Wednesday, April 15, 2009

6 Things That Rock and 6 Ways To Improve Windows 7

I have been playing around with Windows 7 for a week, and I like it a lot. After the disaster that was Vista, this OS release is going to be a big hit for Microsoft. It was voted Engadget's readers' most anticipated gadget of 2009, although ironically, it is not supposed to be launched until next year. But, there are whispers it could be ready to go in September and you will be able to get a hold of the Release Candidate in May.

To other such illustrious lists as the 30 best features of Windows 7, 7 things we hate about Windows 7 and 50 seriously useful Windows 7 tips, I add my own 6 things that rock and 6 ways to improve Windows 7.

6 Things That Rock About Windows 7

1) It fixes up things the things that suck about Vista. The sluggishness and slowness of the system are gone. It has lower requirements for hardware which means it will work well on netbooks. The drivers are the same, so no driver nightmares on upgrade. You have more control over the granularity of User Access Control alerts so you can get rid of all those annoying security messages.

2) It improves performance. Faster startup, better SSD performance, better netbook performance, and longer battery life. Windows 7 beats XP and Vista on most benchmark tests.

3) It has much improved usability. The new taskbar aka the "superbar" is redesigned and works great. The quick launch icons and running programs icons are now combined which takes up less space. New features including Aero shake, Aero peek, new keyboard shortcuts, and dragging windows to the top to maximize or to the side to fit half the screen make it much easier to arrange and navigate windows. Windows 7 also gives you more control of what shows up in the system tray, and much better WiFi connection control.

4) It allows for instant search from the start menu. This actually came with Vista, but as a XP user was new to me (and has been improved since Vista as well). Now you can just click the Windows key and start typing to find/launch applications. Works great. I wanted to change the font size and had no idea where in Control Panel that ability hid. All I had to do was start typing "font size", and up came the option to launch. No more need to use the Run option, as you can just type the command in the search box. Also, instead of digging in the Start Menu to find an application, now you just starting typing its name to launch it.

5) Rotating Desktop. You can set your desktop image to rotate on an interval. This is a simple feature, but it is really nice to have something new showing up every 1/2 an hour.

6) Miscellaneous upgrades of applications, new applications and new features. Updated IE8 browser is a nice step forward and so is the updated calculator. Big ups as well for the new Problem Step Recorder and PowerShell. The new multi-monitor support, Multi-Touch, and device stage features are also nice as well.

6 Ways To Improve Windows 7

1) Bring an end to the Narrowscreen discrimination. Windows 7 should include a few desktop images for screens that are aligned vertically, and also add keyboard shortcuts/dragging to the top or a side to tile windows vertically. On a related note, Microsoft should make the taskbar vertical by default on widescreen monitors to take advantage of all that wasted horizontal space.

2) Add the ability to put directories directly on the taskbar. I would like to have "My Documents" and "My Music" as icons on the taskbar, but that isn't possible. You can only have one Windows Explorer icon, with different directories as options on the right click "jump list" menu. This isn't good enough. Also, I would like an icon on the taskbar for recently opened files so I can get to them quickly as well.

3) Add keyboard shortcuts for Sleep (Win-S) and Hibernate (Win-H). In XP you could do Win-U-S for Stand by (Sleep). They got rid of this, so now you have to some "Win-right arrow, right arrow, up, up, enter" nonsense. At least once a day I put my machine into sleep or hibernate mode and I want a really quick way to do this. I think most people use these modes frequently, so I am not sure why there is no keyboard shortcut to do so.

4) Add the ability to grab images off the Internet for the Desktop Slideshow. The rotating desktop is great, but I would like to enter a URL to a Flickr stream and get new random images showing up all the time.

5) Create an Update Center for all applications. While Microsoft has improved the updating process for Windows, Microsoft software and hardware drivers, software updates from other vendors are still a mess. Every vendor has their own damn updater that runs on its own schedule, that downloads updates in its own way, that may or may not give you any control over when and how it installs them (which in many cases is a brute force method of a complete uninstall followed by a complete new install). Google does it one way, Adobe another, Firefox a third way. Each updater takes up memory, runs when you don't want it to, and may require you to reboot to complete.

It is a basic feature of all applications to do updates and Microsoft should offer a uniform way at the OS level to handle it. Give me a place where I can specify when I want to check for updates and how I want them applied. Give me a notification in the system tray when something new is available and give me the option to install it when I want to. Microsoft should use this as a business opportunity to host the application updates of software vendors do they don't have to deal with it.

6) Add a Windows App Store. Microsoft should steal Apple's App Store idea and integrate it into Windows. All Apps in the store would be tested by Microsoft to be virus free and verify the drivers won't blue screen your machine. You would put your credit card information on file, so that you could just open up the Microsoft Store application, find an application you want to buy, and then with a single click download and install it (or possibly one screen with information to fill out as to how to install it). Like the Apple App Store, this will allow developers to sell small applications at a low price and still make significant revenue off of it. Microsoft could sell their own "micro apps" this way.

You can see a precursor to this with Windows Gadgets. The problem with this is that there are many useful apps, there are few (no?) paid applications, and installing a new gadget requires 5 clicks! Make the process simple and people will use it. Small games that cost a few bucks would be big sellers. Diagnostic apps would also be big.

Sure you can currently download applications from the web, but the whole process is convoluted. First you have to find the right page to download from. Second, if it isn't free, you have to find out how to pay and enter your credit card somewhere. Third, you have to wait for some stupid code to be emailed to you. Forth, you have to download and save the installer somewhere. Fifth, you have to find it on your machine and double click on it. Sixth, you have to go through some dumb installer that looks and acts slightly differently then every other installer out there. Finally, you have to click on the application to launch it and enter your secret code. This process sucks and makes installing new Windows applications a pain. A unified simple way to do this would make more people want to install (and purchase) applications.

More about Windows 7 can be found in these reviews from Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Engadget, Engadget (again), and HowToGeek. If that isn't enough for you, here are all the Windows 7 posts from Gizmodo, Lifehacker and Engadget.

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