Windows 7 is Microsoft’s latest version of its Windows operating system. Unlike its predecessor, Vista, Windows 7 offers incremental upgrades and is aimed at ensuring maximum compatibility with applications and hardware already supported in Vista. As mentioned in the Preface, Microsoft’s key agenda regarding Windows 7 is to lure back many of the Windows XP users who skipped Vista.
Windows 7 offers significant performance improvements over its predecessors—most notably Windows Vista and Windows XP. It is still based on the Vista kernel, but comes with substantial performance improvements and a redesigned Windows shell, a new taskbar, and a less-annoying User Account Control (UAC) system. There are also improvements in networking, in particular the introduction of a home network system known as HomeGroup.
This chapter first walks you through the different versions of Windows 7 available, followed by an overview of the installation process. We will then take a look at some of the new features in Windows 7 before we get into them in detail in subsequent chapters.
With Windows Vista, Microsoft released multiple editions of its operating system with the intention of targeting different segments of its user base with different features at different price points. However, this approach wasn’t well received, as it confused the market; many users urged Microsoft to come up with one simple, all-encompassing version of the operating system.
With Windows 7, Microsoft still has many editions. However, Microsoft is expected to focus its marketing effort on just two editions—Home Premium and Professional—just as it did with Windows XP. Here is a list of the available editions, in ascending order, from least to most advanced:
A lightweight edition for netbook computers. Netbooks are low-powered computers specifically designed for lightweight tasks such as web browsing and emailing. In this edition, Windows 7 will lack more advanced features such as Media Center, Aero Glass, fast user switching, multiple-monitor support, DVD playback, and multitouch support. This edition is geared toward replacing Windows XP on inexpensive computers such as netbooks, a market that is currently dominated by Windows XP. This edition will likely be available only as a preinstallation by OEMs.
This edition is designated for emerging markets only; it is for customers who are looking for an inexpensive entry-level Windows experience (limited Aero support, no features such as Windows Media Center or multitouch support).
Includes everything that Professional includes and adds BitLocker protection. It will have the option to encrypt USB flash drives and external hard disks. It also includes DirectAccess, which allows remote workers to access a company network securely without using a VPN, and federated search.
Windows 7 Ultimate edition is really the same as the Enterprise edition. The key difference is that the Enterprise edition will be sold through volume licensing to companies, as well as through the Software Assurance program. The Ultimate edition, however, will be available to retail customers.
One key thing to note about the different editions of Windows 7 is that each higher edition is a superset of its lower edition. That is, all the features available in Starter Edition will be available on the Home Basic edition, and the Home Premium edition will include all the features of Home Basic, and so on. This is different from Vista, where Media Center was included in the Home Premium edition but not available in the Business edition.
Though there are six different editions of Windows 7, Microsoft will focus its marketing effort on just the Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate editions. This is very similar to Windows XP, in which you have only two main editions—Home and Professional. As a quick rule of thumb, Windows 7 Home Premium is targeted at consumers and Professional is targeted at small businesses.
If you are currently running Windows Vista, the good news is that you are ready for Windows 7. Tests performed by various parties have consistently confirmed that Windows 7 outperformed Windows Vista on a similar hardware configuration.
If you are coming from previous versions of Windows (pre-Vista), take note of the following suggested hardware requirements:
1 GHz or faster 32-bit or 64-bit processor
1 GB RAM (for 32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (for 64-bit)
16 GB of available disk space (for 32-bit) or 20 GB of available disk space (for 64-bit)
DirectX 9 graphics device with Windows Display Driver Model 1.0 or higher (for Aero—the graphical user interface and default theme in most editions of Windows 7)
Though it is suggested that you have at least 1 GB of RAM, Windows 7 runs perfectly on my old trusty Dell Inspiron 5150 notebook (a 3 GHz Pentium 4 processor with 640 MB of RAM). The suggested requirements are necessary to experience all the features of Windows 7 (such as Aero Glass effects), but Windows 7 will still function on lesser hardware.
The following steps will walk you through the process of installing Windows 7 on a fresh computer.
