Getting up to speed with 20 great Vista features in Windows 7

You could pretty much call this a iteration of my ‘For the former Windows XP User – Welcome to Windows 7‘, only difference is we discuss some of the changes and improvements introduced in Windows Vista you can still find in Windows 7.

Over the weekend I was listening to music on my brothers PC, while surfing the web and watching video. While watching a video I noticed the volume was up too high, so I clicked on the volume applet in the Notification Area. There I came across a nifty little feature first introduced in Windows Vista called per app volume (part of the volume mixer options). Now if you are moving from Windows XP directly to Windows 7, you probably missed out initially on some of the features and benefits of Windows 7’s predecessor released back in 2007. In this article, I decided to take a look back at some of the cool stuff that made Vista a great release that you can benefit from today in Windows 7.

1. Aero Effects

 

Live Thumbnails We took an in depth look at this feature back in October in our Using the Improved Taskbar and Start Menu in Windows 7 article. Windows Vista’s implementation was quite basic, while Windows 7 refined it with more interactivity and control. Improved benefits include the ability to hover thumbnail previews which will compose full size previews. Alt-Tab 2D introduced in Vista also supports Live Full Size previews in Windows 7.

 

Flip 3D Part of some the sophisticated effects delivered in Vista, Flip 3D (Windows key + Tab) is still available in Windows 7, but is less prominent because there are even more sophisticated effects in Windows 7 such as Live Thumbnail previews and Aero Peek that users will find productive immediately, learn more them here. Flip 3D allows you to scroll through all your open windows in a rolodex fashion, with the option of using the arrow keys to move back and forward. Its a cool effect, that adds some fun to how you work.

2. Notification Area

Multiple Time Zones Continuing on the Taskbar, Windows Vista introduced a more convenient notification experience. One area in particular is keeping track of multiple time zones. Simply click the Date and Time notification and it will reveal a floating dialog with additional time zones you may have added along with full calendar.

 

You can easily add a time zone in Windows 7 by clicking the Date and Time notification > click the ‘Change date and time settings.." > select ‘Additional Clocks’ tab > check the ‘Show this clock’ check box > click in the > Select time zone: list box and select the appropriate time zone > Enter a name for it then click Apply and OK to save the settings.

 3. Per App Volume

Discussed earlier, Per App volume is part of the fundamental and technological improvements introduced in Windows Vista’s sound stack. The idea is to have better control over applications that utilize sound events to alert the user when attention is needed. Programs such as Windows Live Messenger, Media Player, your Web Browser when in use can interfere with one another. With Per App Volume you can have better control and priority over which applications issue sound events and how loud they should be.

 

In the above screenshot, I am able to determine how loud an application can be when issuing a sound event. 

4. Windows Explorer – Bread Crumb Menus

 

Another great highlight of Vista was Bread Crumb menus which focused on simplifying movement throughout a folder hierarchy. The Address Bar in Windows 7/Vista makes it easier to navigate a folder structure, featuring drop down menus along the current navigation path, making it possible to easily backtrack or navigate forward anywhere along an address location. In Windows 7, you can also resize the region between the Address Bar and Search Box.

5. Gadget Platform

 

A key focus of Vista was to bring information immediately to the desktop, news feeds, time, slide show through small programs called Windows Gadgets which were a part of the Windows Sidebar. In Windows 7 Microsoft removed Windows Sidebar allowing Gadgets to have more control with the ability to be placed anywhere on the desktop. You can also have them snap to the side of the screen and enlarge some Gadgets such as Slide Show and Performance Meter. Gadgets are developed using a combination of XML, Java Script, HTML and CSS. If you want to learn more about developing your own Gadgets check out the following URL:

http://microsoftgadgets.com/Sidebar/DevelopmentOverview.aspx

In Windows 7, Gadgets can also be uninstalled if not in use.

