Microsoft Windows 7 New Features Review

Microsoft Windows 7 New Features ReviewReview Microsoft Windows Version 7

It’s worth reviewing the full list of new features in Windows 7 if only to give you fresh ideas.  Guy bets that you will find at least one feature that you did not know existed, for example ‘Aero Shake’.  In my case, reviewing Windows 7 also reminded me of a number of items that I had overlooked in Vista, for example biometrics.

Microsoft Windows 7 Features Review


Windows 7 Cosmetic Changes

I believe that learning should be fun; I even believe that working should be fun.  Vista was an interesting operating system, yet all too often it was frustrating; consequently, one could easily get into the wrong frame of mind.  Later on this page I will review Windows 7’s technical enhancements.  But for now I want to highlight innovative cosmetic changes because they make us feel good and put us in a good mood ready to tackle our day-to-day tasks.Review Windows 7 Taskbar

Improved Taskbar

‘Customer in Control’ is the mantra, thus Window 7 does not allow newly installed programs to bully their way into the Taskbar, and the Notification Area is also cleaner and uncluttered;

There are subtle changes in behavior for displaying open programs on the Taskbar, for instance if you open a Windows explorer, the icon for the new window stacks onto the existing pinned icon rather than creating a separate icon on the taskbar.  See screenshot showing the lower example with no explorers open, in contrast, the top strip featuring a glowing icon with 4 windows open.

Moreover, you also get more ‘drill-down’, just hover over a preview and see details of what’s going on in that program, for example views or files that are open.  As ever, you can right-click the Taskbar and change its properties and how it combines these buttons.

See more about the new taskbar.

The Old Quick Launch

For Luddites, like my friend Mad Mick, it is possible to get back the old Quick Launch

See more about restoring the old Quick Launch

Aero Shake (Title bar) and Aero Snap (Side-by-side Windows)

Discover the ‘Aero Shake’, and instantly clear the clutter caused be opening too many windows.  This new Windows 7 feature works by grabbing the title bar of the program you are interested in and shaking it with the mouse, all the other windows disappear clearing the untidiness with a flick of the top of a window.  N.B. if Aero Shake does not work for you, check that you have Aero Graphics. 

Incidentally, my friend ‘Mad’ Mick still wouldn’t believe that the Aero Shake feature is by design and not a bug!  Then he went to the other extreme and hacked his registry, added a key called NoWindowMinimizingShortcuts.  To follow his path, launch Regedit then navigate to:

  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Explorer
  • Add a Key called Explorer
  • Create a 32-bit DWORD called NoWindowMinimizingShortcuts
  • Set the value = 1.
  • Result Aero Shake is disabled

Troubleshooting Aero Shake

I find that Aero Shake does not work with Remote Desktop, unless the host system is also Windows 7.

Other ways to maximise a window.  These are not so much problems, more genuine new features.  If you drag the title bar to the top of the window it maximises.  Also if you happen to be holding down the Winkey and press the up arrow, the same thing happens.

Aero Snap

There are other neat enhancements of the way that you can control windows so that you can compare the contents of two pages.  The idea behind Aero Snap, is that when you drag one window to the left, and the other to the right edge, they each get resized to half the screen.  To tell the truth it took me ages to get Aero Snap to work, the knack is to drag one Window left, but to a ridiculous extent.  And the other window way, way way right.  I say again it’s a knack, just drag it so that half disappears off screen, something you would never normally do.  The other trap is that you have to drag the windows to the side and not the top of the screen.

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AERO Peek Microsoft Windows 7 Aero Peak

Aero Peek allows you to glimpse the desktop when its underneath layers of open programs.  It relies on the ‘Show desktop’ icon, which is now positioned to the right of the clock, see screenshot.

To see the effect you must open a few programs before you right-click on the Show desktop icon, now you should now be able to peek at the desktop.  This is not a feature that I will use often, I am guessing Aero Peek is designed for those who have gadgets embedded on their desktop, and want to see a stock update or the latest sports results.

