The most significant desktop improvement is the taller taskbar, which combines the functionality of the taskbar and the Quick Launch bar from previous Windows versions. Gadgets no longer live in a sidebar that steals valuable screen space; instead, they can be placed anywhere on the desktop.
Hover the mouse pointer over a taskbar button to display dynamic thumbnail-sized preview images of all tasks under that button. Hover over one of these thumbnails to display a full-sized preview image—without actually switching to the application. Hovering over an Internet Explorer taskbar button shows each open tab.
Jump list shows documents and tasks
Right-click a taskbar icon to display a “Jump List” of options. Pre¬-Windows 7 applications that use the recent items API (such as all Microsoft Office 2007 applications) display a list of recent documents along with common tasks. Extended APIs in Windows 7 allow developers to add other items, such as favorites or browsing history.
Show Desktop lets you view gadgets
Gadgets are typically used to show information that you need to glance at, but that doesn’t need to occupy prime screen real estate all the time. To sneak a glance, hover the mouse pointer over the Show Desktop area at the right end of the taskbar; Windows leaves the window outlines onscreen as the desktop and gadgets become visible. As in previous Windows versions, click Show Desktop to minimize all windows.
Search across drives with libraries
Windows 7 introduces “libraries,” which are collections of locations with files. Searching a library lets you expand a search scope beyond a single folder and its subfolders. The addition of links to search tags in the search box makes it easy to construct complex queries without remembering search syntax.
Search SharePoint sites
The search scope can include a SharePoint site. This so-called federated search can combine locations on servers and local drives.
Libraries collect files from multiple locations
A library is simply a collection of locations with files. A library may include folders from one or more local drives, network drives, or other locations. In addition to helping with file organization, the library concept makes it easy to expand storage to another drive without moving existing files.
Toggle previews with a single click
In Windows Vista, displaying or hiding the Preview pane requires you to click Organize (!), Layout, Preview Pane; in Windows 7, simply click the command bar button. The Views button (as in Vista, it gives you a slider for setting icon size) is nearby.
Notification area clutter reduced
The ever expanding galaxy of notification area icons gets corralled in a pop-up box, which appears when you click the arrow at the left end of the taskbar section still best known as the system tray.
Manage notification area pop-ups
Notification area icons not only add visual clutter, but many annoyingly pop up messages for the most inane reasons. Control the clutter and tame those pop-ups by specifying whether a notification area icon should display its icon, its notifications, or neither.
Hide unwanted notification area icons
System icons that occupy the right end of the notification area can now be controlled from a single dialog box.
Set power options
Click the Power icon to display current battery status, select a power plan, and set other power options. The box also suggests changes you can make to maximize battery life.
Use Themes for personalizing your system
A single dialog box now gathers links to four theme components—wallpaper, glass, sounds, and screen saver—and shows previews of available theme collections.
Set text size
Setting the text size now has a more intuitive name (this feature is called DPI Scaling in Windows Vista) and a snazzier interface.
Set display resolution
The Display Settings dialog box, which has been largely unchanged since Windows 95, also has a fresh, new look.
Device Stage for device properties and tasks
Device Stage provides an intuitive interface for managing a hardware device—but don’t expect to see it looking this good for pre-Windows 7 device drivers.
WordPad uses a ribbon interface
In its first overhaul since Windows 95, WordPad (the basic word processor included with Windows) now sports a ribbon interface in the style of Word 2007.
Paint also has a ribbon
The capabilities of Paint, the basic image editor included with Windows, remain largely unchanged—but it too now has a ribbon interface.
Calculator features multiply
The applet with the most visible changes in Windows 7 is the lowly Calculator. It now offers four modes (standard, programmer, scientific, and statistics) and a calculation history window (much like the paper printouts from adding machines of yore). Perhaps most interesting is the new pane on the right side, which can perform date calculations, unit conversions, and various financial calculations.
Windows Firewall displays its settings for different network profiles in a clear, understandable window. The appropriate profile kicks in automatically when you connect to a network.