Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The best 30 features of Windows 7

We've taken our first serious look at Windows 7 and found 30 reasons why you should be keen to get your hands on vista's successor, too.

After the disappointment - perceived or otherwise - of Windows Vista, many are pinning their hopes on a revival with Windows 7. And from our first impressions of the pre-beta code, that's exactly what they can expect.

We were among the first journalists to get their hands on the actual Windows 7 code and have been testing it in the office for weeks. Here, we've ranked the 30 best features we've found in Windows 7 so far, ranging from minor tweaks of the user interface to a full replacement for virtual private networks. Windows 7 won't be feature-locked until the full betas appear in early 2009, so even more could yet emerge.

1. Don't need a new PC

Windows 7 will become the first major Windows release that any of us can remember that doesn't require better hardware than its predecessor. In fact, it might even run on systems that struggle with Vista, especially netbooks.

Our real-world benchmarks show that the performance difference between Vista and Windows 7 is zilch. Our Office benchmarks and video-encoding tests completed in precisely the same time, regardless of which OS was installed on our test machine. However, there's no doubt that Windows 7 feels faster. Applications open in a snap, and there are fewer instances of the whirly waiting wheel that afflicts Vista.

Better still, it runs happily on netbooks. Although we've seen a few netbooks such as the HP Mini-Note 2133 pre-installed with Vista Basic, most resort to Windows XP. However, we installed Windows 7 on an MSI Wind, with an Intel

Atom 1.6GHz processor and 1GB of RAM, and it performed spotlessly. The Aero interface is smooth, menus responsive, even Media Center works with commendable polish. What's more, it goes from power off to booted and ready to use in around 50 seconds - only ten seconds slower than Windows 7 boots on a Dell M1330 laptop, with a Core 2 Duo T9500 running at 2.6GHz and 3GB of RAM.

2. Big-screen support

Large, high-definition displays are much better catered for in Windows 7. First, there's no more fiddling around in the Control Panel to make your desktop appear on an external display - pressing Windows + P brings up a pop-up menu with options to duplicate, extend or transfer your desktop on to the second screen.

There's also good news for those who've been squinting at the mammoth LCD panels connected to their PCs. The telemetry from Microsoft's Customer Experience Programme revealed that only half of Windows users are running their PCs at native resolution, with others artificially reducing the resolution as they're struggling to read the text. Consequently, there's a new option to boost the text and other onscreen items to 150% of their normal size. We tested this feature on a 30in widescreen display and it instantly made the text more readable, although you obviously have to sacrifice some screen real estate - which is the main reason for choosing a bigger screen in the first place. The art is finding a reasonable compromise.

If you simply want to zoom in on a small portion of the screen, the Mac-like magnifier allows you to smoothly zoom in and scroll around the screen.

3. Start button search

The Start button search facility introduced with Windows Vista has been given a spruce up that makes it a genuine timesaver. Instead of merely hunting for exact filename and application matches, the search is more intelligent. Search for "disk" for example, and not only do applications such as Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter appear as they would in Vista, but also Control Panel tasks such as "Create and format hard disk partitions" and "Create a password reset disk".