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Windows 7 hands on - Impressive at every turn

With the Microsoft PDC recently wrapping up, excitement has been building for Windows 7. I wonder, will it be able to live up to the hype? There's only one way to find out: install it and see for myself. This is by no means a complete analysis of the OS, rather my observations from the first few days of experimenting with it.

The Aero interface has been refined, and it's leaner and meaner than before. Visual effects look superb and are silky smooth, even on less powerful hardware like a Celeron M520 laptop with Intel integrated graphics. Even with all the Aero Glass effects enabled, battery life didn't take a substantial hit (I noticed anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes less on a 5.5 hour battery).

Need to move a full screen window? Just click the title bar and start dragging - no need to click restore first, it will automatically resize. The reverse works as well: drag a window to the top edge of your screen, and Windows will maximize it.

Keeping with the visual theme, display settings have returned to the desktop right-click context menu. The personalize option remains, but I was relieved to see that I once again had a quick access to the resolution adjustment.

UAC is much less annoying. Without adjusting the "volume control," the default settings are much more reasonable. It does a much better of job of differentiating between changes made by a user and those requested by a program. I wasn't prompted at all by UAC during my AVG install - it was only when AVG tried to perform its first definition update that Windows chimed in.

Wireless connections have been simplified, and it's evident as soon as you finish the install. Before I'd even seen my desktop, the Windows 7 installer detected 6 available access points (2 more than Windows XP) and connected me with two fewer mouse clicks. The system tray icon now provides a full list of APs with a single click, and you can right click any entry to connect to it - a more elegant solution than that of Windows XP or Vista.

Most of our old favorites have had a makeover, and they look pretty damn good. Some of the earliest clues we had about Windows 7 were images of Paint and Calc. Well, Wordpad has been updated as well and now features the much talked about Ribbon Interface. Don't worry, purists: Notepad has been preserved in all its minimalistic glory..

Other small but useful additions abound, like sticky notes. Notes can be posted around your desktop and then gathered to a virtual corkboard - release them to their original locations with a single click. Create a new note and it's automatically saved. Should you close the board by accident, it'll remember the position of all your stickies when you relaunch.

The Explorer interface has also gotten some attention. You can now create Media Player-like libraries in Explorer and add any folder - local or networked - to them. Your libraries will appear in all dialogs where files and folders are displayed, which makes them a great way to quickly access locations you use frequently (no matter where they reside).

Masters of command prompt kung fu will be all over the new Powershell V2 - The New York Times recently touted Powershell faetures as 3 of the 10 best Windows 7 features for IT pros. It's an amazing tool for administrators, programmers, and tweakers. Apart from adding tons of new scripting features, a graphical interface has been introduced making script creation even easier. For more information about what it does, check the team blog at MSDN.

Coupled with the new troubleshooting platform (look for details on this in an upcoming post), Windows 7 promises to provide major improvements in terms of administration and support.

One feature I didn't get to play with and very much wanted to was Windows 7's sensor and location awareness platform. Example: Windows 7 can monitor ambient light sensors and automatically adjust your screen's brightness. With support for GPS technology, you can imagine the possibilities. How about switching default printers or automatically disabling access to shared files based on your triangulated location?

After getting my first taste, I understand what the excitement is about. It's safe to say that Windows 7 will receive a much warmer welcome than Vista did. There's a long way to go from Beta to launch, and we'll be keeping you updated with all the latest news.

Tags: beta, osupdates, windows, windows 7, Windows7