Windows

Be ready for new and improved applets in Windows 7

Three of the four standard Windows applets have been endowed with some new features and updated user interface components in the Windows 7 Beta. Greg Shultz shows you what’s new in these applets.

Back in March 2006, while evaluating the Microsoft Windows Vista February CTP (Community Technology Preview), build 5380, I wrote an article titled "Vista's Recycled Applets Should Have Been Polished," in which I admonished Microsoft for not putting any effort into improving or adding new features to the standard Windows applets: Notepad, WordPad, Paint, and Calculator.

While those applets never changed between the Windows Vista CTP and the RTM (Release to Manufacturing) versions, I was really happy to find that in the Beta 2 version of Windows 7, three of the four standard Windows applets have indeed been endowed with some new features and updated user-interface components.

In this issue of the Microsoft Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I'll show you what's new in these applets.

Note: Keep in mind that this is a Beta version and that the look and features of Windows 7 that I will discuss here may very well change between now and the time the operating system is actually released.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

Notepad

As you know, Notepad has been part of the Windows operating system forever, and even though the version in Windows 7 is essentially the same as it was in Windows 3.0, it still does the job that it was designed for -- edit text. Even so, after 19 years of service, this applet, shown in Figure A, could have been given a few new features in Windows 7. I still think that support for multiple windows or the ability to add line numbers would have been nice additions, but, at least in the current beta version, Notepad has not been given any new features.

Figure A

Notepad should have been granted some new features.

WordPad

WordPad was introduced in Windows 95 and has remained basically unchanged in every version of the operating system between then and Windows Vista. Well, I'm glad to report that after 14 years, WordPad has finally been awarded that same Ribbon-based user-interface system as its older brother, Word 2007, as shown in Figure B, including the WordPad menu.

Figure B

The Ribbon-based user interface has been bestowed upon WordPad.
It has also been sprinkled here and there with additional word processing features that were missing in previous versions. For example, you now have the capability to justify text, use various styles of bullet points, insert pictures, use superscript and subscript, set the zoom level, and even open and save files in the OOXML (Office Open XML) and ODF (OpenDocument format) formats, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

You'll can find the new file formats on the Save As menu.

Paint

While Vista's Paint applet did indeed get a single new feature after I wrote my 2006 article, the Crop command, the rest of the features were basically identical to the Windows 98 version. Windows 7's Paint has a bunch of new features, such as a host of new shapes, more intricate brushes, and a nice ruler, as well as the new Ribbon-based user-interface system, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Paint has a host of new shapes and many new brushes as well as the Ribbon-based user-interface system.

Calculator

The Calculator in Windows 7 has finally matured. The improvements in this version are long overdue. For example the Mode menu allows you to switch between the Standard, Scientific, Programmer, and Statistics modes, as shown in Figure E. You'll find a History feature that will display a history of your calculations and allow you to copy and paste, as well as edit, the history. And best of all, there are a host of worksheets that allow you to quickly and easily perform common calculations, such as unit conversion, date calculations, and gas mileage, as shown in Figure F, just to name a few.

Figure E

The Calculator features Scientific, Programmer, and Statistics modes.

Figure F

This is the Gas Mileage worksheet on the Standard mode.

What's your take?

Are you ready for some new features in the standard Windows applets? How would you rate the changes that I've mentioned in this post? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums to let us hear from you.

TechRepublic's Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report newsletter, delivered every Friday, offers tips, news, and scuttlebutt on Vista and Windows 7, including a look at new features in the latest version of the Windows OS. Automatically sign up today!

