The first beta of Microsoft's upcoming Windows 7 operating system, the successor to Windows Vista, will be released to the public for beta testing in January. Build 7000, or Beta 1, of Windows 7 is nothing more than Build 6801 with a few tweaks added to it. TechReviewSource.com was able to get our hands on the public beta that will be released for general download sometime in January 2009. Windows 7 looks very promising right now in the sense that it seems solid and addresses a lot of the complaints and issues that Windows Vista currently has.
The fact that the first beta of Windows 7 is very solid and stable means that it is very far along in development, actually much further in development than previous betas of Windows. This beta release will feel like more of a release candidate (RC) for avid tech enthusiasts and past Windows beta/RC testers. The review that follows is in-depth and filled with screen shots of what we think are the most important parts of Windows 7 that are either new, or are improvements over Windows XP/Vista.
Installing Windows 7 Beta
Just like Windows Vista, to install Windows 7, you just boot from the installation DVD and you'll be loaded right into the interactive Setup system. Windows 7's setup is very much similar to Vista's, but that's a good thing because Windows Vista's setup was much improved over XP's. Windows XP had many windows that would pop-up during installation and stall the process until the user did something. Windows 7 (as well as Vista) does away with all that and you will only be prompted with 5 pre-installation screens and 7 post-installation screens (or 8 if you want to connect to a wireless network).
Windows 7's introductory installation screen
Because of the fewer installation screens and a streamlined installation process all together, Windows 7 Beta 1 can be installed in around 20 minutes on a physical machine (or around 30 mins on a virtual PC, which is what our installation was installed to).
During the install, Windows 7 will prompt you to provide a user name and a computer name as well.
After Windows is installed, it will prompt you to create a Homegroup if desired.
If you want, you can create a Homegroup during the installation. We'll talk more about what Homegroup is exactly and if you want it or not. You can always change these settings after you install Windows and you can also view the password, so it is not necessary to write it down either.
This is the last step in the installation of Windows 7 Beta 1.
Using Windows 7 Beta 1
When you boot into Windows 7 for the first time, you may not notice much different besides a little redesign of the task bar and system tray. The desktop icons themselves are the exact same as Vista. When you do boot into Windows 7, the start time is very quick and much improved over Vista/XP. I have seen boot times that are almost half of Windows Vista's and seems almost "Mac like".
The Windows 7 Beta 1 desktop with the redesigned task bar and system tray.
The task bar has been the most talked about feature of Windows 7. Instead of the conventional application "bars" in current Windows versions where only the programs that you are running appear, Windows 7 allows you to "dock" your most used programs right in the taskbar...very similar to Apple's Mac OS X operating system. It allows for quick, always available access to your most used applications and programs.
When you are running a program that isn't docked on the bar, its icon will appear. To open a window from the application when it has been minimized, you just have to click on its icon and the window will maximize and come into view. If you have more than one window of a certain application, when you click its icon, a list will appear for you to choose which window you want to appear and maximize.
Windows 7's Start Menu and redesigned task bar
The Start Menu is very similar to Vista's, but as you can see, they have replaced the shut down icon in Vista, with actual text that says "Shut Down", "Log Off", etc. The same search bar appears at the bottom of the Start Menu along with the pinned menu items and All Programs button. The little arrows next to some of the items on the pinned start menu area are called Jump Lists. If you click them, various program-related tasks or options will appear for that specific program. For example, Microsoft Word's Jump List shows recently accessed documents.
Click the button to the right of the clock and it will instantly minimize all open applications and take you to your desktop.
In the screenshot of the system tray above, there's a little icon that looks like a flag, which is the icon for the Windows 7 Action Center. The Action Center replaces the Windows Security Center from XP/Vista and provides information regarding your computer's security status as well as other important things. You can also find solutions to any issues you are having with your computer right from the Action Center as well. It will also help you find suitable antivirus software if you don't have any installed on your system, which is a good improvement.
The Windows 7 Action Center provides valuable information regarding your computer's health and security status.
Windows Explorer is mostly unchanged from Vista, but it does have a new view style called Content. Along the left side of the Explorer window, there's one-click links to your Favorites (not IE favorites, but locations on your computer you can specify, such as often used folders), Libraries, and Homegroup. Libraries were introduced in the first builds of Windows 7 and are Microsoft's way of trying to move away from traditional drive tree structure and more into "visualized" file storage. To explain further, Microsoft is trying to stop using "C:\Users\User 1\Documents" and instead just use "Documents". They are a virtual folder where you can store things that are similar and make it more easier to organize.
The Windows Explorer window in Windows 7 is pretty standard and provides one-click access to many aspects of your computer.
