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Windows 7 Review: Useful Features

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by Lori Cunningham

 Windows 7 box

This article is part two of a three part series reviewing Windows 7.  The first article, “Windows 7 Review:  Media Center,” reviews the benefits of Media Center and it’s potential to share pictures, movies, TV shows, and videos on computers and TVs throughout the house.  This article will further explain  why Windows 7 is a valuable upgrade from Windows Vista or XP as it contains plenty of features that make it much more efficient to find things and get things done more effectively.   The last article explains the ease of use and possibilities of storing and using your photos and videos

Finding things is now a breeze with the Start Menu Search box.    The new taskbar helps me keep track of all of my open windows and it’s easier than ever to go directly to the window I am looking for.   The Jump Lists I use extensively.  And the Snipping Tool – well, that’s the bomb!  To find out what these features are, you can find them easily below.  For those of you who want a more thorough review, I have briefly discussed many of the larger new features of Windows 7 here.

But the fun doesn’t stop here.  In the next article of my Windows 7 Review series, I will show you how Windows 7 handles Photos and  Videos which are very important families.   For those of you who are photo and video enthusiasts, you’ll be very pleased with some of the new features Microsoft has included in Windows 7.

Windows 7 is actually tighter and lighter than its operating system predecessors.  This is an amazing feat for Microsoft.  This was accomplished by unbundling some of the programs that were bundled with Windows Vista, such as Windows Calendar, Windows Mail, Windows Contacts, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Movie Maker, Microsoft Agent, and a few more.

Many people did not use these programs, so Microsoft simply removed them from Windows 7.  However, for those people who did like these programs, Microsoft has made them available through a simple install called “Windows Live Essentials.”  I highly recommend this install, for the Windows Photo Gallery and Windows Movie Maker are “essentials” for those of you who love digital photography and videography.  Photos and videos are the subject of Part 3 of my Windows Review series, which will come out shortly.

Windows 7 is chockfull of useful features, you’ll never go back to a previous operating system. OK, hold onto to your seats, here we go on our tour of Windows 7!

Windows Taskbar

Windows 7 has a new taskbar that is very useful and productive.  It contains the traditional Windows logo for the “Start” (the main way to access your programs.)  It also shows you all of the active programs you are using. If you have favorite programs you use often, you can “pin” them to the taskbar so they will always show.  For example, I pinned my file manager (the first button) to the taskbar so I can easily access my file folders.  I also pinned Outlook, so I can check my calendar and e-mail quickly, and Microsoft One Note, where I keep all my info for different projects I’m working on.  These three buttons will always be there.  If the buttons are highlighted with light, that means they are open and I am using them.  If there is no highlight, such as in the case of the second Outlook button below, it means the program is not open.  You can pin as many of your favorite or frequently used programs as you’d like.

 Windows 7 Taskbar

One of the great features of this toolbar is the ability to see a preview of each of the programs you have open.  For example, I have three windows open in my file manager:

Taskbar Preview - File Manager 

And nine windows open in my browser:Taskbar Preview - IE 8 Browser

I can see the open windows simply by hovering my mouse on the File Manager button or Internet Explorer button on the taskbar.  The preview feature is very helpful for finding your way through your windows – especially if you’re an incurable  multi-tasker like myself.

In addition toTaskbar - Show Desktopthe preview features, more information is available to the right on the taskbar.  It will show your clock and access buttons to your sound, network, and PC Safety.  At the very end of the taskbar is slightly highlighted upright rectangle.  Clicking on this rectangle will show your desktop.

I never accessed my desktop much before but now it is very easy to do.  You can see that you can add “gadgets” to your desktop just like you could with Windows Vista.