Installing Windows 7 is straightforward—if you’re doing a clean install, simply boot up your computer with the Windows 7 installation DVD inside the DVD drive and instruct your computer to boot from the DVD (you may need to press a key, such as F11 or F12, while the computer is starting to enter the boot selection screen). If you’re upgrading, simply boot into Windows Vista, insert the disc, and run the installer (if you are using Windows XP, see the previous sidebar ).
When the installer has booted up, you will be greeted with the screen shown in Figure 1-2 (the upgrade screen is slightly different; you will have an option to check the compatibility of your system or start the installation). You will be asked to select the language to install, the time and currency format, and your keyboard type.
With the selections made, you can now install Windows 7 by clicking the “Install now” button (see Figure 1-3).
You will be asked to accept the license agreement. (If you are upgrading, you’ll first have the option to go online to get any updates to the installer first.) Check the licensing checkbox and continue.
On the next screen, you have a choice between upgrading your existing Windows or installing a fresh copy of Windows. If you are using Windows XP or earlier, the first option will not work for you—select the Custom (advanced) option (see Figure 1-4).
You can upgrade from Windows Vista only if you run the installer from within Windows Vista. If you do a fresh boot using the Windows 7 installation disc, you will not be able to upgrade (you will be asked to rerun the installation from within Windows).
For a fresh installation, you will be asked to select a disk for installing Windows 7. Select the appropriate disk and click Next (see Figure 1-5). If you are upgrading, the Windows 7 installer will generate a compatibility report and save it to your desktop.
If you are doing a clean install via the Custom (advanced) option, be sure to back up any important data you have previously saved on your hard drive before starting the installation. Installing Windows 7 will wipe out all previous data.
Windows will now take some time to copy all the files into the selected disk and proceed with the installation (see Figure 1-6). This will take about 20–30 minutes, depending on the speed of your computer.
When the installation is complete, Windows 7 will restart. After Windows 7 has been restarted, you should see the screen shown in Figure 1-7. Provide a username; your computer name will be created based on what you have entered (you can change it to another name if you want to after the installation). Click Next.
You will be asked to enter a password to protect your user account. You are strongly advised to provide one. In the next screen, you will be asked to enter a product key to activate Windows 7.
You will also be asked to select a way to update Windows. I suggest that you select the first option, “Use recommended settings”; see Figure 1-8.
Next, you will set up the current date and time, and finally, if your computer has a network card, Windows 7 will prompt you to select your current location (see Figure 1-9; wireless network users will be asked to select a wireless network to connect to). Choose a location that best describes the environment you are in.
That’s it! You are now ready to explore Windows 7 (see Figure 1-10).
The first time you power up Windows 7, you may feel a sense of déjà vu—it looks very similar to Windows Vista. However, behind the familiar UI lies a more powerful and versatile operating system. Subsequent chapters will cover some of the new features in more detail, but here are some of the most prominent new features in Windows 7.
Windows 7 is designed with touchscreen support, especially multitouch, in mind. At the time of this writing, companies like Dell and HP were shipping touchscreen computers that work with Windows 7’s multitouch. As touchscreen computers are still not common, this book will not discuss the touch capability of Windows 7.
But in case you’re interested, to demonstrate the power of touch in Windows 7, Microsoft has created the Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7. The Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7 is a collection of six applications that are optimized for touch interactions. It consists of three games and three Microsoft Surface applications that have been recreated for Windows 7. These applications are:
Displays a 3D earth with which you can interact using—what else?—your hands.
Manages your digital photos; you can resize and rearrange them.
A screensaver that you can interact with through multitouch.
A game utilizing physics where you can use gestures to rotate gears, fans, seesaws, and other objects.
A ball game in which you can play against another user or the computer.
Another interactive game where you use touch to place objects in a virtual pond.
Perhaps the most outstanding feature in Windows 7 is the new taskbar. The quick-launch area that most Windows XP and Vista users are so used to is now gone. In place of it is the ability to pin your applications icons in the taskbar for easy access, regardless of whether the application is itself running.
