This looks like the weekend for Windows 7 and the screenshots are out there to prove it. The first blog to present us with screenshots of Windows 7 M1 build earlier this year, THINKNEXT updates us with new AERO enabled previews showing the improved bundled applications in Windows 7 WordPad and Paint. I personally want to share my thoughts based on the screenshots I have seen so far.
Windows 7 looks a whole lot like Windows Vista, I can understand this looking at the fact that its probably not going to be a major upgrade as Vista or 2000 was. Building on the foundation of Vista it will provide a smooth transition for application/hardware developers and end users who have invested in Vista since its release in January 2007. Windows 7 M3 looks promising, why? Because of a cleaner approach I believe to the present experiences in Vista, AERO looks slicker, the Start menu is cleaner almost with a glossy look and feel that I am sure will please those who want a lighter Windows since most of today’s built in Windows apps will become a part of the Windows Live Wave 3 of services. The interface, is identical in many ways, Explorers feature a lighter more silver/bluish look that is similar to Windows Live Wave 3 set of apps. So, consistency seems to be an ongoing theme that will resonate throughout this release.
If you look at the All Programs listing in Windows 7, you will now see a limited or cut down set of programs, some programs still exist like Windows DVD Maker. 7 does incorporate a few new applications that are more like essential utilities, for instance, you will now see a XPS Viewer, which once was only available through the Internet Explorer web browser. Notable is the inclusion of Accelerators for Windows, which first debuted in the soon to be released IE 8 later this year. The significance of this is not known, but I suspect an ala-Automator type experience in automating common task throughout the Windows interface without the need for any background in scripting. Apart from that is the inclusion of the Windows PowerShell version 2 which is a next generation command line interface, I personally don’t know if the intention is to replace CMD but its now a part of Windows 7.
Of course, Microsoft is updating the interface, and this early glimpse gives us an idea of what Microsoft is thinking. Its about cleaing up and streamlining what we have now in Vista. The first notable change I see is the glossiness of menus like Start Menu, and the Explorer windows, which evoke a more polished look and feel. Its not significantly different, but is attractive, but I hope it will be able to tone down, since its a bit too shine in my opinion and might turn out distracting for many users. Bundled applications like Calculator, WordPad and Paint have been extremely updated.
UAC now with Aero – ding!
This small, but commonly used app features some polish and style, featuring a more calculatoresque look, Calculator seems more serious and powerful than it has been in recent years. Vista’s update was just UI based. There are quick productivity features like the ability to calculate date and time durations (conversions), create templates and do Unit conversions. Its nice, but not really impressive, I think tools like this could be delivered today, especially for customers who invested in Vista Ultimate (Ultimate Extras anyone?).
User Account Control has been aerozied and seems to not black out the screen to get the users attention, as can be seen on the THINKNEXT websites, since you cannot take a ALT-PRT SC of it today in Vista. Nice, but something like that should be provided as improved functionality through a service pack.
It seems Microsoft is continuing the trend of multiple SKU’s for 7, since the version tested was Windows 7 Ultimate, I have my personal disagreements with this, some say they want a Windows with all the features, some just want two SKU’s. I have posted my thoughts on this over at Channel9, you can read it here.
New Office Fluent Inspired bundled Windows 7 applications
Continuing on the bundled app changes, WordPad is now Word 2007 Lite, since it now features the Office Fluent interface which first debuted in Office 2007. Its nice, a more efficient and just a darn needed update since they have remained the same since Windows 95, of course there isn’t any new functionality since everything that is in Paint on Vista has just been rearranged into two tabs, the same can be said for WordPad. As Long Zheng over at istartedsomething.com said, Office Fluent for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access 2007 was needed, since the commands in the interface had become too much and too unwieldy with the traditional Standard and Formatting toolbar approach. To some its gonna look like overkill. But I still admire the change.
Windows 7 Explorer window – Computer
Windows Explorer has gotten its share of small improvements which are not that significant, User folders such as Documents, Pictures, Music and Videos are now listed under what is known as Libraries, I don’t know why, but some in the Windows Enthusiast Community have suggested that this might be a return of Virtual Folders which first appeared in the Windows Vista BETA 1 release and disappeared later during the betas because it was considered too much to learn for end users. I personally don’t see it, but if Microsoft can find a way to improve the search experience in Windows 7, this might be their approach, since Saved Search folders today is a bit too limiting with what you can do. Parsing information and making sense of it, creating relationships between data and events would definitely give users reasons to take advantage of this once heralded feature.
