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Windows 7 Could Wash Away Vista Aftertaste -- or Most of It

Windows 7's Start menu is not too different from Vista's, unfortunately. A welcome change, however, is at the far right end of the taskbar. Windows 7 sweeps the tray clear of icons left by third-party programs to show only vital indicators.
Windows 7's Start menu is not too different from Vista's, unfortunately. A welcome change, however, is at the far right end of the taskbar. Windows 7 sweeps the tray clear of icons left by third-party programs to show only vital indicators. (The Washington Post)
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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Windows 7 is no Windows Vista. But it remains a Windows operating system.

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That is, Microsoft's new release, arriving in stores and on new computers Thursday, ought to turn the troubled Vista into a bad memory. But it shouldn't make people forget about Apple's Mac OS X.

The primary reward that 7 offers to Vista users who shell out for the upgrade -- $119.99 to go from Vista's Home Premium edition to 7 Home Premium -- is better performance.

In particular, upgraders to 7 should see their computers win back some free memory (about 200 megabytes' worth, going by the figures in Windows' Task Manager tool on an HP and Dell laptop) and disk space (about 7 gigabytes even when upgraded to 7's overpriced Ultimate edition, the only kind provided by Microsoft's PR firm). Their computers may start up and shut down faster, although the HP took as long as ever to boot up.

Windows 7 also disciplines Vista's most annoying feature, the "User Account Control" dialog that asks you to confirm that you really want the computer to perform a given task, just in case a virus is trying to take over the system. You'll still get hit with a "UAC" prompt when you install a program, but you should no longer see it during such routine actions as joining a new wireless network.

On its desktop, 7 introduces a new, Mac-like version of the taskbar on the bottom of the screen. Here, the old rectangular taskbar buttons have been condensed to squares that can be rearranged and can point both to open programs and ones you use often -- much like Mac OS X's Dock.

On a computer with enough graphics processing power to run 7's Aero graphics, each open program's taskbar button will also present a pop-up preview of its windows (or, in Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, Web pages you have open in tabs inside its window). A right-click on these buttons brings up "jump list" menus of frequently used commands. These changes combine to allow much more fluid switching between programs than in Vista, let alone XP.

Another welcome shift comes at the far right end of the taskbar. Windows 7 sweeps the tray clear of meaningless icons left by third-party programs to show only such core system-status indicators as the volume control and a laptop's battery gauge.

The Start menu, however, remains the same old mess, though that's also the fault of programmers who ignore Microsoft's software guidelines.

But 7 takes a step back with its new Library folders, a set of prominent shortcuts to all the documents, music, pictures and videos on a computer. On a computer used by only one person who already sticks to the default Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos folders, they're more likely to confuse.

Further confusion may result from Microsoft's decision to remove most of the applications it bundled with Windows Vista. This well-meaning effort to declutter the desktop excises a few programs nobody will miss, but others -- such as Windows Mail -- are widely used.

Worse yet, Microsoft's suggested remedy of free, souped-up "Windows Live" replacements (http://download.live.com) will introduce far more clutter: The Live installer comes preset to install everything from instant-messaging software to a video editor to a blogging tool to a browser toolbar.


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