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

44 comments
FXEF
FXEF

Give me a break.... a few changes to WordPad, Paint, and Calculator is not what I call new and improved.

inertman
inertman

i've been using calculator plus since it's debut, the rest i can do w/o. however, it's nice to see the improvements to calc., even over plus. too bad we had to wait this long for so little. that said, i'm still using 7 regardless of what the haters say, until i find a reason not to.

jks001
jks001

I smell another "bloat float". They are supposed to be leaning out the system... not creating more weight. So how much larger are the executables? Sounds to me like they are giving XP extended life on the eee PC class of machines...

john3347
john3347

"I installed Vista; I installed Office 2007; I placed a swear jar next to my PC; My swear jar paid for a vacation trip last Christmas." All these changes described here are improvements, significant improvements, except for the $%^&* ribbon spreading to other applications. I have Office 2007 on my "main" computer and I have taken an online class to learn how to use the ribbon and have tried to like it. Ain't happening! After more than a year, I get up and go out to the shop to use a computer with Office 2003 for most of my writing projects. The intuitiveness of drop down or pop-out menus is FAR superior to the click, click, click, click of the ribbon. Other than moving paint and wordpad to the %^&*($# ribbon, the changes outlined here are nice improvements. (edited for spelling)

harrylal
harrylal

I like the change to calculator. Paint is ok but I don't find much use for it. Wordpad and notepad are worthless, there is way better freeware out there. As far as ribbons and Word2007, I think this is another cheezy way for MS to make people buy there bloated software. One responder stated it took two weeks of effort to learn how to use ribbons. Shouldn't software be intuitive? I think ribbons is another poorly implemented idea, like Vista and is a classic example of how MS has lost touch with users.

Slayer_
Slayer_

After 2 years I still can't get used to it in Office 2007, its still terriable, generally I just give up, save the document, and reopen it in office 2003 or office 2000 on another computer and do what I am trying to do.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Are you ready for some new features in the standard Windows applets? How would you rate the changes mentioned in this post? What other features would you like to see added to the basic Windows applets?

hypotinuse
hypotinuse

I agree with the fellow above. Using up desktop real estate for questionable functionality is not the way to go. Changing the interface is a pain for most of us. I'm sure they do it to imply newness to the product. Less people would buy it otherwise.

blackepyon01
blackepyon01

I too absoulutely HATE Microsoft's "Ribbon Technology". I can understand how some people would like it, but I would like to be able to turn it off and go back to what works for me. Much like the Start menu that was introduced in Windows XP, it's just useless eye candy that for those of us who know what we're doing is just another set of menus that we could have done without. I use Office 2000 and 2003 and have absoulutely no intention of upgrading unless they can give a way to shut the ribbons off.

TNT
TNT

See the post above, "The Ribbon is here to stay", then get over it already.

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

"Shouldn't software be intuitive?" Shouldn't walking, eating, or driving be intuitive as well? We still have to learn the "how" before it becomes intuitive....

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

The Windows OS is not free. They are part of the Windows OS.

cnet
cnet

Win7 will disappoint me if it includes the ribbon in these old apps. The wordpad is where I run when I am frustrated with the new ribbon. When I need the features of Word I use it, but I love the simple Notepad. If these load slower than old versions some of the benefit is gone. I guess I'll find a freeware notepad to use, just as I found a better calculator years ago. Ribbon is here to stay, but power users feel the impact the most with features being buried extra clicks deeper. What used to be an icon click is often a rclick-drag-release. Even if we customize the toolbar full-screen-wide, the icons have all been updated (corrupted) so we're learning all over again. It's clear they took aim at the power user and alienated them, in order to make the masses happier. Doesn't sound smart to me. Power users are smart enough to load third-party apps if these things are too irritating. However, I still bought the MS software, so MS hasn't lost money on me yet. But I have now tasted Linux on Live CD for the first time. I feel this is marketing-driven. If they can familiarize users with the ribbon in the operating system there will be less resistance to buying the new Office product, which I don't think has sold well, despite my purchase of 6 copies. I have found this to be essential in migrating to Office 2007 http://www.officelabs.com/projects/searchcommands/Pages/default.aspx Too few of us seem to be using it, downloaded only 39111 times?

sykandtyed
sykandtyed

The ribbon drives me crazy not having everything in one menu bar. Even at that some functions are not in a logical ribbon.

