Page last updated at 10:01 GMT, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 11:01 UK

A look at what's new in Windows 7

By Jason Palmer
Science and technology reporter, BBC News

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The BBC's Jason Palmer gets his hands on Windows 7

The newest release of Microsoft's flagship product Windows is to be launched on Thursday.

There are a great many changes to the operating system, which has already been described by one analyst as "a polishing release of Windows Vista".

Here, BBC News takes a quick run through the most noticeable changes.

Fresh start

From the very start, then: installation. Windows 7 is designed to be a markedly less bulky and resource-intensive OS, so the installation should be comparatively quick, and there's a particularly lightweight version for netbooks.

The first thing to note is that it doesn't look or sound all that different from Vista

The difficulties that plagued upgrades from XP to Vista are gone, because the architecture of Windows 7 rests on the changes made in Vista. Equally, however, that will make upgrading from XP difficult.

If you are aiming to upgrade directly from Windows XP to Windows 7, be aware that Microsoft doesn't recommend it. Not only is it likely to take significantly longer, the directory structure is different between the two and many applications may not work if not run after a "fresh" installation.

Win 7 screenshot (Microsoft)
The release offers many new personalisation options like desktops

If installing Windows 7 on an older machine, it's probably best to check with the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor program to see whether your machine is compatible or if you are likely to see the improvements in speed that the OS can in principle offer.

For the most part, software that runs on Vista will run on Windows 7; many big-name software vendors of programs that don't upgrade easily have free upgrades available on the web.

Microsoft promises that its Windows Easy Transfer will smooth the process of moving your files from an older machine to your new Windows 7 computer.

However, be aware that many simple programs for handling things like instant messaging are missing from Windows 7 on install; instead, the idea is that users will begin to use the cloud-based services that form Windows Live.

First look

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Microsoft's Leila Martine unveils the new operating system's key features.

With Windows 7 installed, the first thing to note is that it doesn't look - or, on startup, sound - all that different from Vista.

One quickly noticeable difference is that the desktop widgets, or Gadgets, can now be placed wherever you like on the desktop.

The taskbar along the bottom of the screen has had a few new features added to it: hover over the Internet Explorer bar, for example, and up pop small previews of all the open Explorer windows, even if they're running live video at the time.

Win 7 screenshot (Microsoft)
Thumbnail previews of open windows

Hover over the previews, and just that window will pop up in full size, with all other windows minimised.

Continuing in the theme of simplifying your workspace, the stylistic "Aero" features first shown off in Vista have been explored, leading to new features.

Too many windows open? Grab the bar at the top of a window, give it a shake with the mouse, and all other windows minimise. Repeat the process to re-maximise the other windows.

Aero Peek isn't really a feature per se - a little patch of the right of the taskbar performs the function of the prior "show desktop" icon - but it simply makes the windows transparent, leaving behind their outlines.

Some of these features will be familiar to Apple users and have been available in similar forms in various Mac operating systems.

Networking opportunity

Microsoft has added a few new bells and whistles for home networking, as well. Each computer that is running Windows 7 on a network can dictate what kinds of files will be shared - documents, videos, or music - and which will remain private.

Win 7 screenshot (Microsoft)
The release allows detailed control of files shared on a home network

Also, there is new functionality in the "Play To" menu for media: users can play a multimedia out to other computers in the network or even an XBox.

Microsoft has also refined the search function that was wholly revamped for Vista. As before, it searches across all hard drives, and keeps a running tally so that results are displayed more or less instantly, as you type - reminiscent of Apple Mac's search.

In Windows 7, the search results are broken down into sub-lists by type, such as documents, multimedia, programs, and so on.

Users can also create "libraries" of certain types of files - not unlike Mac OS's "smart folders": a sort of virtual directory that contains for instance all of your image files, regardless of the folders where they actually reside.

Lastly, Windows incorporates some familiar tricks having to do with "multitouch" functions, either on a mousepad or a touchscreen device, should you have one.

However, these multi-touch features work with all applications.

Holding one finger down on an icon while tapping with another functions like a right-click and two fingers can be used to zoom in and out of images or webpages, or rotate them.


Your comments:

I've been using the Win 7 Beta on my laptop and desktop. I have to say it is a huge improvement over Vista and highly recommend the upgrade for people suffering with Vista.
Max, White Oak Swamp, Virginia, USA

I've tried both the Windows 7 Beta and the Release Candidate. I hated both. Have no idea why Microsoft wishes to foist this upon end-users. Very amateurish compared to XP-Pro. Seems far from finished. Terrible interface concepts. Hope to never use it.
Jeff, Charlottesville, USA

I'm writing this on a netbook running Windows 7. It seems to use just a bit less memory than XP. a couple minor issues with erratic printer drivers, but on the whole very good. I upgraded from XP, with the easy migration tool, and that was the easiest Windows upgrade I've ever done. I highly recommend it.
Ken, Fairfax, CA, USA

I have been running Windows 7 ultimate since April. I have gotten fed up with its numerous problems. The software is system heavy and really the only thing different is the user interface. It does have a few cool features that XP doesn't, however I cannot wait until I put XP back on my machine.
Domenic, USA

I like the new Windows 7, it's very fast compare to Vista and it has features similar to Apple. I've installed into my old computer (2 years old) it works just fine.
Ben, Nineveh

I have had so many problems with Vista that I am reluctant to buy another Microsoft Windows product. I am more like to switch to an Apple computer or Linux operating system. As with Office, every time they make it 'better' it ends up more complicated, memory hungry and troublesome. Keep It Simple!!
Shaun, Shanghai, China

Windows 7 actually looks a lot more promising than Vista. There are a couple of features that are things I've wanted for ages (eg: rearranging the taskbar, and the snipping tool). The touch screen support still seems to be a gimmick to me and I can't think of any reason why I would need it when a mouse is easier to use and cheaper than a touch-screen monitor ever could be.
Andrew, Stourport-on-Severn, UK

When will Microsoft realise that we don't all want O/S that clogs up our systems? Computer gamers want an o/s that uses as few resources as possible. We don't want desktops with windows that utilise alpha-blending. A simple, lightweight program is much better.
Keith, Pembroke, Wales

I find it interesting that so many of Windows 7's "new" features appear to mimic those already available on the Mac.
Ben, Boston, MA, United States

Are there any other improvements other than whistles, bells, and eye candy? Is it faster booting up? Is it less annoying than Vista?
John, Glen Allen, USA

I would not upgrade to Windows 7 just yet. As with all of Microsoft's big projects there is some measure of "teething" time, and its better to let the wider market test it out first. For now Windows Vista is just fine.
Jamie, Bridgetown, Barbados

No, I will not be upgrading from XP. "Better the devil you know than one you don't"
Kevin, Blenheim, NZ



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