Here at TechRepublic we have been evaluating, experimenting with, and discussing Windows 7 throughout 2009. We've seen the same stuff that everyone else is talking about — the fact that Windows 7 cleans up the Vista interface, cleans out much of the code that made Vista too much of a resource hog, and finally suppresses most of those horribly-annoying UAC prompts.
However, during our Windows 7 exploration, I also spotted some secret features that are hidden deep within the recesses of over 50 million lines of code. In fact, these features are so secret that I doubt even the most dedicated, deeply-experienced IT professionals will be able to find them. Yes, they are that mysterious.
Of course, it's always possible that someone has sabotaged me and planted the code for these little secrets in my Windows 7 machines. But who do that? Linus Torvalds? Richard Stallman? David Pogue? (It can't be David, see No. 5 below). But, just in case, I've decided to reveal these secret features so that the world can know.
1. Software that turns normal displays into touchscreens
I don't know how Microsoft did this. It seems like they would have needed cooperation from the hardware manufacturers. Nevertheless, it appears that the company has developed its own highly-secret software that can turn any standard LCD screen into a touchscreen. Now users will no longer have to a do a simple click-and-drag to resize photos. Instead they'll be able to reach up to their screens with both hands and use a set of complicated multi-touch gestures to do the same thing, and it will only take 5-10 seconds longer. Upon further digging, I also discovered that all mouse and keyboard drivers appear to be in a time-bombed phase-out cycle.
2. PC-to-PC version of the Zune 'squirting' feature
One of the most underused features in the Microsoft Zune platform is squirting, which allows a Zune user to share a song with another Zune user over Wi-Fi (although the squirted song can only be used for three days or three plays). Microsoft thinks this feature is very innovative and deserves much more attention and usage than it has received. Therefore, it has quietly integrated it into Windows 7. This will allow cubical mates to share songs with each other from their massive libraries of Zune Marketplace selections, and laptop users will even be use to shoot songs to each from other across the aisle in the subway, for example. In a surprising move, there is currently no PC-to-Zune or Zune-to-PC option. However, I've learned that Palm has also discovered this feature and apparently developed its own module to allow PC-to-Palm Pre squirting and vise-versa.
3. Registry: The Starter Edition
Much like the way Microsoft is offering a crimped version of Windows 7 called "Starter Edition," I've also discovered an alternate version of the Windows Registry. Since this mysterious alternate Registry does not have an official name, let's call it "Registry: The Starter Edition" because it is a greatly simplified and dumbed-down version. In fact, instead of five hives like the standard Registry, this one only has two: HKEY_CLUELESS_USER and HKEY_CRAPPY_MACHINE. I'm still not sure what purpose this alternate Registry will serve. The only thing I can think of is that it is designed to simplify the process of building Windows software for developers who have been writing Windows code for decades but are still too lazy to follow best practices in terms of file organization and user security.
4. Dual-boot software to run Mac OS X, known as 'Training Camp'
Apple opened the door to more users - especially IT pros - in recent years by building Boot Camp into its Macintosh computers to allow them to run Windows along side Mac OS X in a dual-boot configuration. Not to be outdone, Microsoft as a secret dual-boot loader in Windows 7 that allows it to emulate Mac hardware and configure Mac OS X as an alternative boot option using the standard off-the-shelf Mac boot discs. In a fit of cleverness, Microsoft has decided to name it "Training Camp," which I found out when I uncovered the Help file. However, I'm not sure what it is training for. If you have any ideas or theories, please post them in the discussion below.
5. The David Pogue spambot
The most puzzling and nefarious bit of code that I discovered in the bowels of Windows 7 was what appeared to be a spambot that could be used to flood the inbox of a targeted user, or even take down the person's PC. Of course, this could just be next iteration of Windows Live Mail. However, I'm concerned that if this code fell into the wrong hands, it could be used to unfairly target the perceived enemies of Windows, such as New York Times tech writer David Pogue, who has recently been viciously targeted by the blogosphere as a Mac partisan in the guise of an objective technology journalist.
Have you discovered any hidden features deep within the recesses of Windows 7? Any features you wish you could find if you were really looking? Post in the discussion below.
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about how technology is changing the way we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.