Figure 1-11 shows the new taskbar in Windows 7 with several application icons in it. On the left is the Start menu button, followed by Internet Explorer 8 (IE8), Windows Explorer, and Windows Media Player.
By default, the taskbar in Windows 7 has three applications pinned to it—IE8, Windows Explorer, and Windows Media Player. As these applications are used often, they are given permanent spots in the taskbar (for more information about pinning, see the section Pinning Applications to the Taskbar). As you can see in Figure 1-11, the Media Player application does not have the rectangular border around it—this signifies that the application is not running currently. Next to the Windows Media Player icon are: Paint, Notepad (also not currently running), and Word.
In the taskbar is another button known as the Show desktop shortcut. The Show desktop shortcut is the button on the extreme right of the taskbar (see Figure 1-12).
Positioning the mouse over this button will make all the current windows transparent (this feature requires an Aero-capable video card and an edition of Windows 7 that supports Aero), revealing the desktop (known as “peeking at the desktop”; see Figure 1-13).
Clicking this button minimizes all opened windows and shows the desktop.
Another cool new feature in Windows 7 is Aero Peek. Aero Peek displays live previews of active applications when you move the mouse over the application icon in the taskbar. Figure 1-14 shows Aero Peek in action when the mouse hovers over the IE icon in the taskbar.
Aero Peek requires an Aero-capable video card and a Windows 7 edition that supports Aero. Aero Shake and Aero Snap will work on any Windows 7 system.
Windows displays the live previews of all running instances of IE. When the mouse hovers over one of the live previews, the selected window appears, and the rest of the windows turn transparent. To select the window, simply click the live preview.
When an application has too many open windows, the title of each window will be displayed in a list instead of live preview thumbnails.
Aero Shake allows users to quickly minimize all nonactive windows by “shaking” the current active window. To see Aero Shake in action, open up a few windows, click the title bar of one window, and use the mouse to “shake” the application. You will notice that all other windows will now be minimized, leaving the current window. To get all the other windows back to their respective states, perform the same shaking action again and they should now all appear again.
Another very useful UI feature in Windows 7 is Aero Snap. How many times have you tried to arrange multiple windows on your desktop so that you see the windows side-by-side? In Windows 7, when you drag a window to the left side of the screen, the window is automatically docked onto the left of the screen (see Figure 1-15), occupying half the screen. Likewise, when dragged to the right, the window will be docked to the right. When dragged to the top, the window will be maximized. Besides dragging, Windows 7 provides several shortcuts (see Table 1-1) for window management.
Windows Key + ↓
Windows Key + ←
Docks window to left of screen
Windows Key + →
Docks window to right of screen
Windows Key + ↑
Windows Key + Shift + ←
Moves to left monitor
Windows Key + Shift + →
Moves to right monitor
Microsoft first introduced gadgets in Vista. Gadgets are small utility applications that “float” on your screen, providing quick access to them. In Windows 7, gadgets are not confined to the sidebar (which itself was docked to one side of your screen in Vista) but are free to roam about on your desktop (see Figure 1-16).
The venerable Paint and WordPad applications (see Figure 1-17) finally got a revision in Windows 7. This time, both of them were updated to use the new ribbon interface that was introduced in Office 2007.
Besides the Paint and WordPad applications, another longtime built-in Windows application has also received some new improvements. The Calculator now has two additional modes (in addition to the Standard and Scientific modes): Programmer and Statistics (see Figure 1-18).
Besides the two new modes, the calculator also allows you to perform conversion tasks such as unit and date conversions. It also provides worksheets for you to calculate mortgages, vehicle leases, and fuel economy (see Figure 1-19).
In this chapter, you have seen the various editions of Windows 7 and the system requirements that you need to satisfy in order to run it. Over the years, Microsoft has streamlined the installation process—and Windows 7 is no exception. Windows 7 performs exceedingly well, and stays out of your way thanks to a less naggy UAC. In the following chapters, you will learn more about each of the new features of Windows 7 and how you can use each of them to your advantage.