It looks like Windows 7 has gone a long way toward erasing those Vista frustrations. Where Vista was clunky, 7 is efficient. Where Vista was slow, 7 is fast. Where Vista had 15 different versions, 7 has ... well, you can't ask for everything I suppose.
New York Times tech columnist David Pogue has been immersed in the Windows 7 world for the last few months as he wrote the just-released book, "Windows 7: The Missing Manual." He gave us the inside scoop on the new operating system -- including a host of tips and tricks -- in the following interview.
Q: Which Windows 7 feature do you use most?
David Pogue: Instant search, for sure. It's the fastest way to almost anything in Windows 7.
For example, to open Outlook, I can open the Start menu and type outlook. To change my password, I can type password. To adjust network settings, network. And so on. Display. Speakers. Keyboard. BitLocker. Excel. Photo Gallery. Firefox. Whatever.
Each time, Windows does an uncanny job of figuring out what I want and highlighting it in the results list in the Start menu, usually right at the top.
Since tapping the Windows-logo key opens the Start menu in readiness for this search, you can do the entire thing from the keyboard, without ever taking hands off the keyboard.
Q: What is the most surprising Windows 7 feature?
DP: The new Windows Media Player streaming features are pretty amazing.
You can build a playlist on your attic PC and make it play on the laptop in the kitchen when you're having friends over for dinner, so you don't have to keep running upstairs to control the music.
It also means that you can listen to your own music collection, on your home PC, from any other machine on the Internet -- like your PC at work. Wild.
Q: Why should Vista users update to Windows 7?
DP: It's technically an evolution of Windows Vista, so Windows 7 maintains all the stuff that was good about Vista: stability, security, just enough animation and eye candy to keep things interesting.
But Windows 7 fixes what everybody hated about Vista.
Windows 7 is faster (12 to 14 percent, in PC Magazine's tests). Its hardware requirements aren't any more demanding than Vista's, even though PCs have gotten more powerful in the years since Vista came out. And Windows 7 is much, much less intrusive. In fact, 10 categories of warnings now pile up quietly in a single, unified new control panel called the Action Center, and don't interrupt you at all.
Q: Why should XP users update to Windows 7?
DP: You probably shouldn't, actually. Upgrading an XP machine to Windows 7 is a real pain, involving erasing the whole hard drive. If XP is working well for you, maybe you should just wait until you get your next PC, which will have Windows 7 already installed.
Q: Are there any big differences between Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate?
DP: Like Windows Vista, Windows 7 comes in a raft of different versions, each with a different set of features at a different price.
Microsoft says each version is perfectly attuned to a different kind of customer, as though each edition had been somehow conceived differently. In fact, though, the main thing that distinguishes the editions is the suite of programs that comes with each one.
Q: Any idea why Microsoft continues to release different versions of the same OS?
DP: I'm sure it's just about money. They must have some spreadsheet jockey who's demonstrated that releasing seven different versions, each with different features, ultimately makes them more.
But from the point of view of a book author -- or a consumer wondering why some touted feature isn't available -- it's damn confusing.
Q: Some common programs are not included by default in Windows 7. How can people get these applications?
DP: If you can believe it, Windows 7 doesn't come with an email program. Or a chat program, calendar, address book, video-editing app, or even basic photo-management software, either.
It's not because Microsoft doesn't have the talent; Windows Vista, after all, came with all this stuff.
No, it's because of the lawyers. Microsoft grew sick and tired of defending itself in antitrust lawsuits ("If you include all the software anybody would ever need, you're stifling your competition!"). So in Windows 7, Microsoft left out all those controversial programs.
Well, they've been left out, but that doesn't mean they're actually gone. These programs are one click away, a one-shot free download from the Web, in a package called Windows Live Essentials (formerly known as Microsoft Lawsuit Bait).
To get them, open the Start menu. Start typing essentials until you see "Go online to get Windows Live Essentials" in the results list; click it. Your Web browser opens to the download page. Click Download and follow the instructions.
Q: Much of the Windows 7 advertising has played up simple features (window management, the task bar, etc). Of these, which do you think is the most useful?
DP: I like the little window-management gestures: Maximize a window by dragging its title bar against the top edge of your monitor. Restore a maximized window by dragging its title bar down from the top of the screen. Make a full-height, half-width window by dragging it against one side of your screen.
You can also make a window the full height of the screen. This one doesn't affect the width of the window. It does, however, make the window exactly as tall as your screen, sort of like half-maximizing it. To make this work, grab the bottom edge of your window and drag it down to the bottom edge of your screen. The window snaps only vertically, but maintains its width and horizontal position.
To restore the window to its original dimensions, drag its top or bottom edge away from the edge of your screen.
Finally, if you give your window's title bar a rapid back-and-forth shake, you minimize all other windows. The one you shook stays right where it was.
Handily enough, you can bring all the hidden windows back again, just by giving the hero window another title-bar shake.
Actually, what I like better is the keyboard shortcuts for those things. You use the Windows-logo key plus:
- Up-arrow key to maximize.
- Down-arrow key to minimize (or restore a maximized window).
- Left-arrow key to snap the window against the left side.
- Right-arrow key to snap it against the right. (Use the Windows-logo key with the opposite arrow key to move it back again.)
- Shift+up arrow to create the full-height effect, and (of course) Shift+down-arrow to restore the window's original height.
- Home to hide all windows except the frontmost one.
Q: Which Windows 7 tool or program would you like to see on other operating systems?
DP: I love the projection settings. With one keystroke (Windows logo+P), a special floating display lets you click how you want your two screens to work. You can have one screen on and the other off; you can have both screens showing the same thing (Duplicate); or you can have one screen act as additional real estate (Extend).
There's also Presentation Mode. It makes sure that your laptop won't do anything embarrassing while you're in the middle of your boardroom presentation. Press Windows logo key+X to open Mobility Settings; on the Presentation Settings tile, click "Turn on." When the tile says "Presenting," your laptop won't go to sleep. No alarms or reminder dialog boxes appear. The screen saver doesn't kick in. You're free to give your pitch in peace.
Q: If you could only change one setting in Windows 7, what would it be?
DP: The transparent window edges drive me nuts. You can see only an ugly, mottled version of what's underneath, and there's absolutely no productive reason for this feature to exist. So the first thing I do on a new PC is turn off transparency.
To do that, you open the Start menu. In the Search box, start typing transparency until you see "Enable or disable transparent glass on windows." Click it. In the resulting window, turn off "Enable transparency." Click "Save changes."
Note: This interview was condensed and edited.
Learn more about this topic from Windows 7: The Missing Manual.
In early reviews, geeks raved about Windows 7. But if you're an ordinary mortal, learning what this new system is all about will be challenging. Fear not: David Pogue's Windows 7: The Missing Manual comes to the rescue. Like its predecessors, this book illuminates its subject with reader-friendly insight, plenty of wit, and hardnosed objectivity for beginners as well as veteran PC users.