To see the Windows taskbar in action while picking up a few more tips, watch this video:

 

Jump Lists

Jump lists are anoTaskbar Jump List -File Explorerther great feature that expand upon the added productivity you get from the new taskbar.  To access a jump list, right click on one of the active programs you have on your taskbar.  Doing so will open a new menu which will give you additional options.Taskbar Jump List -File Explorer

 For example, right clicking on the File Manager tab will pop up the menu on the left.  The Jump List shows the folder I pinned as well as the frequent folders I use.  If I were to right click on the PowerPoint task bar icon, it would show me the most recent documents I opened as well as any currently opened docs.  Right clicking on the Internet Explorer button gives me the Jump List pictured on the right above.  I use Jump Lists all the time to quickly get to where I need to go.  Here’s a video to show Jump Lists in action:

 

Windows Search

Windows Search is another feature I can’t live without.  You can find it by clicking on the Windows Start button.  Search is at the bottom off the menu.  Search anything you are looking for on your computer.  Perhaps you uploaded a great picture of your son and you can’t remember what location it uploaded to.  If you tagged his name to the picture when you uploaded your pictures (Be sure to see my upcoming Windows 7 Review:  Pictures and Videos to show you how to do this), just type in his name and your search results will show you all the pictures tagged or titled with his name in it, starting from most recent to oldest.  Any other files or documents will also show up in your search if his name is in them. 

 Windows 7 has upgraded the old photo gallery in Vista to Windows Live Photo Gallery.  As I mentioned earlier in the article, this is one of those programs you will get when you download the Windows Live Essentials package.  I use this program a lot.  I have not yet pinned it anywhere, so I just search for gallery and Search results show me the program, how I can go online to Windows Live, and any pictures or videos relating to Windows Live gallery.Start Menu - SearchStart Menu - Search Results

I LOVE this feature – I use it all the time and have successfully found documents and pictures that would have taken me forever to find in Vista or XP.  Here’s a short video that expands on Window Search:

Windows Search is an amazing tool.  It also searches your Outlook e-mails – new and archived highlighting your searched word in every pertinent e-mail.   Search even uses a filter for .tiff files where Windows 7 performs an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) scan on .tiff files to show you images with the word you are searching.  Furthermore, you can customize your search to find the search word on other computers connected through your network and even the Internet!    To obtain these additional results, just click on “See more results.” Now that’s powerful!

 

Aero Shake

Allows you to “shake” the window you’re using so that all the other windows disappear.  This is particularly useful if you have a lot of windows open.  This is not a feature that I use much, but it’s fun to shake the windows.  To get a better understanding of how to use Aero Shake, watch this video:

 

 

Aero Snap

Snap is a handy tool that I used every once in a while.  Snap makes it easy to compare two open windows at the same time.  For example, you can move your Outlook Calendar window by clicking and dragging the top of the window and moving it all the way to the left.  It will then “snap” in place.  Take an open window  e-mail you received with important dates and “snap” it to the right of your screen.  You now have an easy way to review and work between the two windows.  This is a great tool for many things such as downloading bank data and working in Quicken or working on a PowerPoint presentation in one window while searching the web for pictures or quotes in another window.  To see Snap in action, watch this video:

 

Aero Peek

Allows you to take a peek at all the minimized windows you have open at one time by hovering your mouse on the horizontal highlighted desktop button I wrote about earlier.  I rarely minimize my windows, so this isn’t a feature I use.  Here’s Aero Peek in action:

 

Snipping Tool

I LOVE this feature.  I use this tool all the time when I write my articles for wellconnectedmom.com.  The  Snipping Tool allows me to snip or cut out just a picture or a portion of anything that is on the screen.  I used the Snipping Tool to make many of the pictures in this article.  It’s easier than screen print because you snip precisely what you want.  You don’t need to crop it like you do with print screen.  After you snip the item you want, you can either paste it somewhere or save it as a picture.  The Snipping Tool in action:

 

Parental Controls 

Windows 7 comes with some great tools to help parents to limit the things their children can do while on the computer.    Searching for Parental Controls from the Start Search box allows you to easily access this helpful tool.  First you set up an account of the computer with your child’s name.  In order to use the computer, they will need to log-on using their name and the password you give them.  For their account, you can enforce time limits — actual hours of the day that the computer will be accessible for your child.  You can limit your child to certain ratings for any games you have on the computer.  You can also allow or block other specific programs on your computer. 