TNT
TNT

...so learn it. Either you're not using Office 2007 frequently enough to learn it, or you don't want to. It took me all of two weeks to get it down and love it. It is infinitely more usable than menu's once you learn where things are. It also makes sense for MS to leverage the Ribbon everywhere it can so people will take the time to learn and reap the benefits. WordPad may have matured to the point that casual users (like my parents, lol) won't need any other word processor. The added functionality will definitely benefit the low-tech types. And what a great idea to allow it to save to open document formats.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

It's not much different from customizing the toolbar in previous versions. Then you can minimize the Ribbon.

andrejakostic
andrejakostic

Finally, the fonts control panel option has been improved! It's strange that I haven't seen it being mentioned anywhere.

dmm99
dmm99

The MOST important thing about Notepad is that it retain the ability to read 30-year-old ascii (.txt) files. Notepad is a legacy program, for legacy files. Kudos to MS for continuing support for a file format that goes all the way back to the pre-DOS era. Backward compatibility has often been the bane of MS's existence, but it is also the #1 reason why business computer users have stuck with them all these years. The only additional thing I wish Notepad had is global search and replace.

Histrion2
Histrion2

If/when the Windows 7 upgrade reaches our office, I'll probably wind up playing with the new Calculator features a lot (seeing as I tutor math and it's always handy to have a decent calculator on the closest computer).

drbayer
drbayer

I agree that opening multiple documents & the ability to add line numbers would be great additions to notepad - I use a 3rd party text editor and those are 2 features I use frequently. A third feature that I would like to see would be the ability to indent/unindent blocks of text. I stopped using Notepad long ago due to it's lack of features like these.

Ron_007
Ron_007

(oops, I fat fingered out before finishing) I've got Office 11 (2003) and 12 (2007) dual installed (easy, no prob). So the comment about code bloat prompted check out the file size on WinWord. Winword 2003 = 12,023 KB, about what I'd expect, then, shock and dismay, WinWord 2007 = 340 kb. Yup, less than 1 meg. I guess that means they left winword.exe as a stub and moved everything else to DLLs (sneaky petes). OK, check it in task manager. There is one instance of Winword.exe running at 22,800kb and another at 27,612kb. Display the "command line" column and holy cow, the smaller one is Word 2007. Imagine that, code un-bloat! cool. Call me shocked. Someone mentioned the $30 Word 2003 menu addin for 2007. Well there is also a freeware/shareware alternative that I use and like: http://www.indelibleink.com/WordMenu.html http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/training/HA102295841033.aspx?pid=CL100788241033#2 - this is a really good link page, it has links to the online version all of the 2003 to 2007 office command mapping flash applets, and the downloadable flash applet versions (personally I prefer them to the online one, I use them all the time, and have shortcuts to them in my quick launch toolbar), and downloadable spreadsheets (they are BIG) that map ALL 2003 commands to their new locations in 2007. http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=F587370C-FDAE-4EDE-B528-AC58031A5DFF&displaylang=en - Word 2007 Get started tab addin has links to online training tools, including the online version of the 2003 to 2007 menu applet http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=4D951911-3E7E-4AE6-B059-A2E79ED87041&displaylang=en - 2007 office addin to save as PDF or XPS, if you have a pdf "printer" installed you don't need this, and I haven't found a use for XPS yet. PS: very few computer user interfaces are "intuitive". The intuition is based past experience, ie past experience with the menu system. Granted I hate the ribbon, because I have invested 17 years learning the menu system. To be "fair", I will concede to M$ that far more of the commands are exposed with "fewer" clicks on the ribbon than the menu BUT is that a good thing. Not for me because: a) they changed the underlying logic and names b) the damn things are dynamic based on space available, so you can't count on seeing exactly the same ribbon every time c) is it really better to see all of the commands I never use? d) they violated 20 years of Windoze convention making things backward compatible, all they had to do was include a "menu" tab or option to switch from Ribbon to Menu display e) I didn't use the mouse, much in 2003, I used the keyboard shortcuts, which they have sorta kept and sorta changed! f) I use it, but the QAT "menu" is no subsitute for customizing menus and button bars g) sure, the Ribbon displays "everything" in the equivalent of 3 button bar rows, but I customized my button bars so that I only used 1 row, and I don't appreciate that they are wasting my screen space this way. h) can anyone tell what the point of 1 button "groups" on ribbons, you know like the Insert (tab) / Tables (group) / Tables (button) (all by itself) or the Mailings (tab) / Finish (group) / Finish & Merge (button). h) where did that dumb "office button" come from, and what "design" (ir)rational was used to put the "options" and "exit" buttons on the bottom left corner of that dialog box. oops, that turned into a rant, time to stop

