The Joys and Pains of Windows 7

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In this first 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 begin.

Windows 7: The Good

It's one of the more maligned features of Windows 7: The new Taskbar. People either love it or hate it. There simply is no middle ground on the subject.

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Personally, I fall into the former camp. The new Taskbar is, for me at least, a revelation. Finally, the fundamental object-oriented UI concepts I've been pining for have been realized in Windows. No more half-measures or quasi-O-O implementations. The Taskbar now behaves the way I've always felt it should have behaved from day one.

First, there's the consistency factor. I no longer have to make that awkward mental leap from where I click when I want to start a program to where I click when I want to access a running instance. With Windows 7, these are one in the same. In fact the difference between running and non-running applications has become irrelevant. If I want to use Word, I click on its icon (or use its jump list). It doesn't matter whether it's already running. The actions I take to use Word, Excel, Outlook, or any other application for that matter, are now consistent across virtually all operation contexts.

Then there's the issue of spatial familiarity. With Windows 7, I no longer have to hunt through my Taskbar entries to find a running instance of a program. Each pinned Taskbar item remains exactly where I left it, making it easy to find frequently used applications. And because both running and non-running items use the same, fixed icon -- which is always pinned in the same, fixed location -- I know exactly where to go each time. No more hunting and peeking through tiny icons with indecipherable text. I've now completely disabled text labels for all of my Taskbar items and instead use simple muscle memory, coupled with the quick visual recognition of a full-sized icon image, to find what I want quickly and easily.

Windows 7: The Bad

The new Taskbar is truly a quantum leap forward in UI design. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the revised Explorer UI as a whole. For example, some features, like the Status Bar, are simply holdovers from the XP UI; the new Details pane, first introduced with Vista, makes this mechanism almost entirely redundant. So why keep it?

Likewise, the revised task panes on the left side of the Control Panel. Either display them all the time (as is the case within the various Control Panel subfolders), or not at all (such as in the top-level Control Panel folder). This "now you see me, now you don't" behavior is confusing and inconsistent, almost like someone decided to make the initial (top-level) Control Panel experience less Vista-like in an effort to fool the latter platform's detractors. Just plain dumb.

Windows 7: The Ugly

Who designed the default Windows 7 color scheme? The pale, washed-out blue tinge of the new Explorer toolbar is awful, as is the similarly washed-out background for the task panes in Control Panel. I actually kind of liked the dark, metallic blue look of these features in Vista. An arbitrary change that serves no practical purpose other than to differentiate the product from Vista while offending all those who hate subtle, washed-out color schemes.

Next week: Libraries, search, and the horrible Start Orb animation.

This story, "The Joys and Pains of Windows 7" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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