never geared up for todays backup media. Windows 7 Backup & Restore is so simple there is almost no excuse not to use it for personal backups to a network share or external Hard Drive for example. This feature – long overdue – doesn’t get any higher up this list though for one simple reason. It’s a HUGE missed opportunity – if only it could backup mapped drives it would be the best new feature…why bother buying a tape drive and expensive server software when you can run a server backup to an encrypted partition of one of your regular laptops? Sadly, this is not possible using Windows 7 Backup and we suspect this is because it might tread on too many toes (although if you are interested, another app, Karens Replicator, from www.karenware.com will do the job instead).
9. Easier to install & join to servers.
Notice that I didn’t say ‘Upgrade’ here! No doubt it will be easy to migrate from one version of Windows 7 to another, but there is no direct migration path from XP to Windows 7 – you would have to do a clean install (i.e. wipe the XP machine) for that. Technically, you can upgrade from Vista to 7 (provided you have the right licence of course) but early experience is that this is messy and time-consuming. Besides, why bother? If you want to give 7 a fair crack of the whip, then don’t force it to work with Vista’s baggage! Upgrading aside, we have installed 7 from a boot image in less than 15 minutes and even the DVD version is quicker to deploy than XP. Joining to servers is a cinch with DomainJoin too! Overall its great news for network admins – and allows ESP to repair computers quicker than ever!
8. Built-in troubleshooting that works
Windows XP liked to go online before being unable to resolve your problem. Vista wasn’t much better. It could also hunt around on your computer for half an hour before telling you that the bug was, in fact, Somebody Else’s Problem. With Windows 7, there are a myriad of troubleshooting wizards and helpers, all brought together under the banner of ‘Action Center’ (see also our 5th place feature). Best of all, a lot of the time they do seem to work! And if they don’t, they’ll still keep a record of the problem on your system, which you can come back to for new fixes at any time.
7. BranchCache & DirectAccess.
OK, so we haven’t actually tried these yet, but if they work as well as other features in Windows 7 then we already have a demand for them. For years, remote access to servers or multi-site working has been a nightmare without leased lines. VPN’s are notoriously flaky. Even good-old terminal server is a pain to configure, expensive and frankly it was never intended for the kind of thing people use it for in the absence of a better way. With these two new features (sadly only available in Enterprise & Ultimate editions), seamless remote access and multi-site working is within reach of the most modest of budgets, as well as being easier for the techies to implement & maintain.
6. BitLocker drive encryption.
BitLocker is a powerful yet very easy to use tool for encrypting a disk (making it unreadable in the event of being lost or stolen) without the intended user of the computer noticing any difference. Sadly again this is only available in the rarer ‘Enterprise’ and ‘Ultimate’ editions of Windows 7, but BitLocker can be set up in minutes and is ideal for Laptops that are used out in the field. Moreover, in conjunction with a Windows Server 2008, network administrators can force USB flash drives to be encrypted too! This could finally spell the end of those worrying headlines about the loss of personal data.
5. Less irritating messages
Both Windows Vista and Windows XP were guilty of bombarding you with endless system tray messages from a variety of applications. The by-now familiar ‘beige bubble’ used to warn about everything under the sun from Adobe Reader needs to be updated (again!) to “Isn’t it about time you had a proper haircut?” Now, a lot of this has been cut out. Best of all, all of the second fiddle stuff is grouped together under one innocuous-looking icon. Anything important is bumped over to the ‘Action Center’ icon, also in the system tray. Result: few – if any – interruptions, and you can always dip into the Action Center if and when you have the time to attend to such things.
4. “Click the Windows button and then type…”
One of the best things about Windows 7 is the search facility first introduced under Vista actually works now. XP users will be unfamiliar with this, but essentially if you click the Windows button (formerly the Start button) and then start typing, Windows 7 will instantly start pulling together a normally handy list of what you might be looking for. Crucially, it looks at system functions as well as files, favourites and emails. Want to scan something but can’t remember how? Type ‘scan’ and instantly you have list of associated things including sensibly-named scanning wizards, information about installed scanners, and links to your previously scanned files. Pretty much anything can be found this way, meaning not only that files can be found quickly, but that advanced settings and features that are usually buried within submenus can be invoked without hassle.
3. The new taskbar.
Two of the most fundamental tasks of any operating system are the ability to open programs and switch between those programs. Why is it that XP makes this so hard? To do the former, you usually end up minimising a whole load of stuff before clicking a shortcut on the desktop or ploughing through nested menus, trying desperately to recall the name of the software company because you just know that it will be installed as if the developer deserved a menu in their own right! In terms of switching between programs in XP, reading the titles of the windows in your taskbar (at the bottom of the screen) is a pain and if you have multiple Word documents or IE tabs open, heaven help you find the one you want from the unhelpfully-named stack of ‘Microsoft Word Document(3’)! With the new Windows 7 taskbar, these are things of the past. You get a preview of what’s on all of those windows when you hover on the taskbar, and you can launch a program from there without reverting to menus or the desktop. What’s more, the system is so intuitive you are guaranteed to be able to learn it in less than 5 minutes and will wonder how on earth you coped with anything else.
2. Faster, faster, faster!
Windows 7 just seems like lightning compared to Vista and in all likelihood is faster than XP was in its heyday. It’s official system requirements seem realistic and rather than the pie in the sky figure realised for Vista. It works on older kit too – you definitely don’t need to buy a new PC on technical grounds. It also does a fantastic job of unlocking the huge amounts of RAM and CPU power in modern computing in a way that Vista was never able to do….time lag is rare in our experience, everything just seems slicker and quicker! It really is a pleasure to use, even on 2 year old hardware.
1. The number one feature of Windows 7 is undoubtedly that fact that I have started to like my computer again. Vista was a disaster, and at every click of the mouse it drained the optimism out of me. I was sick of staring at that blasted timer symbol and trying to fathom confusing messages and impenetrable control panel settings. It seemed to ooze with “Do I Haaaave Toooo?” teenage apathy. My Windows 7 experience on the other hand has been exactly the opposite. Something about it ‘just works’. You pick it up quickly, and learn to trust it as each click builds your confidence. “Go with the flow”, it seems to say. “You’re in control – don’t worry about me!” is the sentiment coming from the computer as it effortlessly opens a 7th application… Sweeeet!