Microsoft dropped into the Computer Weekly offices to demonstrate the next version of Windows 7.The new operating system, which is due out by January next year, looks neater and less cluttered than its predecessor. Microsoft has tightened up the code – Windows 7 has a footprint that is 3 gigabytes smaller than Vista. And it promises features that will make life easier for business and home users.
Lower power consumption and better battery life
The driving force behind the new operating system is lower power consumption. The system is designed to switch off power to un-used ports and manage screen power consumption more effectively – a boon to mobile users and companies with large numbers of desktops. Microsoft claims that tests typically show a 10% to 15% improvement in battery life over previous versions of Windows.
The Windows 7 desktop looks neat and uncluttered with application icons arranged at the bottom of the screen rather like an Apple Mac. Users can chose which icons appear on the screen.
A useful addition, known as “windows peek,” helps users find the right document among multiple applications. Glide your mouse over the application icon, and thumbnail pictures of open documents appear on the screen. The same feature allows you to make changes to application settings without launching into the programme.
Microsoft has improved the way documents are displayed. It is easier to display two documents side by side. Users can ‘pin’ important documents to an application, so it always appears in the files menu.
The biggest change in Windows 7 is the introduction of touch-screen control for users with suitable hardware. Microsoft demonstrated an interactive map, that could be moved around the screen, or enlarged or reduced by gliding fingers over the screen. It will take a while for manufacturers to develop applications to use the touch screen to its full potential – but it has plenty of promise.
Better document search
Microsoft has improved the speed of its file searching programme, allowing users to locate documents on their machine using key-word searches. Businesses can create virtual libraries of documents allowing users to search over corporate networks for relevant documents.
Small businesses could benefit from “home group.” The feature enables users to link up to 9 PCs together on a wireless network to share printers, photos, or exchange documents.
Managing business applications
Windows 7 allows businesses to create a corporate “white list” of permitted applications. Although users can download applications that are not held on the list they will have to ask for permission to run them.
Businesses can protect themselves from the risk of employees losing confidential information contained on USB sticks. Microsoft has extended its “bitlocker” software, allowing businesses to chose to only accept data from encrypted memory sticks. Microsoft plans an add-on for XP and Vista that will allow those users to decrypt the encrypted data, but sadly not to encrypt it.
This feature allows businesses to save bandwidth by ensuring staff only download the same application once. After the first download, other users will be able to take a copy, rather than having to down-load the software again. Microsoft believes the feature will be particularly useful for local education authorities, which distribute software to schools in the same area, for example.
Easier remote access
Microsoft has made it easier for users to log onto their work systems remotely. The direct access facility allows users to rapidly log-in and access their work-based files as though they were in the office. Similarly businesses will be able to manage laptops when people are out of the office.
A free add-on for Windows 7 Professional, allows users to run Windows XP applications on Windows 7. Users can cut and paste between XP and Widows 7 applications.
At first sight, Windows 7 is a promising operating system. If anything, it is what Windows Vista should have been: compact, neat, and simple to use. The introduction of touch screen technology is likely to spark a new generation of business and home applications that will be easier and more intuitive to use. For businesses, Windows 7 offers better application management, easier access for staff working from home, and easier networking. As always, the proof will come when Windows 7 is launched and users find out how it works in practice.