Networking has been improved in Windows 7 with the addition of Homegroup, which is a way for networked computers to share data in a easy to organize and access manner. It's mostly designed for the home user with multiple computers running Windows. What it allows you to do it is "link" together the hard drives of multiple computers running Windows 7 and when you browse your computer using Windows Explorer, the contents of other networked computers will automatically integrate into your computer's contents. Traditionally, to view the files on a networked computer, you have to go to Network -> Computer Name and then view that computer's files there. Homegroup actually makes it so you can browse the files on both your local computer and networked computers at the same time. It will automatically group together files of similar nature, such as documents or pictures, and then show them all together.
Homegroup allows you to seamlessly browse and share files across all of your networked PCs.
With Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced desktop gadgets in the Windows Sidebar. But they were restricted to being only in the Sidebar itself and they couldn't "live" outside the sidebar. Windows 7 fixes that as Microsoft has completely eliminated the Windows Sidebar and just made the gadgets able to exist anywhere on the desktop.
Windows gadgets in Windows 7 can now exist anywhere on the desktop.
Microsoft introduced User Account Control (UAC) in Windows Vista as a way of protecting your computer from malicious software and threats. However, it is very overbearing and it asks for permission when performing everyday tasks and really gets in the way. Microsoft has toned UAC down in Windows 7 and provided more control in how users are prompted. You can now choose various notification levels that will suppress unnecessary UAC prompts.
Windows 7 allows for more refined control over UAC to lessen the amount of prompts.
The About window for Windows 7 Beta 1
The Getting Started center in Windows 7 provides access to basic features & settings. It is particularly useful when you first install Windows 7 on your PC.
Windows 7 Programs & Applications
Windows 7 doesn't include as many built-in applications as Windows XP/Vista did. It no longer comes with Windows Mail, Movie Maker, Photo Gallery, or Messenger. To get these applications, you now have to download them from the Windows Live Essentials package, which is available for free and from the Windows 7 Getting Started window. This is a good thing in a way because it cuts down on Windows 7's bloat and allows more user personalization in having only the programs they want.
Microsoft includes the newest beta version of Internet Explorer (IE) with Windows 7, IE 8.0 beta. The interface is mostly unchanged from IE 7 and still includes tabs and the address bar and search bar in one toolbar. Rendering of Web pages has been improved with IE 8 beta due to improved compatibility with Web standards. There is a new feature in IE 8 called Suggested Sites. While browsing, you can click on a drop down that will search a database and provide you with links to sites that are similar to the site you are currently viewing.
The new IE 8 beta's interface is mostly the same as IE 7, but has improved Web rendering of pages.
IE 8's Suggested Sites drop down provides you with related sites to the one you are currently viewing.
Windows Media Player has been updated to version 12 and also gets a new interface. In the new version, there is no more "watch folders", but rather it just watches for music and other audio files in the Music Library (again Microsoft is moving away from traditional "folders" and locations). WMP also can play audio files right from a networked computer provided it is connected via Homegroup.
The new version of Windows Media Player, version 12
The new version of Windows Media Center that comes with Windows 7 hasn't changed much from Windows Vista, but the interface has been tweaked and now looks very similar to the menu on the Microsoft Zune portable music player.
The new interface tweaks to Windows Media Center make it look more like Microsoft's Zune.
Microsoft Paint and Word Pad have been given the ribbon interface that Microsoft gave Office 2007 earlier. It allows for more features to be added to both Paint and Word Pad, but they still don't come close to programs likes Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop Elements.
Paint and Word Pad now include the ribbon interface that was included with Microsoft Office 2007.
The calculator in Windows 7 has been totally revamped and now sports a new interface as well as new features. The calculator now has "templates", which allow for unit conversion, mortgage calculation, currency conversion, and more.
The new calculator in Windows 7
Microsoft put Sticky Notes into Windows 7. You can make a new sticky note by just right clicking the desktop.
Windows 7 is certainly a huge improvement over Windows Vista and other versions. I can only describe it as having the really neat features and eye-candy of Vista and the stability of Windows XP. It's very clear that Microsoft's main goal with Windows 7 is performance and stability. Microsoft has also made it clear that the system requirements to run Windows 7 is very light. You will be able to run Windows 7 on the same systems that Windows XP runs on and you won't need advanced computers with 4GB of RAM and 4Ghz processors, which is a huge break in tradition. Usually with each operating system release, Microsoft adds to the system requirements, but this time, Microsoft is cutting them back.
Windows 7 is a big step towards having an operating system that has a lot of neat and useful features, but also has rock-solid stability and performance at the same time. When Microsoft releases this beta to the public, there's no doubt there will be a lot of buzz and I think a lot of praise as well.
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