Possible problem, I could not get Aero Peek to work with remote desktop.  Perhaps a limitation of the graphics resulted in this feature being greyed-out.  Another reason that you don’t see Aero Peek, could be that it’s been disabled in the Taskbar properties.

Jump Lists – RecentReview Microsoft Windows 7 - Jump Lists

The list of programs that you see when you click the Start Orb is now called a Jump List, personally, I like to pin regularly used programs to the Start menu, that way they don’t get bumped off the list by new-comers.  Windows 7 extends this ‘Start menu’ behaviour to other programs.  The result is that it’s easier to resume a playlist from where you left off, or find a Word file that you used yesterday.  Right-click IE8 in Windows 7 and you get a ‘Frequent’ list.  Right-click Word or Notepad and you get a ‘Recent’ jump list, see screenshot.

Jump lists are yet another example where Windows 7 rewards intelligent user behaviour.  I would not want to go overboard here, but this and similar features, make me more productive; I feel the operating system understands what I want and provides the easiest possible method to tackle my current task.  See more on Windows 7 Jump Lists.

Needy State (Icon blink)

Microsoft Windows 7 Aero PeakThere is a subtle change on the Windows Orb, it now glows when you hover over the Start Button area.  This concept of enhanced visual clues extends to the Taskbar icons.  ‘Needy State’ is a Microsoft term for when programs in the Taskbar try to grab your attention, for example a blinking icon alerting you that email has just arrived in Outlook.  The difference in Windows 7 is that the icon now flashes gently seven times, rather than aggressively three times.

Action Center FlagReview Microsoft Windows 7 Action Center Flag

The Action Center folder collects messages about security and maintenance and literally flags problems via an icon in the notification area.  It’s hard to ignore a red flag, as usual, just double-click and the flag will take you to the Action Center where you can see what’s occurring.  If the problem looks tricky, then there are a new generation of intelligent troubleshooters on hand to help you.

Gadgets are In – But The Sidebar is Out

Gadgets are now embedded into the desktop rather than a sidebar.  It may sound strange, but the new system is easier to use, and is an improvement over grappling with gadgets in Vista’s sidebar.  Just right-click the desktop and you will see ‘Gadgets’ on the shortcut menu.

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Review of Windows 7 New Networking Features

Windows 7 brings new features which make it easier for computers not only to get connected, but also to stay connected regardless of their location or type of network. These enhancements also enable IT professionals to meet the needs of their business in a secure, reliable, and flexible way.

  • DirectAccess allows users to experience their office environment at home, or anywhere with an internet connection.  This solution uses IPSec to provide authentication and encryption for communication, thus eliminating the need to fiddle around with VPN connections.  By it’s nature this is a feature for domain users and requires configuration of a Windows Server 2008.  Actually, there is quite a lot of configuration on the Windows 2008 server, especially if you wish to restrict parts of the corporate network to the users when they are offsite.  
  • BranchCache, which enables updated content from file and Web servers on a wide area network (WAN) to be cached on computers at a local branch office, increasing application response time and reducing WAN traffic.  The idea is that one user access data, which the branch server caches, others users get cached copy.
  • Multiple active firewall profiles.  The benefit is that firewall rules are based on the network to which each network adapter is connected, for example, Private, Public, or Domain.  Let us suppose that you are at a station which supplies wireless connection.  This is what happens, your VPN connection to the corporate domain network is protected by the Domain profile.  While surfing the internet uses the Public profile.
  • Mobile broadband device support provides another consistent driver-based model for devices that are used to access a mobile broadband network.  What’s new is that users don’t need to grapple with third-party software, Windows 7 takes care of business.
  • IPv6 provides the end-to-end addressing necessary for clients to connect to the enterprise network.  If you are not yet ready to fully deploy IPv6, then you can use Intra-Site Automatic Tunnel Addressing Protocol (ISATAP), Teredo, and 6to4 to connect across the IPv4 Internet and to access IPv4 resources.
  • URL-based Quality of Service (QoS), which enables you to assign a priority level to traffic based on the URL from which the traffic originates.
  • DISM (Deployment Image Service and Management) Installation is not my speciality, but if it was I would study and use this new utility.  DISM is like a new incarnation of AIK (Automated Installation Kit) and its crucial feature is slicker update of drivers resulting in smaller image files.  This is new for Windows 7 (and Windows Server 2008 R2) Key phrase, Dynamic Driver Provision.  DISM replaces PEimg.exe, Intlcfg.exe, and Pkgmgr.exe.
  • MultiCore Processing.  Better support for dual-core and quad-core CPU.
  • Faster WiFi network discovery on startup.

