7th Evolution

After what I believe is an intensive test of the Windows 7 beta (build 7000), I am pleased to announce the official verdict: Jolly Amazing! Microsoft’s Terms and Conditions prohibit the posting of benchmarks during the course of the beta, and I for one completely agree with their reasoning. It is all well and good to know how big your numbers are, but a huge majority of what you use your OS for simply cannot be represented by pointless numbers. Chances are, with the current program architectures, XP will probably still pump out higher numbers in some areas; XP will probably get a higher 3DMark score for example. However, these numbers do not reflect how you interface with your computer and never will. Hopefully, the following should give you a much better idea of just how much of a pleasure I find this new GUI is to interface with.

Windows 7 Beta Desktop

The first impression is very much a “Oh, it is Vista?” reaction, but this only lasts a brief moment. Quickly you notice the lines seem sharper, more defined and cleaner than vista. There are the usual Quick Launch icons next to a familiar Windows button bottom left, and a System Tray looking thing bottom right; only on second inspection do we realise neither of these are what they seem.

Windows 7 Start Area (Illuminated)

Starting with the Application Bar and Start Menu in the bottom left, I must say I like that new glowing Windows button. Here comes our first big revelation and an indication that maybe things are different. The Quick Launch and the Task Bar are now the SAME THING! This is a difficult concept to explain as it goes against everything the typical windows user knows, however I will try my best. The Quick Launch icons will sit happily where you expect them to be, until you open their respective applications. As you click the icon, the application loads; it’s Task Bar icon now Replaces the Quick Launch icon, preserving it’s location in the grand order. The amount this reduces clutter is unfathomable. Suddenly I feel compelled to have a Quick Launch, which is something I would always remove in favour of more desktop real estate. In addition, new instances of the same program automatically stack on the Application Bar.

Windows 7 Beta Application Bar

There is a graphical indication of how many deep the windows are stacked; in the screen shot I have one Windows Explorer instance, two Firefox 3 instances, two Pidgin instances and one Adobe Photoshop instance. Windows Media Player 12 (yes, a new WMP to review, but not today) is not running, yet it’s icon will remain there for rapid deployment to your desktop. As you can see, hovering over an application will show you a dynamic thumbnail of the instances open, allowing you to hot-switch without hesitating. Another feature not seen in the image is the glassframe map that appears on the desktop as you hover over each application/instance. Read on for a better explanation in the section on the Notification Area.

Windows 7 Start Menu

Let us click on that new pretty Windows button, shall we? The Start menu looks much like it’s Vista counterpart, and as far as I am concerned behaves almost identically. The only new feature brought to the table here is the inclusion of a hover-activated context menu on applications that have multiple files accessed regularly. Those little right-facing arrows will expand to a list of recently opened files on Photoshop and Notepad, where as Dreamweaver has not been opened yet (but will most likely use the same feature when I save/open some files with it). Now, an update requires Windows to restart, so I will meet you back here after the boot.

Windows 7 Notification Area

Always a good time to be productive! The Notification Area (often mistakenly called the Task Tray, System Tray, combinations thereof, etc. Microsoft maintains it’s correct name is the Notification Area) looks much the same as previous incarnations of the OS, and behaves accordingly. To expand the Notification Area we no longer slide sideways, but pop upwards. I guess that is new… not really a feature though, is it. Nothing new here except the empty nub of glass on the far right. Let us click it and see what happens.

Windows 7 Show Desktop feature

OH! As soon as our cursor approached the button, all our windows turned into pieces of glass! A clean and intuitive representation of where all the windows are located is displayed; clicking the button minimises them all to the desktop. Much the same as Windows+D function(s/ed), the command gives you quick access to the desktop, only now it does it with style and aplomb! Personally, the feature is somewhat gimmicky, especially for those who already use hotkey combos like they are a second language. I have to say though, I reallly like it, and now that it is there I find myself using it all the fucking time. Sometimes I will just hover, look at my gorgeous Desktop Wallpaper, and then go back to work. Crazy!

Next: Applications! Batteries! User Account Control put to the pasture!