SOFTWARE

Windows 7 gets fine-tuning, new features

Microsoft on Friday described even more user interface tweaks and bug fixes being carried out by the Windows 7 engineering team in preparation for the release candidate version of the operating system. The release candidate will be the near-final production version of the OS prior to general product release.

This time, Microsoft listed 27 updates to the Windows 7 Beta. The engineering team said Microsoft is making most of those changes in response to user feedback. The new updates add to 36 fixes that were reported by the engineering team late last month.

Notably, the team fixed a bug in the Windows 7 Beta where USB devices, such as keyboards and mice, sometimes stopped working after users put the OS into suspended mode and then resumed their sessions. The workaround was unplugging the dead device and plugging it back into the port. Thankfully, you won't have to do that with the release candidate version, according to Microsoft's engineers.

Another hardware-type problem with the Windows 7 Beta involved 1394 HDV cameras. Some users had problems streaming camera content to the PC, but that's been fixed for the release candidate version, according to Microsoft's announcement.

The "new folder" button, which creates folders to store files, is now available at the top of the menu rather than hidden in a submenu. However, Microsoft also fixed a confusing problem in the Windows 7 Beta where that button disappeared when something was selected.

For those concerned with disk space, Microsoft cut down on the amount of drive space grabbed by the Windows Recovery tool, as well as the BitLocker security feature. It's been cut in half, from 200 MB to 100 MB, in the release candidate version.

We all want to save time in our busy days, and the Windows 7 engineering team will save you 400 milliseconds on shutdown and logoff times in the release candidate version of the OS. They accomplished this feat by shaving bits off the associated WAV sound files.

Most of the improvements described by the engineering team concerned the user interface in Windows 7. For instance, the team has improved user control over pop-up lists. When thumbnails representing windows get long, they collapse into lists. What's new for the Windows 7 release candidate is the ability to open a list item by simply hovering the mouse icon over the item. In addition, there's now a Close button on the list.

The release candidate will also allow you to pin items in the desktop jump list, so they are always accessible. Moreover, the jump list for the control panel now automatically shows the user's most recently visited connections at the top of the list.

Microsoft describes all of the updates at its Engineering Windows 7 blog, which can be accessed here.

In other Windows 7 news, a blog entry posted March 12 by Microsoft IT Pro Evangelist Jeff Alexander had shown charts clarifying Microsoft's Windows 7 product lineup, which was announced in early February. The blog post was removed at the time of this article's publication. However, it showed a table listing the six SKUs (stock keeping units) of Windows 7, along with key features associated with those products.

If the Alexander's post was correct, Windows 7 Professional will lack five features that are part of the full-featured Windows 7 Enterprise and Windows 7 Ultimate editions.

Referring to the now missing table, Alexander wrote, "You might notice that BitLocker, BitLocker To Go, AppLocker, DirectAccess, Branch Cache are not part of Windows 7 Professional, which is targeted at the small-to-medium sector. You need to have Enterprise or Ultimate to get those features." The sixth item not included in Windows 7 Professional edition, according to the table, was Multiple User Interface Language Packs.

It's not clear whether the table in Alexander's post was removed because the information was wrong, but Microsoft hasn't otherwise publicized all of the features for the Windows 7 SKUs -- to my knowledge. Upgrading will be easy as all of the OS' features are there. They get unlocked when you upgrade to the next Windows 7 license.

Alexander also claimed that all Windows 7 versions will work on netbooks, which are small, low-tech laptop computers.

"And lastly many of you have asked about which SKU will work best with Netbook PC's," he wrote in the missing blog entry. "All SKU's will work on many of these devices and I have a loaned Pioneer Netbook running Windows 7 Ultimate just fine."

Microsoft has yet to announce when its Windows 7 products will appear. The rumor is that PCs running the new OS will be on the market before the December holidays.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is the online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group sites, including Redmondmag.com, RCPmag.com and MCPmag.com.

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