In this second installment of my four-part series, I take a hard look at those new features of Windows 7 that have directly affected my own beta experience. Some are really good. Others are of questionable value. And a few are downright ugly. So, with a respectful nod to Sergio Leone, let us continue.
Windows 7: The good
When Vista first shipped over two years ago, one of the features that most excited me was the integrated search. I was particularly impressed by the Saved Searches feature and how I could create a kind of virtual folder shortcut that would allow me to access just those files that matched the criteria from the previous search attempt. In fact, the one thing I found lacking was the inability to tie together multiple top-level folder hierarchies to create a compound search that could span more than one location.
Enter the Libraries feature of Windows 7. Libraries are essentially Saved Searches à la Windows Vista, only this time they can span multiple locations. This shouldn't be that big deal for me because I've always organized my core data files into a neat series of nested folders within the Documents folder. However, what I've found is that Libraries are just as useful for exposing nested layers of a complex folder hierarchy. By creating a new library, and then pulling into it several related, nested folders, I'm able to establish a pre-filtered starting point for all of my document searches.
For example, instead of navigating through multiple subfolders to find the latest contract addendums for my top clients, I can now get to all of them with just a single click. Most of my frequently accessed documents are just one folder level away, and searches are automatically more refined because the range of searchable folders has already been cut-down through the Library feature's own exclusion mechanism. In fact, the facility is so convenient, I find myself creating Libraries for almost everything, from new projects to the myriad legacy business records that I can never seem to convince myself to toss (a good habit that saved my bacon on more than one occasion).
Windows 7: The bad
As good as the Library mechanism is, it doesn't justify the abomination that is the new search system. With Vista, there was a nice, easy-to-use Search pane for creating and testing contextualized searches. I used this mechanism extensively during my Vista days, both the refine instant searches and also to fine-tune searches I wanted to save for later use.
Now, with Windows 7, Microsoft has done away with the Search pane in favor of a keyword-based system that requires you to memorize and/or hunt through various filtering keywords in order to refine your searches. This, plus the lack of exposure for the Saved Searches folder (it's not visible in the default Libraries view - you have to hunt for it in Explorer), means that, to me at least, Search has taken a big step backward in terms of usability with Windows 7.
Windows 7: The ugly
As anyone who's familiar with the pre-Release Candidate build 7048 of Windows 7, Microsoft has changed the animation of the Start Orb, the icon that anchors what used to be the Start menu. Whereas with Vista you're greeted with subtle highlight effect when you mouse over the orb, the Windows 7 incarnation looks like some twisted neon mini-explosion. It's as if someone took a collection of day-glow spray paint cans and just sort of splattered the thing. Ugh! Truly horrible looking.
* Next week: Aero Peek, Taskbar thumbnails, and those awful new icons.
* Previously: The Taskbar, Control Panel, and the weakling color scheme.
This story, "Windows 7: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" was originally published by InfoWorld.