In addition, as a part of the “Windows Live Essentials” download, you gain additional Parental Controls which will assist you in limiting and monitoring your child’s online activity.  To learn more, see  Protecting your Kids with Family Safety. Limits include types of websites and social interaction with Microsoft Messenger, Hotmail, etc.  Here’s how Parental Controls work:

 

 

Libraries

Libraries are a handy way to organize your files.  Windows 7 comes set up with four libraries already set up for you, namely Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos.  Although libraries look and act like folders, they are not folders.  They really act more as shortcuts to documents you have specified.  For example, if you are doing a scrap booking project on your daughter, Alyssa, you could create a Library called “Alyssa” and add file folders pertaining to Alyssa, such as pictures, videos, documents or files which contain homemade party initiations or cards you’ve made, etc.  It will now be easier to comb through all the information you have on Alyssa to work on your scrapbook.  Libraries are a great tool for work as well.  You can group together all of your relevant docs, pics, and videos for each project in one convenient spot. 

 But wait, there’s more!  Not only can you create Libraries for your own PC, you can also point to folders on other computers on your network.  This works great for me because my husbands’ computer has most of our music mp3’s.  I have some as well.  Now with one click, I can access all of our mp3’s easily.  Watch Libraries in action:
 

 

HomeGroups

Is a network sharing function that makes it easier than ever to share documents, music, videos, and pictures amongst different computers in the house.  However, there is a catch.  Every computer in the house needs to be on the same domain (which was the case even in Vista and previous versions) and every computer must be running Windows 7.   If you meet these requirements, review this HomeGroup Guideto help you set it up.   If these two requirements aren’t met, you won’t be able to set up a HomeGroup.  If you have various versions of Windows on your computers throughout the house, no worries.  You can still use the old fashioned way of setting up computers on the network.  Using HomeGroup just makes it easier.  I searched for video examples of HomeGroup and could only find an Australian commercial that shows the  benefits once you set one up:

 

 

Themes

Themes have improved over those found in Vista as well.  Now you can have several images set as your wallpaper and set how often you’d like these images rotated.  In essence, it becomes a slide show of your pictures.  You can choose to customize the Themes and add your own pictures, or you can choose from the stunning pictures Windows 7 has included.  Below are two examples – the first theme is Landscapes and the second one shows the Architecture Theme:  Themes - LandscapesThemes - Architecture

You can change your screen saver to a basic selection or you can have it display pictures from your computer, which is a lot more fun.  After the amount of time that you set lapses, the screensaver automatically comes on depicting pictures from your computer.

 

A Mom’s Perspective

I am a mom who works on the computer a lot to review and write e-mail’s, send and receive documents for sports schedules, letters, sign-ups, etc, write articles, upload, organize and send out the kids pictures, create digital scrapbooks, surf the Internet and download useful information for later use, etc..  Windows 7 is a welcome change to help manage my “chaos” on the computer.  I don’t have hours at a time to spend on my computer.  I am constantly being interrupted and to actually finish a task on the computer is pretty amazing.  The ease of finding documents, music, pictures, e-mail’s, etc has greatly enhanced my productivity and time spent searching for things.

My favorite features of Windows 7 are yet to come.  Be sure to check out my last review in the Windows 7 Series on pictures and videos as well.  If you missed the first article in the Windows 7 review, you can find it in the Windows 7 Review:  Media Center post.

Please leave comments to tell your thoughts on this article or Windows 7.   WellConnectedMom’s mission is to review gadgets, technology, and websites relevant to you, Moms.  Feel free to make suggestions for future articles.

 

 

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1 comments
isador klein
isador klein

I am contemplating switchin to widows 7 from xp. this blog has been more than helpful

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  1. […] first article will focus on Windows Media Center.  The second article will focus on Windows 7 Review:  Useful Features.  The last article will conclude with Windows 7 Review: Photos & […]

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