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Since 1st March, 1999
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A new operator

Much like the New Coke, Sony’s Betamax, and the unsinkable Titanic, Microsoft’s Windows Vista joined the list of epic product failures a little less than two years ago. It was slow, buggy and had various software and hardware compatibility issues. It was easy to miss the immense changes that had happened under the hood, and before you knew it, Vista became the favourite whipping boy for anyone who cared to have an opinion about computers.

What Microsoft needed was a magic wand that would wipe away the memory of everything you hated about Vista. Would Windows 7, the much-touted successor, make the magic come alive, or would it be more sleight of hand? With its first beta being opened up to the press, and soon for consumers, we take a detailed look at what your next OS will look like.

Much like Windows Vista, you install Windows 7 by booting from the installation DVD, and it requires very few steps to complete the installation — if you’re counting, five pre-installation screens and seven post-installation screens. From start to finish, the installation on my laptop took less than 30 minutes. For those of you who can’t wait, you can download the approximately 3GB of installation files and install Windows 7 beta without a licence key under a 30-day trial.

The all-new Start Menu and Taskbar

System requirements are similar to Vista’s, which makes it even better since we’re not ready to upgrade hardware yet again for another version of Windows, thank you.

When you boot into Windows 7 for the first time, you may not notice much difference, if you’ve been using Vista. It’s glassier than the Aero look and feel of Vista, which may or may not work for you, it’s really a matter of personal taste.

The big changes start with the Windows Taskbar, a fundamental feature that has changed very little since Windows 95. With Windows 7, it undergoes its biggest remodelling job ever. Gone are the familiar bars containing the name of a running application, and in their place are unlabelled, super-sized icons that represent running applications. It almost veers towards the Mac OS X’s dock, but stays safely away from plagiarism.

The System Tray — the black hole for all the icons and applications you don’t remember installing, or alerts you couldn’t care less about — is still there, but Microsoft has finally given some power back in your hands, with greater control over which icons and notifications you get to see.

At the far right, is the replacement for the Show Desktop icon I use several times a day, and when you click on it, all open windows will minimise so you can see the desktop. The Gadgets Sidebar that Microsoft introduced in Vista is gone too, putting the handy gadgets right on the desktop and clearing up valuable screen estate. There’s a handy trick they’ve pulled in here — if you want to work in two windows side-by-side, dragging the second window to either side of the screen snaps them both into place so that each takes up half the screen.

A new feature called Jump Lists makes its appearance in the Start Menu. So as you move your mouse over the most recently used items on the left, you’ll see Jump Lists, or handy submenus, for appropriate items expand on the right. For example, the shortcut for Microsoft Excel displays a list of recently accessed spreadsheets. Very few applications support it now, but those that do, really helped me get more out of the applications with less effort.

Also new is the Action Center, which pulls a variety of security and maintenance features together in a single menu for simpler management. With its clearly labelled options, the Action Center should make it easier for beginners and for intermediate users to set their system security preferences with confidence, manage back-ups, and troubleshoot minor performance problems or return to a previous restore point if things go awry.

A new feature called Libraries is a useful addition on Windows 7

Moving past the interface tweaks, a new feature called Libraries makes its way into Windows 7. Initially, it can be quite confusing for the lay user, since it doesn’t work like a traditional file folder. Instead, Libraries creates a smart folder that collates files across your system according to your criteria. For example, you can create a smart folder that contains all of the image files available on your system, or over your home network, and is constantly updated as soon as new images are added. Neat.

The much reviled User Access Control feature in Vista has finally been tamed, and you get greater control when applications will pop-up and ask for your permission to change system settings.

The biggest question on everyone’s mind is whether Windows 7 makes things go faster. It does, on everyday use, feel a little faster than Vista on the same machine, whether you’re opening windows, launching applications or just playing around with the settings. Start-up is a bit quicker too, getting me from power-on to fully booted faster than a fresh install of Vista did on the same machine.

So that’s my take on my first few days with Windows 7. If you’re curious, have lots of free time, and have a machine and some bandwidth to spare, there’s nothing quite like taking an advance look at the next generation of your OS.

Rating: 8/10

Palm’s comeback

Wherefore were you all these years, Palm? After years of hiding behind a wall of obscure products, Palm has finally

released the Pre. A curvy touchscreen handset with a 3.1-in 320 x 480 multitouch display, and a full QWERTY keyboard that slides out from the phone in a portrait orientation, the Pre is running Palm’s all-new revolutionary webOS platform. Other specs are standard — 802.11b/g WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth with A2DP and 8GB built-in flash storage. But what’s most exciting is the wireless charger — a first for a mainstream phone. It’ll be a while till it hits Indian shores, though.

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