6. Instant Search

One of the hallmark features of Windows Vista, Instant Search delivers quick access to your information with the ability to filter results and create saved searches for later reference, Vista really brought some relief to finding information. Windows 7 further improves on this with the ability to get more detailed and organized search results from the Start Menu, better search relevance in Windows Explorer searches with highlighted words. Federated search is also a major addition in Windows 7 with the ability to search beyond your PC, you can even create customized Search Connectors for specific locations whether a website or location on your Company’s network.

7. Auto Play

 

The Auto Play applet is a new feature of Vista that allows you to have control over devices such as digital cameras and optical media. For instance, when you insert a CD an auto-play dialog will appear with a list of suitable options, such opening the disk  to view its contents, run a program or specific content. Auto Play pre select options are available for Audio CD, Enhanced CD, DVD, Pictures, Audio, Digital Cameras and even disk with mixed content.

8. BitLocker

 

A drive encryption feature available only in the Enterprise and Ultimate editions, BitLocker is an encryption technology that protects your data. It prevents hackers from infiltrating the Windows File System or use hacking tools to disable system protection or perform off line viewing of files stored on a protected drive. If your computer or hard disk is stolen the data will be inaccessible without the required 48 digit encryption key. This key can be stored on a USB stick or if your computer supports TPM 1.2 chip will be loaded automatically when you log into Windows. In Windows 7, its easier to enable Bitlocker on a volume by simply right clicking the drive in Computer Explorer and click ‘Turn on BitLocker. Recovery of BitLocker encrypted volumes is also easier too. Microsoft has extended BitLocker to support additional storage devices such as External USB and thumb drive storage. To learn more about BitLocker, click here

9. Windows Backup and Restore

 

In Windows Vista, Backup and Restore allows users to easily backup their important files and settings to CD, DVD and external storage. The great part is the simple process of backing up the information and restoring it when you need to. Options include restoring from single CD/DVDs or from multi-disc sets even if the entire backup disc set is not available. Windows 7 includes built in System Imaging across all editions of Windows 7 with unique functionality such as Network Backup available only in Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate. Learn more about creating a backup here

Recovery tools are also built directly into Windows 7, even when your system is not starting properly, you can boot your computer into the System Recovery environment, just before the system loads the Windows operating system; hit the [F8] Function 8 key on your keyboard which will launch the Advanced Boot Options menu. There you will see a new option ‘Repair Your Computer’, select this option and hit ‘Enter’ on your keyboard. Learn more about the improved recovery options here

10. Previous Versions

 

Based on Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy technology that was initially introduced in Windows XP Professional, Microsoft made the technology more apparent in Windows Vista. Whenever you make significant changes to a file, whether a Microsoft Word document or a Photo, it keeps a backup copy of the original file. This is very handy just in case you made an edit without realizing and need a copy of the original file.

11. Personalization

 

Windows Vista focused deeply on the user experience. The Windows Team made their first attempt at providing a more modern approach to customizing the user experience in Windows through the Personalization Explorer. Options included Wallpaper gallery, window colors, and quicker access to related areas of the system such as Desktop, Mouse and Resolution options. Windows 7 expanded these capabilities even more, you can learn about the details here. Highlights include expanded theming capabilities, refined Personalize Explorer with quicker access to Screen Savers and Sounds settings along with the ability to download additional themes from Microsoft’s online Personalize Gallery.

12. Networking

 

Windows Vista’s Networking capabilities focused on simplifying access and management of resources. The new Networking and Sharing Center help to centralize access to the most commonly accessed areas of the Network environment. Windows 7 simplifies with a more logical layout, better tools to simplify networking in homes/small offices through HomeGroups and revamped Network Access capabilities through VAN (View Available Networks) in the Taskbar notification.

13. Snipping Tool

 

A handy screen capture tool, the Snipping Tool makes it easy to capture a screenshot of an object onscreen. You then have the option of quickly saving or sharing the image.

14. Start Menu All Programs

If you are coming from Windows XP directly to Windows 7, you will wonder what happened to cascading menus under All Programs. Well, its no more, instead, Windows 7 uses an improved menu system that simplifies access to programs and program groups. Often times, your programs menu will go off the screen if you have too many applications installed.

