A few of my Favorite Windows 7 Features

2009-September-27

I was able to gain early access to Microsoft's new Windows 7 via the Microsoft Developer Network Academic Alliance that my university has, and I've got to say I'm incredibly impressed with it. A week or so ago I finally got around to backing up all of my data and reformatting the ThinkPad T400, then reinstalling everything and putting my data back onto it. As a result of all of that, I now have a few favorite features.

  1. The Dockbar 
    The Dockbar is really useful. I love a lot of different things about it, such as the fact that they've combined the functions of the quicklaunch tray and the actual taskbar area, along with having provided a few new views for the way applications with multiple windows work, and the way you can launch multiple applications. Because my system works with Aero, it's glorious. (Although to be fair, most of the functionality is available without Aero, it just looks better with Aero.) Additionally, I love that the notification area only shows the icons of utmost importance all of the time. Additionally, some applications like iTunes do gain some quite nice additions that are usable from their dockbar preview. 


  2. Sticky Notes 
    Stickies were a great concept in the old Mac OS, and when they moved into the dashboard with Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger," I was somewhat disappointed, because they were hidden from view, and quite honestly, 90% of the time I disable dashboard on my Macs anyway. In Windows 7, Sticky Notes never prompt you to save, and will automatically launch once you've instantiated one or two of them. The Sticky Notes were there in Vista, but they were a part of the somewhat resource-intensive sidebar apparatus.


  3. Connecting to Wireless Networks 
    Connecting to wireless networks in Windows 7 is nothing short of a glorious experience. When I un-sleep my machine and I'm not connected to an ethernet network, almost immediately I'm told in the notification area that wireless networks are available. I simply click on the notification area and choose the network I want to connect to. It connects, and then quite helpfully informs me that further action may be required. "Would you like to open your web browser?" it asks. Simply great. That's excellent excellent refinement if there ever has been some in Windows.

  4. calc.exe 
    The new calc.exe is just... "omg." Not only have they finally updated the interface (beyond allowing the standard Windows widgets carry it into a contemporary style), but they have added a whole host of cool new features such as unit conversion, date calculation, and fuel efficiency worksheets. 
  5. Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media 
    One of my biggest pet-peeves has always been that when I try to eject some hardware, Windows is using it, but it won't tell you what's using it, or even in what capacity it's being used. Also, you need to guess which of your 7 "USB Storage Device" is the flash drive hooked up to the left side of your machine you need to pass along to a friend. In Windows 7, it's all different. You see the exact device name and the name of the volume that's mounted on it, plus its drive letter. Additionally it shows things like the removable bay modules on my ThinkPad, and the entire docking station. The only thing I'd say that I wish this could do, but it currently doesn't, is to actually identify devices that are connected to the machine physically via the docking station (such as when I'm using my 750GB hard disk) as compared with directly to the machine (as with my flash drive.) However, I'm not too broken up about this, purely because the machine makes a conscious effort to eject everything when you undock it. It may even know where things are physically plugged in, but just doesn't tell you in this display.


  6. Excellent handling of multiple displays 
    One of the things Mac users always have had as a bit of an advantage is that their machines handle multiple displays excellently. Until Windows XP, it was nigh on impossible to get multiple displays even hooked up to a PC, and even in XP, I dislike dealing with it on a regular basis, unless the software of the machine can handle it for me. (IBM/Lenovo's ThinkVantage Presentation Director comes to mind.) In Windows 7, I simply invoke my laptop's displays command, and Windows 7's new presentation director comes up, allowing the choice between 4 different common display modes, all of which match up exactly to ways I would want to use my machine. It works great especially with the docking station. With a VGA display hooked up to the dock, when I close the lid on my ThinkPad, the main display moves out to the VGA monitor. 


  7. Waking from sleep as fast if not faster than a Mac 
    I can't really provide a screenshot of this, I may try to get a video of it, but suffice it to say that it had been about a week since I started using Windows 7, and I suddenly noticed that I had started grabbing my laptop all the time. In the past, I'll admit that my ThinkPads have often taken an incredibly long time to enter and exit their sleep mode. There was even a time with the R61i where it wasn't reliably able to enter sleep, so I had to wait several minutes for it to write all three gigabytes of its memory to hard disk, each time I was done with class or work. I'm not even exaggerating, however, when I say that Windows 7 wakes from sleep as fast as the Macs I've seen running around lately. I have even considered changing the lid behavior for non-docked operation to allow it to enter and exit sleep mode more often.

  8. Snapping Window Management 
    I don't know whether or not there is anybody else gushing over this as much as I am, but let me just say that this has changed how I do a lot of things on a daily basis. It makes me more willing to use 100% of my display capacity for applications because I can have my SSH session with Tacgnol open on one side, and a Word document, web page or class notes open on the other side. As you can see below, here, all you need to do is drag a window to either the right or left side in order to make it take up exactly half of the screen. The feature is lacking in that you can't automatically split the display into quadrants, which may be useful for significantly larger displays. It also doesn't seem to have the ability to split the display horizontally instead of vertically, but it's a great start and I expect that either in a service pack, with some settings or in the next major version, this window management system will mature significantly.


As I come across more things, which I inevitably will, I'll either update this post, or just make new posts/notes about them.