Windows Solutions Center
Problem Reports and Solutions is now Windows Solutions Center, I guess the problem was the name, lol! It seems both Windows Update and Security center have both been consolidated into this one location, which probably is a good move and reduces the confusion in Windows of having too many locations for very similar task. I hope some of this spirit is applied to Networking Explorers in 7, we all know how there is just too much related to networking in Vista already and there needs to to be logical updates to certain areas like the TCP/IP Properties dialog becoming an Explorer similar to Display Settings is now in 7 M3. Once again, please check the channel9 post I made about improving this critical area in Windows. Microsoft is indeed listening though, because one of the screenshots on THINKNEXT proves that dialogs are really circa Windows 95 type experiences, like the Display Settings for instance is now a Explorer if I am mistaken. See screenshots below:
Display Settings ‘Explorer’ not a dialog anymore, finally
Contextual menus to me seem more bloated, for instance, the right click menu when you invoke it on the Desktop, features three additional menu items, Gadgets, Display Settings and Personalize. It seems like a good idea and most times, when I setup a new machine, the first thing I do is adjust the display settings. Its a give or take here that I am fine working with. In addition to the above mentioned, a ‘Share with’ menu item allows you to share data with your ‘Home Group’ which I believe is the once touted featured before the Longhorn Reset called ‘Castles’ or Domain for Homes’. Accessibility seems to be a key theme here and Windows 7 is on its way to making itself very easy for you to do common things.
Going a little further and taking a look at Personalization, its definitely still a work in progress as can be seen in the screenshot on THINKNEXT, it seems that the different customization areas, wallpapers, screensavers, themes are now contextual menus that change when selected. I definitely was looking for a quicker way to customize Windows and Microsoft seems to be listening, I wanted to see collapsible panels, but looks like it do just fine, but is still kinda rough around the edges with unidentifiable blank profile icon displays over theme thumbnails.
Personalization Explorer – a work in progress
Windows SideBar, now free to roam
The Windows Sidebar it seems is still trying to find its place in Windows, I personally like it, but rarely use it except for the RSS Gadget, but the Windows Team is following a rule from OS X by making Gadgets more like Dashboard which will roam free on the Desktop. To me, this is clutter, I personally don’t always want access to my Gadgets, I would prefer to have them hidden from view and use a keyboard command to invoke them to appear or hide when I do need them. Microsoft, I need a clean Windows Desktop, I want to have control of the features to make them work the way I want to a certain degree.
Windows 7 includes the latest version of Internet Explorer which is version 8, I did not bother to preview this, since its still in testing and pretty much the same as what is as what is available to the public.
Windows Media Player v.Next
Windows Media Player
I am not sure if its version 12 at this stage, but there is definitely a difference between Media Player in Vista and 7. I am going to call it Media Player v.NEXT. This new version features radical changes to its menu structure, with some menus positioned on the left and right sides of the interface. I don’t see the significance of this, but it does look stylish, and features two thick toolbars of controls, the second one focusing on traditional features such as Organization, Sharing, Playlist and Search. The interface is much warmer and attractive I must say, player controls are not translucent anymore which give it a more conservative appearance. My friend looking at it right now says it a bit too bright and actually prefers WMP now, but its a work in progress I am trying to explain. The more I notice this update it seems to share a more iTunes like similarity. I am wondering if Microsoft is planning on integrating support for the Zune in this release instead of having a separate solution especially for persons who prefer using Media Player.
Windows 7 for now looks like a release that will give consumers confidence in the Windows platform, while also delivering on the promise of having a less bloated or more controlled experience that makes the user feel in charge. Its still early days yet and a lot of what I have said is just my opinion and does not reflect the final product or even BETA 1. I hope Microsoft will listen to users on this release though, don’t go it alone without consulting us first. It doesn’t look like a drastic departure feature wise from Vista, but improves upon the usability, a lot of the features I believe are more Windows Live related. Will consumers who have invested in Windows Vista today invest in this update? I don’t think so in its current state, maybe if it was a free update or $29 download. Otherwise, Windows 7 is looking more like the must have upgrade for Windows XP users out there. Its still very early days and I am looking forward to hearing Microsoft’s side of the story at the Professional Developers Conference 2008 and Windows Hardware Engineering Conference 2008 in October and November.
If you want to know more, check out the screenshots over at THINKNEXT, you can also find a couple videos here which features a glowing start menu when hovered over.