Now that Windows 7 is available to the general public I decided it was time to introduce it to my environment. In years past, I was typically eager to live on the bleeding edge. Now, I’m a little more relaxed, willing to learn from other’s teething pains, and avoid adopting features that might significantly change or be dropped by the time the final version popped out. Even so, adopting Windows 7 the week it came out might still cause others to feel I’m on the bleeding edge. Let’s just say I’ve allowed the edge to dull…a tad.
If you want an in-depth review of every Windows component, along with myriad opinions, I’d encourage you to check out someplace like TechRepublic. My following observations are directed toward those of you with a more casual affair with your PC.
Windows Backup and Restore
For a long time, Windows provided a hook for you to install a third-party Backup solution. Later Windows began providing its own Backup and Restore functions albeit seriously handicapped. With Vista, I used the Backup and Restore function extensively. It worked very well with one exception. Typically I configured Vista to backup to a network drive in the wee hours of the night.
However, if the PC could not do the backup (e.g. laptop was off overnight), it would kick in sometime during your work day. Here’s the problem. Backup writes to the storage location in batches, often leaving the system completely unresponsive for 15-30 seconds at a time, every couple minutes.
Now, with Windows 7 Backup, you really can continue working while Backup executes, without any observed impact—a true increase in productivity.
Libraries are an idea whose time has come. In short, a ‘library’ is collection of documents whose locations are user-defined. In prior versions of Windows (i.e. by default) only certain folders were indexed for fast searches, such as My Documents, My Pictures, and the like. If you stored your content elsewhere, your search experience may not be so hot.
With a Windows 7 Library, you can specify any and all locations where you keep your content, including external drives and network drives. Now, your ‘Documents’ can be defined to include c:\users\YourName\Documents; d:\second drive of stuff; \\neworkpc\yetmorestuff\ docs; and, so on. When you do a library search all these locations are automatically investigated.
Ok, so you’re going, I just don’t get it, why the fuss? Here’s where it may help most people. Let’s say you keep content on your laptop, you keep archival copies on your server, and possibly you waffle where to stick other files…sometimes on the laptop and sometimes on the server. When you search for the file you may invariably end up doing multiple searches: Once on your laptop; once again on your server; and, perhaps yet again for other computers or server shares. With Windows 7 Libraries you simply add these locations to the library definition and it’ll search everything for you in a single search.
Already, this has proven a real aid for me. I keep working content on my laptop. My businesses documents (e.g. letters to clients) quickly migrate to a server shares. And, family-oriented content resides in yet another location. While I’m more disciplined than many, I still find myself looking into each ‘bucket’ from time to time.
Now, I use Windows Search, from either the Start menu, or within Explorer, and the files are located about as fast as I can type into the search window. Windows 7 includes four default libraries: Documents, Pictures, Videos and Music. Not having to think about where I’ve stored content prior to a search is, for me, yet another meaningful productivity improvement.
In general I find Win7 just ‘feels’ smoother than did Vista. While I personally never had the level of angst experienced by many, I do like how it simply ‘feels’ smoother while also requiring a marketedly reduced memory footprint. Boot up time seems about the same as with Vista, but shutdown for my system is significantly quicker.
The installation was completely seamless, requiring (I didn’t count) perhaps a half-dozen mouse clicks to execute, start-to-end. Granted, mine was an upgrade from Vista on a year-old machine; an ideal situation. Even so, if all software installed this seamlessly—let alone an OS upgrade—no one would fear installs again. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well all settings migrated forward, including things I fully expected would get obliterated. The only thing I had to do was manually install a new Win7 audio driver. To be honest, I had expected to spend an hour on the PC maker’s website downloading and installing Win7 drivers. If there were a downside, it was that it took over two hours to complete…but that’s a nit.
Jump Lists are likely to be another big positive. The Quick Launch bar is gone. Instead, you are able to ‘pin’ desired apps to the taskbar. For individual apps, you can also pin frequently used files. Now, you can right-click on the app icon, pick the desired document and it’ll launch the app and load the file all at once. Nice.
There are some files I access 30 times a day, files you may not want left open all day such as your password file. This little feature makes for a dramatic decrease in mouse clicks or keystrokes (if you use short-keys). Again, another positive productivity boost.
Windows Sidebar, be gone!
Like gadgets, but didn’t like having them constrained within the sidebar? Here’s some good news for you then. The sidebar is gone and, yes, you can put your gadgets wherever you want on the desktop. While I find I tend to still keep them in the same general area (e.g. off to the top-right) not having the sidebar constraint is a nice plus. Perhaps you will recognize one new need as quickly as I did: I’d like to be able to do a window-selection, and move them as a group. From what I’ve seen, you have to relocate them individually.
Certain applications, e.g. Backup, show progress right on the taskbar…without your having to leave the progress meter visible on desktop or specifically go look for it.
The Notes gadget(s) in the past just didn’t work for me: too small, stuck in the sidebar, unnatural to use. Outlook’s notes weren’t ubiquitously available across the system. And, MS OneNote was very good in many regards, but a bit ‘heavy’ for simply doing the daily task list or quickly jotting down temporary thoughts. In contrast, the new Sticky Notes in Windows 7 thus far seems to be doing a real good job for me. It ‘feels’ more like a sticky note…digitally speaking…than any of the other predecessors. Time will tell, but so far, so good.
Wrapping it up for now…
If you’re a Vista user and you spend 5 minutes playing with Windows 7 at your local computer store, you’ll likely come away feeling its, ‘…just Vista with 5% visual tweaks.’ Its not until after you spend some time getting to know it, actually using it, that you really do come away appreciating just how much has improved.
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