 

The Windows 7 Start menu also makes it easier to access programs by using Instant Search. Just type in the name of the program you are looking for and it will show up on the Start menu, hit Enter to open it. Windows 7’s Start menu is even more powerful, with features such as categorized search relevance, the new Windows 7 Jump List support which displays your most recently accessed activities for pinned application shortcuts on the Start menu. The improved Start menu also allows you search more places such as Networked folders and the Windows Public directory.

15. Windows Update

 

Windows XP utilized the web browser to access, manage and download updates for your computer. Windows Vista introduced an Explorer for this which focused on better ways to manage your Updates from within Windows. Windows Vista featured options such as the ability to view installed updates, update history and even uninstall them too in addition to Restoring hidden updates. Windows 7 adds additional enhancements with more details about your updates, better organization of updates that are critical or optional. You can also allow all users to install updates on your Windows 7 and Vista PC. The Windows Update Team has managed to extend the improvements of Windows 7’s Update service to Windows Vista too, so the additions are not limited to Windows 7 based systems.

16. Turn Windows features on or off

 

Customizing your Windows experience has never been easier. Windows Vista introduced this component which is a part of Programs and Features item (in Control Panel). With it, you can remove a lot of features that come installed with Windows. Microsoft further enhanced this component to remove even more components from within the Windows system, such as Internet Explorer, Media Features and the Windows Gadget platform. To learn more, click here

17. Programs and Features

 

Windows Vista added a high level of consistency to the user experience throughout Windows in many areas. Add & Remove Programs which has been a part of Windows since Windows 95 was updated with Windows XP. The new Programs and Features in Vista/Windows 7 is more flexible and features a lot more ways to manage your installed library of applications.

18. Windows Ready Boost

With Windows Ready Boost you can allocate a portion of a USB flash memory storage to improve your PC’s performance by extending its system memory without having to add RAM modules. When a USB Stick is plugged in, the Auto Play dialog will list an option to speed up your computer using the device. If you click it, you will be taken to the Ready Boost Properties of the device, from which you can configure, by adjusting how much memory you would like to allocate to the system, minimum of 256 MBs is required. Ready Boost works by storing information about the applications you use most often, it also stores some of the programs in RAM which results in faster application launches. If you have a system with 2 GBs of RAM, I notice you are not going to see a major difference. I do see some performance improvements on AMD Sempron 1.6 GHz desktop I have running Windows 7 with 512 MBs of RAM. With thumb drives so cheap, you could pick up a cheap 2 to 4 GB stick and dedicate to your system for using Ready Boost.

 

 

 

19. Mobility Center

 

Mobility center gives a Vista user quick access to some of the basic functionality that mobile users want to use and manage when they are on the road. These include Internal LCD Display, which provides options such controlling brightness, contrast depending on the types of environment you might be in, whether it is a park, building or types of surroundings that might affect the output of your laptops display. We took a look at this recently here

20. User Account Control

UAC’s intended purpose is to provide the user with as much insight as possible about activities taking place throughout their system. It prevents malicious code from easily infiltrating the system by creating a prominent awareness of the actions a user makes. So, a program that request that it access a certain part of the operating system or write to the system files directory can be easily identified. This should give the user better information about the decisions they make, whether it was intended or not.

 

Windows Vista’s implementation of UAC was quite limited. There was not much you could do other than turn it off which was not a good idea since UAC has good intentions. Windows 7 focuses on improving the user experience with more flexibility. In Windows 7, UAC features four levels of notification events.

Without Windows Vista, there would be no Windows 7. The technological improvements Vista introduced from Security to Graphics help lay a foundation for what many Windows users are benefiting from today. The increased performance, richer applications are all a part of the investments in Vista millions world wide are realizing even today with Windows 7. Windows 7 refines many of these innovations while adding major features further increasing the user experience value to your daily computing.

51 Comments

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51 responses to “Getting up to speed with 20 great Vista features in Windows 7

  1. Michael

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