ALSO SEE: Andy Rathbone's advice on Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7.
After nearly eight-years, Windows XP had grown as comfortable as an old car. Just as Id forgotten about the growing number of dings on my cars bumper, Id forgotten how many third-party tools Id used to prop up Windows XP. After adding CD and DVD burners, search programs, Firefox, three media players and a host of other tools, my Start menus three columns reached the far edge of my desktop.
Thats why running Windows 7 for the past seven months brought back the excitement of driving a new car. And for the first time, my once trusted Windows XP began looking like a car that needed much more than a paint job.
Its partially my own fault. Like many others, I skipped Windows Vista. And Vista, for all its faults, provided a strong, secure base. Unfortunately, Microsoft ruined Vistas improvements by adding overly aggressive security, thick layers of meandering menus, and a sense of being designed by a huge committee.
Windows 7 strips away that ugliness to create something thats light yet strong, useful yet still playful. Windows 7 grabs me in a lot of ways Windows XP no longer does:
Oddly enough, Windows 7s new wallpaper provides a great example of how Windows 7 pulls off a difficult mix of being both utilitarian and fun. Windows 7 softens Vistas armored-guard persona by adding a healthy dose of personality. Its backgrounds come stuffed with groovy psychedelic landscapes, dreamy Dada-esque creatures, and candy-colored anime art.
By draping this whimsy over Vistas security underpinnings, Microsofts helping make people feel both safe and creative with their computers, a feeling that comes so naturally to Apple.
Even if the backgrounds dont suit your fancy, you must admire how Windows 7s design team deliberately chose wallpaper that would have been shot down in a traditional boardroom. Thats a big change from Vista, where everything seemed to fall to the lowest common denominator.
Minimal hardware demands
Vistas bloat kept it from running on netbooks, the PC industrys single bright spot these days. Windows 7, by contrast, runs fine on most netbooks, as well as on older PCs. Needing another test machine while writing Windows 7 For Dummies, I installed Windows 7 on a Pentium III with 16MB of video memory. Surprisingly enough, Windows 7 not only installed, but its automatic trip to Windows Update brought the PC some new drivers, as well. That old Gateway PC will never be a game machine, of course, but it works fine for the essentials, e-mail and the Internet.
Chances are, Windows 7s slimmed down footprint will fit well on your PC, as well, whether its a modern netbook or a borderline antique.
Adjustable User Account Control
Probably the most welcome change, Windows 7 tones down User Account Controls overly aggressive policing. But if you still find yourself grinding your teeth more than working, a sliding control lets you adjust Windows 7s paranoia level to match your own. Its refreshing to feel in control of your PC rather than the other way around.
Once you learn a few shortcut keys, they become addictive, and Windows 7 brings several welcome ones. For example, placing two windows side-by-side on a crowded desktop took a lot of mouse maneuvering in Windows XP. In Windows 7, you click the first window, and press Win+Right Arrow to scoot the window against the right edge. Follow up with a Win+Left Arrow on the second window, and youve lined them up side-by-side, ready for quick information swapping.
Windows 7 comes loaded with many other creative keyboard shortcuts, a sign that the team had time to focus on subtle details rather than major overhauls.
Windows 7 overhauled the taskbar with jumplists pop-up menus listing frequently accessed items and common tasks. Need to see one of your favorite Web sites in a hurry? Right-click the taskbars browser icon, click the favored sites name from the pop-up lists Frequent section, and the browser opens to that site.
Cant remember the location of that helpful folder you opened yesterday? Right-click the Explorer icon, click the folders name from the jumplist, and start digging in. With jumplists, Windows 7 adds a feeling of immediate gratification that all too often went missing from Vista.