Almost every major version of Windows has changed the way that users can access their files and documents – mostly for the better. Windows 7 is no exception and you now get quite a revamped look of Explorer and other enhancements.
First off, all the “My” prefixes from the common folders like “My Computer”, “My Documents”, etc have all gone. They are now simply “Computer”, “Documents” etc. However, there are backward compatible Junction Points that maintain the old path as well. You can reach these in the usual \\Users\\Username profile area. When you do open up Explorer, you get a cleaner version of the Explorer window that was available in Vista. Most of the common tasks are put up in the top text-based toolbar making it easy to reach and work with. And even more importantly, you now easily see a preview of any registered file in Explorer itself by clicking the Show the Preview Pane. You can view a preview of any selected file whose file type is registered in Explorer. So you can go ahead and preview text, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and even play media files like AVI and WMV in the preview pane itself. Although this feature was available in Vista as well, Explorer did not provide any easy way of showing the preview. In Windows 7, the preview pane is just a click away.
|Viewing a Word file in the Preview Pane||Playing a media file in the Preview Pane|
Another change that has taken place is that the left pane in any Explorer window is quite different from the one in Vista. Instead of holding the favorite folders and a tree-view of the system it now holds many more and useful things. The favorite folders and system folder tree continue to exist. You also get a list of Libraries and a link to you HomeGroup and the network you are connected to. So what exactly are these items?
The major new improvement in Explorer is the new concept of Libraries. A library is a collection of folders across your entire system or network which you can look at in a single view. For instance, I may like storing different types of documents in different places – like articles I write in d:\\Articles, my presentations in c:\\Trainings, my financial documents in my Documents\\Finance and so on. However, there may be many times I want to get a consolidated list of all my documents. This is where a Library comes in.
|Including a selected folder into a Library||Setting the default save location for a library|
Windows 7 comes with a number of Libraries pre-configured – such as Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos. Each of these can point to many different folders across your entire system. So the Documents library can actually point to all the folders I mentioned earlier and opening this in Explorer shows me a consolidated view of everything. The really nice part is that I can add and customize any library to suit me.
|Viewing the Downloads Library in Folder view mode||Viewing the HomeGroup password|
Let's take an example. I store all files downloaded via BitTorrent in d:\\downloads. All files downloaded from within my browser goes into c:\\Users\\Vinod\\Downloads. And files downloaded from IRC goes into c:\\Users\\Vinod\\AppData\\Mirc\\Downloads. Normally, I'd need to either change each app to ensure that they save into the same download folder or remember where I downloaded something. With Libraries all that needs to be done is create a new Library called “Downloads” and include each of these folders into the library. This can be easily done by selecting the folder and using a menu option.
|Configuring what you wish to share in the HomeGroup||Burn an ISO directly from Explorer|
When you now open the Downloads library you will see the contents of all the folders together. You can choose to view them folder wise, side to side or combined. You can also move stuff between folders in the same library very easily. And one other customization that you can do is select the Default Save Location. Simply click the “Includes: x library locations” and in the dialog select the folder in the library you wish to use for default. So anytime you select the library when saving any file, it will automatically default to this chosen folder. You can also add or remove other library folders from this dialog.
|Connecting to a wireless network directly in the network list|
Home Group & Networking
A new feature in Windows 7 is the ability to create a Home Group of computers and have stuff shared across all of them. Take this as a networked version of Libraries, to put it simply. A Home Group can be defined at the time of Windows 7 setup itself or even later. The options for this are available in Control Panel.
When you setup a HomeGroup, it requires that you have a network connection that is designated of “Home” type. When this is found, Windows 7 generates a strong password for you and displays this. All other computers on the same HomeGroup share the same password. So each machine requires the user to enter this same password when setting up their own HomeGroup. Once this is done, each machine can “share” different things to other computers on the same HomeGroup – for instance, Pictures, Media or documents and even devices such as printers. These now will be made available under the HomeGroup icon in Windows Explorer and accessible without requiring to login to the other machine. Of course, this is not a replacement for enterprise Domains – rather it has been made to ease the usage of networking in homes with multiple machines.
Another small but very welcome change is that connecting to a wireless network has become much easier. Simply clicking the network icon in the Notification Area shows a list of wireless networks and selecting it in the list directly allows you connect to it.
There are a bunch of smaller but nice changes all over. You could burn files to a CD/DVD in Vista as well. However, in Windows 7 you can simply click on an ISO file to burn it as well. I find myself not requiring any other CD/DVD burning software these days.
You also get new Aero features called Peek, Snap and Shake.
Aero Peek allows you to quickly Peek at the non-foreground window either by hovering over its Taskbar thumbnail, or (RC or higher) pressing Alt-Tab to the window and pausing for a tiny time. Aero Snap lets you drag a window by its title bar and “throw” it to the left or right sides of the desktop where it “snaps” into place. You can easily snap two windows to each side and compare the contents of each. Aero Shake lets you grab the title bar of a window with the mouse and perform a small “shake”. This minimizes all other windows keeping this window on top. All of these are also accessible by keyboard shortcuts.
There are a bunch of more changes that are available in Windows 7. We'll keep walking you through many of these in the coming months. Also look out for the new developer articles on Windows 7 features coming soon which will show how you can add these new features to your applications so that they “light up” on Windows 7.