by March 4, 2009 0 comments



Windows 7 makes some exciting and very large leaps in changing some of the
things that most computer users have been used to since the Windows 95 days —
and for the better. The new Taskbar itself has enough number of new features
that allow for not just better productivity but also make using Windows more
cooler than ever before. So let’s delve into some of these in this pictorial
review.

The TaskBar
One of the biggest changes (visually) that you will notice once you login to
Windows is the new appearance of the TaskBar. Not only is it slightly taller
than before but is also more “glassy”. It also contains a completely new way of
working with applications and icons.

Application icons
Till Windows Vista, icons on the taskbar could do or represent the
following: on the “Quick Launch” bar, the icons would launch the application and
create a new task button on the rest of the taskbar. On the taskbar an icon (and
associated text) would represent a running application and its windows. In
Windows 7 however, these distinctions are done away with. The Quick Launch bar
no longer exists. Instead the icons that exist on the taskbar represent both
icons to launch an application as well as the running applications themselves.
This means that on launching an application from the icon on the taskbar, there
is no new task button created. Instead, the icon itself turns into the task
button that you can click to switch to the running instance. It may sound
confusing at first and might take you a day or two to get used to the idea.
Stick with it for the day and you’ll realize that this is how it should have
always been, with the added advantage of getting tons of free taskbar real
estate for other running apps’ buttons.
But this is not the only change that’s happened. The running and non-running app
icons are differentiated by a subtle glass border. Apps with more than one
windows or tab open (for instance IE or Word), show that with multiple glass
“slabs” representing multiple windows. Running apps are also differentiated upon
when you mouse over the icons. A color sensitive glow tracks the mouse as it
passes over the icon when the app is running making it very clear which is a
running app and which is (for now) a launch icon.

The new taskbar
shows both launch icons and running apps (icons with a border). Multiple
windows or tabs are represented by multiple glass slabs.
The Notification
area shows a small arrow, 4 icons, the date & time and the Desktop Preview
glass slab.

Thumbnail previews
Thumbnail previews of running apps are also very much enhanced. Each window
or tab gets its own live preview and you can perform a variety of tasks within
the preview itself without actually switching to the actual application. For
instance, you can use a new feature called “Aero Peek” to quickly “peek” at
another running application’s window without actually losing your place in the
current application by simply hovering for a second over the other app’s
thumbnail preview. All other open windows become completely transparent allowing
you to take a quick look at that other window. Mouse out of the thumbnail and
your current window appears where it was. Another thing that thumbnails allow
you to now do is close the window or even control the application — for
instance, the thumbnail preview of Windows Media Player allows to stop, pause,
skip previous or next and play media — all without having to open the full
interface.

You can rearrange
icons by dragging them. Also notice the colored mouse hot tracking effect on
the Outlook icon.

Jump Lists
Another new feature in the icons (both running and launch) on the taskbar is
called “Jump Lists”. These are application specific features that you can use
directly. For instance, the Jump List for Windows Explorer can show you recently
visited folders as well as “Pinned” or “Favorite” folders. The Jump List for IE
or Word can show you the MRU for each. The list for MSN Messenger shows tasks
like “Go to Inbox”, “Start a conversation”, “Sign in as (Available|Busy|…)” and
more. This allows the user to quickly jump directly to the task or location he
wants to instead of first launching the application and then navigating to the
item one wants. The side effect of this is that the Start Menu no longer has a
Recent Items list — this is now taken over by each application’s individual list
and opening a document is as simple as launching an application.

Hovering on a
thumbnail preview of an app quickly lets you peek at that window by making
all other windows transparent.
Thumbnail
previews allow previewing, switching and in some cases even controlling the
app like in the WMP preview where you can control the media being played
right from the preview window itself.

Notification Area
The Taskbar also contains the Notification Area on the right side —
something that has been abused by application developers by installing all sorts
of icons in this area. In Windows 7, this clutter is done away with by showing
only a maximum of 4 icons in the area + the date and time. The four icons are:

Jump Lists let
you interact with the app quickly. For instance, the Explorer list shows
your recent and favorite folders. The MSN Messenger one lets you do IM tasks
and Word list shows you recent items.
Jump Lists also
replace the Recent items list in the Start Menu for each app now.
  • Action Center: This lets you see any system generated popup message rather
    than individual pop ups from different applications or services.
  • Battery/Power: Which allows you to control the power/battery settings.
  • Network: To see the wired/wireless network status.
  • Volume: To control the volume of speakers.
  • Apart from this, a small arrow lets you see all other icons that are
    installed and to access them normally. You also get a small glass slab at the
    extreme right that performs a “Show Desktop” action — quickly makes all
    windows transparent to allow you to see the desktop and any gadgets on it.

    Clicking the
    arrow in the notification area displays the hidden icons.

The Desktop
The desktop too has had some changes done in Windows 7. As in Vista, you
start off with a clean desktop only containing the Recycle bin. The Windows
SideBar application does not startup on login — in fact it no longer even
exists. Instead you can now put gadgets directly on your desktop itself. The
long startup time people complained about in Vista due to the Sidebar no longer
occurs. And most Vista gadgets work with Windows 7 as well.

Applications running on the desktop also get a new set of features. You can
drag the title bar of any application to the top of the screen to automatically
maximize it and to the left or right side to tile it to the dragged side.

A new Themes section for personalization allows you to create and save your
transparency, sounds, backgrounds and screensaver settings. And you finally get
an option to rotate your desktop backgrounds amongst images you select in a
defined schedule.
The desktop has also been enhanced to take advantage of high resolution screens
and multiple displays. I’m running Windows 7 on my 17” notebook at a resolution
of 1920×1200 and things look much crisper than before. ClearType and other
sub-pixel rendering enhancements for text and graphics make the screen very
crisper.

Overall Windows 7 gives a whole new set of stuff in both the Desktop and
Taskbar that not only makes working with applications, documents and tasks much
easier but also makes it look cool and flashy. This surely makes for a highly
recommended upgrade to the Windows OS.

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