What’s New in Group Policy

One message which I have repeated down the years is how it pays to have balanced systems.  Windows 7 with Windows Server 2008, XP teamed with Windows Server 2003.  If you have Windows 7 on the desktop, but Window Server 2003 then some of these new features may not work.

The following improvements are available in Windows Server 2008 R2.  Also, by installing Remote Server Administration Tools on a Windows 7 computer, you can connect to a 2008 DC and manage domain-based Group Policies

  • Windows PowerShell provides 25 new cmdlets dedicated for configuring Group Policy, they mimic changing settings via the Group Policy Management Console.
  • The ability to run PowerShell scripts during logon and startup.
  • There is a new user interface and additional policies in the Administrative Template Settings.
  •  Group Policy Preferences have additional items, see AppLocker below, or Gpedit here

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AppLocker is a domain feature, and not a setting to configure on a Home Network.  In fact, you need at least one Windows Server 2008 R2 domain controller to host the AppLocker rules.

AppLocker is a new Windows 7 feature that replaces the Software Restriction Policies feature of previous versions of Group Policy. AppLocker contains new capabilities and extensions making it easier for you to control how users can access files, such as .exe files, scripts, Windows Installer files (.msi and .msp files), and DLLs.

There are two main strategies for configuring AppLocker.  Firstly there is what I call the Mr Nasty approach where you deny all applications, then you create a list of ‘known good’ exceptions.  Secondly, there is the Mr Nice approach where you allow all programs, but keep a list of ‘known bad’.  By default, AppLocker rules do not permit users to open or run any files that are not specifically allowed.

Windows 7 HomeGroup – (Home Network)

Following the evolution of Home Network in XP and then in Vista, HomeGroup finally delivers easy connections for Windows 7 computers in workgroup configuration.  My best contribution on this new Window 7 feature is to persuade you to give HomeGroup a chance.

The most obvious use of this synchronization technology is to connect laptops running Windows 7 to home network.  Benefits include accessing music, videos and pictures on your other machines much more easily than Vista.  It maybe that the killer feature of HomeGroup is to use ‘Device Stage’ to interrogate or even configure other gadgets such as mobile phones.

See more on SolarWinds VoIP Manager »

Setup concepts 
Where necessary configure the settings from the Network and Sharing Center.  Put the Windows 7 computer in a ‘Home Network’, then create a HomeGroup making a note of the auto-generated password.  Naturally, supply this password when joining other Windows 7 computers to your HomeGroup.  Any problem reboot!!!

Library concepts
In Windows 7, it helps if you re-evaluate My Documents, My Pictures and My Music.  Instead of thinking of each as a single folder, think of them as a ‘Library’, connected to many physical folders.  Also appreciate the benefit of sharing these Libraries with other computers in your HomeGroup.  If you like this Library concept then you can extend it by creating new virtual folders, or new libraries, and then tick on the box and make them available to other users in your HomeGroup.  See more on the Windows 8 Library folders.

Problem with HomeGroup
It is not accessible from XP and Vista machines even if they are in the same Home Network.

