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My weekend with Windows 7

First look at Windows 7 Build 7000

Windows 7 installation

But none of these potentially problematic programs are mission critical (I replaced OneCare with AVG Free), so I pushed ahead with the upgrade. Operating system upgrades can be challenging, so at this stage I should provide the usual advice to those planning on making major changes to their system - backup your computer first!

That said, the process couldn't have been smoother, apart from the installation time. We've read reports that the Windows 7 beta can install and be ready for use with 30 minutes, but it took significantly longer on the Samsung laptop - the OS was up and running nearly three hours after I started the installation.

Windows 7 new features

Vista critics have argued that Microsoft placed too much emphasis on aesthetics when hyping the OS - Windows Aero is regarded as, at best, eye candy and, at worst, a resource hog. The same applies to the Windows Sidebar.

And yet it's the interface that makes the first impression once Windows 7 boots up for the first time. Again, Microsoft is promoting the interface tweaks as a major step forward in productivity - the taskbar has had an overhaul, although those who didn't like the 'glassy' effect in Vista should be prepared for more of the same.

The Windows Sidebar is gone though, with Microsoft instead encouraging users to install Windows Gadgets on the desktop.

Windows 7 gadgets

First impressions of the tweaked taskbar are mixed - by default, Windows 7 combines icons of running apps so if you have several Internet Explorer windows open, rather than listing them vertically, you can see thumbnails of the active web page horizontally.

It certainly looks the part, but takes a bit of getting used to and could be labelled as a solution looking for a problem. In Vista and XP's default setting, the taskbar tells you exactly how many windows you have open for each application, listing all of the web browser windows, for example, by the subject of the page. The visual previews in Windows 7's default setting are easy on the eye, but on first impressions, it takes longer to identify individual web pages.

windows 7 taskbar

For those happy with the stacked windows approach of XP & Vista, you can tweak the layout by right-clicking on the taskbar and selecting Properties. Here, you can also choose between large icons and small icons, as well as position the taskbar on the left, right or top of the screen.

Still enjoying the novelty factor of the new interface, I stuck with the default settings and also 'pinned' a number of regularly used apps to the taskbar so they remain in place even after a reboot. Rarely used apps such as Windows Media Player were unpinned immediately.

The revamped notification area on the bottom-right of the interface is a big step forward though. Rather than filling up this area with shortcuts to running apps and nuisance alerts, Windows 7's notification area is less crowded and the large number of apps that collect there are accessed via a small button, rather than appearing by default.

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