SirWizard
SirWizard

So if you got cancer, Mr. support@..., I trust that you'd hope your medical professional would tell you, "get over it already." The Ribbon is a spreading cancer, replacing useful functionality with bloated, crippling pain. I've watched my Office 2003-savy coworkers struggling for months to find and use features on the ribbon in Word 2007, with shrunken screen real estate and enough mouse clicks required for each and every feature to give carpal tunnel syndrome to the hardiest wrists. When the effort becomes overwhelming, they hand me their documents, to fix their problems in seconds. Why can I save the day quickly and easily?! Because I, the company tech-writer, still run only Office 2003. With a few rows of fully customizable toolbars, and no bloat, I have nearly every function I ever use available with but a single click. Multiple print options, layout controls, quick thesaurus, unformatted paste, multiple views, fonts, two dozen styles, paragraph format and AutoFormat toggles, tabs, font condensing, style gallery listers, hanging indenter, ... The list goes on. I can customize my massively capable yet physically compact 2003 interface, which 2007 ribbon cancer would prevent, other than a tiny fragment of un-metastasized interface. And we need not belabor what I can do with two rows of buttons in Excel 2003. So, Mr. support@..., I've gotten over it. I've gotten over the notion of needing to upgrade to Office 2007. No upgrade effort, no expense, no loss of productivity either at work or at home.

grandan
grandan

Not ever used the ribbon,however all I need is viewing space on my display to see what I'm up to, or about to do. Not a many tierd display consol very large band of ribbons/toolbars etc. call them what you wish. Just One narrow bar spread out at the top with multiple dropdown boxes and maximum space for viewing my documents, pictures I'm editing, etc. etc.

john3347
john3347

Intuitive: of, relating to, or arising from intuition. Intuition: the act or faculty of knowing or sensing without the use of rational processes; immediate cognition. If one step logically leads to another as is the case with familiar drop down menus, this is intuitive. If one has to rely on memory for each and every step to arrive at a "destination" as with the ribbon, this is not intuitive. If one or two mouse clicks takes you to a "destination" in one version and 4 to 6 mouse clicks are required to arrive at the same "destination" in another version, the second version is less efficient ......... even with the learning time and memory work aside.

TNT
TNT

I understand your argument. Apple says their servers are worth their huge expense because of the abilities it has out of the box. It can be an email server, a DHCP or DNS Server, an OD server, a streaming video server, etc. If you bought the software necessary on the Windows side to do everything an Apple server can do out of the box, they argue, you'd spend the same amount of money. Apple clearly see's these apps as part of the OS. But from a purist perspective, any app that ships with the OS but is not necessary to run other apps or file systems is not really a part of the OS. It's bonus software included with the OS. This is the viewpoint I accept.

Zenith545
Zenith545

Power users don't need mice to clickety-click. They have memorized the keyboard shortcuts.

bdbailey.law
bdbailey.law

If you look at what the users in your entity generate, you will find that the documents are mostly memos and correspondence. With email and IM, even those are probably fewer than 20 years ago. The legal department will argue that they have specialized needs. And I would concede that they do. But does the secretary in finance need Word to do her job? Probably not. Now I will concede that standardization makes life easier for IT, but look around every one of your departments has some software package that another department doesn't.