See more on Windows 7 HomeGroups

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Control Panel Changes 

Device Stage

Continuing the theme of more intelligent use, the Device Stage gathers your printer, camera, mouse and other devices into one folder. 

The idea of this new Windows 7 feature is that once you connect a media device to your Windows 7 computer, then you can configure it from the Devices and Printers folder in the Control Panel.  Not only can you check for firmware updates, but also you can manage the media on the device.  To some extent the usefulness of this new way of view devices depends on the manufacturers making their information available to the operating system.  One classic use for Device Stage would be to mirror songs in your Media folder with those on the device.

Action Center

The Action Center is a central point providing access to 4 sub-categories, the benefit is for when you cannot remember when an item such as the Windows Firewall appears in the Maintenance or Security area.  Also when you are Troubleshooting you may have forgotten about the Recovery options.  Thus its useful to have these 4 categories in one Action Center.

Security:  Windows Firewall, Windows Defender, User Account Control (UAC).
Maintenance:  Windows Backup, Windows Update, and other system maintenance tools. The Reliability Monitor has now been moved to this section of the Action Center.
Recovery:  Connect to System Restore 
  Windows 7 includes ships with over 20 built-in troubleshooters, and more are on their way.  The main categories mimic the Control Panel layout for example: Programs, Network and Internet, Hardware and Sound, System and Security, Personalization.

Flag in Navigation Area
You may have noticed a flag in the Navigation Area, well click and you will be taken to the Action Center.  The benefit is that not only can you resolve any urgent problems, but you can review the firewall and backup settings.

More New Features in Windows 7


Troubleshooting with PSR

Windows 7 also has a neat Problem Steps Recorder so that users can trap frustrating glitches and send the zip files to support staff.  For example, program compatibility issues, problems with devices, difficulty connecting to the Internet.  See more on PSR.

Biometrics and Smart Cards

More and more laptops have embedded fingerprint readers for logon authentication.  Windows 7 is the first operating system to include the Windows Biometric Framework.  The benefit is that Windows 7 offers a consistent user experience for discovering and launching fingerprint applications. It does this by providing the following:

  • An applet in the Control Panel, so that users can configure Biometric Devices for logging on to a local computer or domain.
  • Device Manager support for managing drivers for biometric devices.
  • Group Policy settings to enable, or limit the use of biometric data for a local computer or domain.  Group Policy settings can also prevent anyone installing a biometric device driver.

While Smart Cards are not exactly biometric, Windows 7 has parallel improvements for managing smart card Plug and Play, and also the associated Personal Identity Verification (PIV).  Perhaps the biggest practical help is that Windows Update takes care of device drivers for biometric devices and smart cards.

Turn on / Turn Off Windows Features

Windows 7 develops the theme of ‘Features’ to replace XP’s Add Remove Programs, Windows Components.  The benefit is that you can now turn off ‘Features’ that were previously built-in to the operating system, Internet Explorer 8 is the most prominent examples, other examples include Media Features.

Talking of turning on and off, when you click the start Orb there is a new ‘Power Button’ which makes shutting down fractionally easier.  Furthermore you can customize the button so that the default is to restart if you prefer.

Even More New Features in Windows 7

Open command window here

This was formerly a ‘Power Tool’ and now it integral when you right-click any folder in Windows Explorer.  Clarification, you have to hold down the Shift key as you right-click in order to see this Windows 7 new feature.

PowerCfg -energy

Here is a new switch for PowerCfg, what it does is check your laptop’s battery, in particular is it holding its charge?

PowerShell – built-in to the operating system.

PowerShell v2.0 is now built-in to the Windows 7 operating system, you just need to type ‘PowerShell’ in the Search dialog box.  There is no need to ‘Turn on Feature’ as you did in Vista.

Perfmon /report

Try Perfmon with the /report switch.  This is really useful – if frightening – for identifying hardware problems.

Event Viewer ‘Attach a task to this log’

Launch eventvwr and use this easy way to be emailed if you keep getting specific problems.

