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Windows 7 Review: Why I Like Windows 7

By Andy Rathbone
May 18, 2009

About the author: Acclaimed Windows expert Andy Rathbone has written numerous Windows for Dummies guidebooks since 1992. His Windows review for Datamation Why I Don't Like Vista became an Internet classic. In this review of Windows 7 he provides a sneak peak of his book due this October, Windows 7 For Dummies.

ALSO SEE: Andy Rathbone's advice on Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7.

After nearly eight-years, Windows XP had grown as comfortable as an old car. Just as I’d forgotten about the growing number of dings on my car’s bumper, I’d forgotten how many third-party tools I’d used to prop up Windows XP. After adding CD and DVD burners, search programs, Firefox, three media players and a host of other tools, my Start menu’s three columns reached the far edge of my desktop.

That’s why running Windows 7 for the past seven months brought back the excitement of driving a new car. And for the first time, my once trusted Windows XP began looking like a car that needed much more than a paint job.

It’s partially my own fault. Like many others, I skipped Windows Vista. And Vista, for all its faults, provided a strong, secure base. Unfortunately, Microsoft ruined Vista’s improvements by adding overly aggressive security, thick layers of meandering menus, and a sense of being designed by a huge committee.

Windows 7 strips away that ugliness to create something that’s light yet strong, useful yet still playful. Windows 7 grabs me in a lot of ways Windows XP no longer does:

Wallpaper

Oddly enough, Windows 7’s new wallpaper provides a great example of how Windows 7 pulls off a difficult mix of being both utilitarian and fun. Windows 7 softens Vista’s armored-guard persona by adding a healthy dose of personality. Its backgrounds come stuffed with groovy psychedelic landscapes, dreamy Dada-esque creatures, and candy-colored anime art.

By draping this whimsy over Vista’s security underpinnings, Microsoft’s helping make people feel both safe and creative with their computers, a feeling that comes so naturally to Apple.

Even if the backgrounds don’t suit your fancy, you must admire how Windows 7’s design team deliberately chose wallpaper that would have been shot down in a traditional boardroom. That’s a big change from Vista, where everything seemed to fall to the lowest common denominator.

Minimal hardware demands

Vista’s bloat kept it from running on netbooks, the PC industry’s single bright spot these days. Windows 7, by contrast, runs fine on most netbooks, as well as on older PCs. Needing another test machine while writing Windows 7 For Dummies, I installed Windows 7 on a Pentium III with 16MB of video memory. Surprisingly enough, Windows 7 not only installed, but its automatic trip to Windows Update brought the PC some new drivers, as well. That old Gateway PC will never be a game machine, of course, but it works fine for the essentials, e-mail and the Internet.

Chances are, Windows 7’s slimmed down footprint will fit well on your PC, as well, whether it’s a modern netbook or a borderline antique.

Adjustable User Account Control

Probably the most welcome change, Windows 7 tones down User Account Control’s overly aggressive policing. But if you still find yourself grinding your teeth more than working, a sliding control lets you adjust Windows 7’s paranoia level to match your own. It’s refreshing to feel in control of your PC rather than the other way around.

Shortcut keys

Once you learn a few shortcut keys, they become addictive, and Windows 7 brings several welcome ones. For example, placing two windows side-by-side on a crowded desktop took a lot of mouse maneuvering in Windows XP. In Windows 7, you click the first window, and press Win+Right Arrow to scoot the window against the right edge. Follow up with a Win+Left Arrow on the second window, and you’ve lined them up side-by-side, ready for quick information swapping.

Windows 7 comes loaded with many other creative keyboard shortcuts, a sign that the team had time to focus on subtle details rather than major overhauls.

Taskbar jumplists

Windows 7 overhauled the taskbar with jumplists – pop-up menus listing frequently accessed items and common tasks. Need to see one of your favorite Web sites in a hurry? Right-click the taskbar’s browser icon, click the favored site’s name from the pop-up list’s “Frequent” section, and the browser opens to that site.

Can’t remember the location of that helpful folder you opened yesterday? Right-click the Explorer icon, click the folder’s name from the jumplist, and start digging in. With jumplists, Windows 7 adds a feeling of immediate gratification that all too often went missing from Vista.


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