Zenith545
Zenith545

Last time I looked, Notepad in XP has a "Replace All" button. :)

SirWizard
SirWizard

Windows 7's in-fix (nee algebraic notation) calculator has some new upgraded capabilities. Whoopee F-ing do! Until it provides an RPN (reverse Polish notation) capability, it has no value to me. Even if it did provide RPN, it would be a mere shadow of the usability and ultra-hyper capability of The "Excalibur 32-bit" freeware calculator by David Bernazzani, which does offer RPN setup. It has function banks for scientific use, statistics, business, conversions, geometry, computer science, vector calculations, and more. With Excalibur's programming and customized functions, I seem to have forgotten the point of the enhanced Windows 7 calculator.

brian
brian

I think Notepad is now the only text editor in existence that ignores mac/linux style carriage returns. Half the text files I open appear as one long, unreadable single line of text. And yet again, they have broken the "edit with vim" context menu item with Win 7... :rolleyes: oh well! Time to punch "Send Feedback" again! A minor gripe for sure though. I'll get my vim context menu back in no time, and be perfectly happy. So far I like Windows 7 so much more than Vista, I've moved all my apps to it even though it's slated to die in August.

TNT
TNT

I've become so tired of people whining about the ribbon bar that I tend to get annoyed and it shows. That said, I'll cede some points others have made in this thread. Could MS have done a better job implementing the ribbon bar? Yes. Should they have kept all the keyboard shortcuts the same? You bet. Should they have allowed you to turn it off and revert to menu's? It would have been nice. Fact is, they didn't. They went with an improved system and didn't look back. Whine all you want, it's here to stay. For a much better attitude and helpful resources, read Rohn01's comments below. I do appreciate his taking the time to point out sites I've only mentioned in passing on this thread, and a few I didn't even know about. Kudos to Rohn01.

TNT
TNT

Yep, as I posted earlier, the ribbon bar does increase productivity once you learn it. Common tools in common locations is an idea that works. The problem is most IT departments are giving training or training resources to those doing the work. When I converted a non-profit over I held training classes during lunch and gave everyone the website that shows where to find features from an Office 2003 perspective. I heard griping for the first two weeks, but nary a curse-word was spoken after that. Do the homework, learn the new approach, and I think most users will find it much improved over trying to find things burried in a menu.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

I somehow think a software application feature or otherwise should not be compared to a potential killer of a disease.

john3347
john3347

You expressed the situation so much more eloquently than I ever could have. Microsoft (and others) have lost the value intuitiveness. "Familiarity breeds Loyalty"

capeterson67
capeterson67

Something to consider is correspondence from external sources like customers or vendors. The ability to handle a wide variety or formats is key. Word and OpenOffice have that. I honestly don't know why everyone doesn't use OpenOffice. It is the best free software package available today and is better than a lot of software you pay for.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

Our secretaries and assistants do Mail Merges, Work with tracking changes and use Templates and Styles, autoindexes, etc. You cannot do that on Wordpad!

hypno444
hypno444

That is why I support using OpenOffice, which does everything for free.

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

"But does the secretary in finance need Word to do her job?" That would depend on what he/she is asked to create, generate, etc. Face it, there is some functionality missing from anything less than a full-blown word processor.

TNT
TNT

I think being able to merge tables and graphs from Excel is useful for accounting, and pulling in slides from PowerPoint is great for sales. I think most business users do need the extra horsepower Word provides. But home users? Unless you need to meet specific formatting requirements for college I think WordPad could fit the bill.

brian
brian

I seem to recall several times when Microsoft fully replaced (or tried to) the functionality of an established free app, putting the company out of business or at very least giving it plenty of trouble. Also something about "bloat"... The day Microsoft includes a FULL featured calculator in Windows, will be the day I will have to go online and find a lightweight replacement, because they will have rewritten Mathematica and the 400-meg "calc.exe" will take 20 seconds to load. :)

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