Calculator New Converter

This may seem trivial, but I alert you to the new conversion feature of calculator as it is an example of the numerous tiny, more intelligent features of Windows 7 compared with Vista.  Calculator now has a view for converting inches to millimetres and gallons to cubic centimetres.  Also WordPad now opens .docx files.

Mobility Center

WinKey +X.  Launches the mobility center, which makes it easier to manage the projector for your PowerPoint Presentations, especially if you have an external display.

Windows 7 provides a driver-based model for any broadband device with wireless capabilities.  The interface is now the same for every broadband provider.  As a result, users can connect to any mobile broadband device and immediately gain access to the network.


Launches the advanced section of User Accounts in the Control Panel.  NetPlWiz.exe is useful for setting Auto Login.

Backup Regains Flexibility

Vista’s restrictions have been removed, you can now choose and fine tune what to backup.

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Windows Update – Updated!

Is it me, or is the interface clearer?  Maybe Windows Update has had a face-lift for all operating systems?


The improved Networking Icon in Notification Area is an other example of how Windows 7 makes it easier to change settings.  The options and capabilities for wireless networking continue to improve for example, Windows Connect Now and View Available Networks.

User Account Control – Better Balance between Usability and Security

Actually, even at it’s worst, the User Account Control (UAC) was not THAT intrusive for day-to-day tasks in Vista.  In my opinion UAC was ridiculed, got a bad press, and thus became an easy target for cheap-shot comments.  Let us remember that without UAC malicious programs or absent-minded administrators could make changes that could compromise security and unwittingly bring about a disaster.

If you bring an open mind to Windows 7’s version of UAC, then you will be pleasantly surprised.  Upon reflection, you will see that Microsoft has achieved the feat of improving usability without sacrificing the goal of tight administrator security. 

Conclusion: what seems to be happening is that people who turned the UAC off in Vista are now willing to configure the Window 7 version and then leave it turned on.

New Features for UAC in Windows 7

  • Reduce the number of tasks that the standard user cannot perform, and that consequently need administrator approval.
  • Allow an administrator to fine-tune the UAC settings in the Control Panel.
  • Add local security policies that allow a local administrator to adjust the UAC messages for local administrators.
  •  Provide local security policies that control the behaviour of UAC messages for standard users.

Examples of the Superior Windows 7 UAC in action

  • We can concentrate on network diagnostic and repair tasks without being distracted by the UAC.
  • No need for the UAC when installing updates from Windows Update.
  • Merely viewing Windows settings does not trigger the UAC.  (UAC appears only when you want make a change).
  • Many operations are merged so you only need one interaction with the UAC, for instance, file operation, IE prompts to install, each require only one click of the UAC.
  • Conclusion: the Windows 7 UAC allows everyone to perform their daily computer tasks with fewer prompts.  Above all, the administrators has more control over when the UAC prompts users.

Here is a brief reminder of how the UAC works, on the grounds that knowledge is power, or at least that an explanation makes it easier to accept why we need the UAC.

When an administrator logs on, the operating system creates two separate access tokens for that user: a standard user access token, and an administrator access token.  The standard user access token can start applications that do not perform administrative tasks, for example, Outlook or Word.

However, as soon as that privileged user tries to run an application that performs an administrative task, the operating system prompt the user to switch access tokens, and thus elevate their security context to Admin Approval Mode.  See more on the UAC in Windows 7

New Windows 7 Features Review:  Search, Browse, and Organization

Windows 7 introduces enhancements for desktop search and browse capabilities.  Here are the improvements:

  • Start Menu Search:  In the results not only programs, but also Control Panel items e.g. Firewall.  Tip, filter.  Trust me, just that bit smarter e.g. ‘Hit highlighting’.  Search is at least as flexible and configurable as Vista e.g. save search and expand search.
  • Improvements in the relevance of the search results.  The introduction of aggregation and visualizations to improve the presentation of search results.
  • Better performance and greater stability of the indexer.
  • The concept of ‘Libraries’ brings together the flexibility of folders with the power of search.  You can create Libraries to help with organization, they work like folders but have extra meta-data search abilities.  Thanks to libraries you can aggregate data from different sources to create a special virtual folder or library. 
  • Changes, Microsoft would say improvements, in the Windows Explorer navigation making it better organized and more intuitive.
  • An expanded ability to make fast remote queries of file shares, including on Windows Server 2008 or even Vista and XP computers.

Windows Photo Gallery – What’s New?

Windows Photo Gallery is a new feature that offers an easier, more intuitive way to view, manage, and refine your photos and home movies. A streamlined process simplifies acquiring and importing images and videos, and new organizational options make it easier to find and enjoy your memories. And you have the flexibility to launch any of your other photo- and video-related applications from directly within Windows Photo Gallery.

A toolbar across the top of Windows Photo Gallery offers shortcuts to tasks and information, while the familiar left-hand navigation bar provides easy access to organizational elements. You can use the control bar at the bottom of the screen to launch a slide show with a single click, and use the slider to quickly resize your thumbnails for comfortable viewing.

Windows Photo Gallery offers basic photo editing, such as the ability to easily remove red eye. If you decide you don’t want to keep the changes, you can revert to the original version of the photo with one click.

Organizing your photos and videos using tags

You can apply tags in a variety of ways to help you organize and find your photos and videos. You can add tags when you first add a photo or video to your collection, or you can select a photo, or multiple photos, to tag at any time.

Alternatively, you can tag images using the new Info Pane. You can open the Info Pane to view basic information about a photo or a video, including the file name, date taken, rating, and other information. You can change most of this information just by clicking and typing.

Vista Items Removed From Windows 7, or Moved into the Background

  • Windows 7 moves Vista’s Printers folder to the Hardware and Sound section of the Control Panel.
  • Windows Mail is now obtained from Windows Live, as are Windows Photo Gallery and Windows Movie Maker.
  • There is no Network link or button on the Start Menu, however, it does appear in the Windows Explorer which is just as useful.  Talking of networks, there is no Connect To button, instead you go click the icon in the Navigation Area and select: Open the Network and Sharing Center.  One more thing about networking, there is no animation on the Network Connections icon in the notification area.
  • The Recent Items button list is no longer on the Start menu, however the new Jump Lists offer recent files on a program by program basis. 
  • My old friend and Luddite ‘Barking Eddie’ wanted the old Classic Start Menu from XP days, but we could not find a way of getting it Windows 7.  Guy says ‘move on Eddie’, embrace the new technology.
  • Various Windows Ultimate features have been removed such as Windows DreamScene.  Also, I cannot find Hold’em or the InkBall game.
  • While Internet Explorer has not been removed, if you prefer Firefox go to the Control Panel, Programs and ‘Turn Windows feature off’, uncheck Internet Explorer 8.  Naturally, you have to install Firefox or Chrome manually.
  • See more on deprecated Windows 7 features.

Version Numbers

Version numbers have everything to do with Application Compatibility and nothing to do with normal ‘Versioning’.  Several applications refused to install, or refused to run, simply because they detected a version number of 6, when they were expecting Version 5.  Microsoft to their credit have tested about 100 such applications which broke on Vista and have got them working on Windows 7, just as they worked on XP.

Summary of Windows 7 New Features

With Windows 7, Microsoft seeks to put the ‘Customer in Control’ examples of where they have succeeded include a smarter and more flexible UAC.  Another theme is to make features that lacked perfection in Vista work properly in Windows 7, for example application compatibility. 

Microsoft also promise faster performance on the same hardware.  Talking of hardware, there is better driver support for Windows 7.  Last, and possibly least, there are cosmetic changes to the Aero interface that make Windows 7 more enticing to use and explore.  Such such improvements may even make people fractionally more productive, and certainly less frustrated than with Vista.

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