Much of the excitement about Windows 7 relates to an assortment of user-interface improvements: a little eye candy here, a few window-management tweaks there. Below are some of the highlights, along with the tools you'll need to get them for your current OS.
What it is: When you drag a window to the left or right edge of your computer screen, Windows 7's Aero Snap feature automatically resizes the window to fill that half of the screen. To "undock" a window, simply click and drag it away from the edge. This feature is especially convenient for PC users who have widescreen monitors, because it enables them to put a pair of windows side by side in just two quick mouse clicks.
How to get it: The free AeroSnap download makes automatic window anchoring and resizing available to Vista and XP systems. And it emulates Windows 7 in another way: If you drag a window to the top edge of the screen, the window maximizes.
What it is: Need to peek at your desktop? Clicking Vista's Show Desktop button will minimize all of your open windows, but Win 7 can make them temporarily become transparent--great for glancing at, say, one of Windows' new floating Gadgets. All you have to do is mouse over the Show Desktop button in the bottom-right corner of the screen, and presto: Your windows turn invisible, with only the borders remaining. Slide your mouse away, and immediately the windows become opaque once more.
How to get it: The freebie AeroPeek (the link goes to a downloadable zip file) for XP and Vista works a bit differently--you have to click to activate it and then click again to deactivate it--but the end result is much the same: Your open windows turn see-through, allowing you to view the desktop behind them. Of course, you can always press Windows-D to minimize all open windows (and afterward press Windows-D again to restore them), but what fun is that?
What it is: Want to minimize all but one of a group of windows on your desktop? In Windows 7, you can accomplish that feat by clicking and holding the title bar of any open window, and then shaking your mouse back and forth a few times. All of the other open windows will funnel down to the taskbar. Shake the lone window again, and its counterparts will reappear.
How to get it: The free Aero Shake utility from Lifehacker brings Windows 7-style shake-and-bake windowing to Vista and XP. Though the feature isn't quite as smooth as the version built in to Windows 7, it's still a useful little amenity--and you certainly can't beat the price.
The Pinnable Taskbar
What it is: Arguably the most visually noticeable change in Windows 7 is its overhauled taskbar, which sports oversize program icons and lets you "pin" favorite applications and documents (when you pin a document, it joins the corresponding application's Jump List, a context-sensitive pop-up menu of shortcuts to commonly used documents and/or tasks.) If you like the idea, you can set up an almost identical taskbar in Vista (but not in XP, sorry), simply by introducing a few minor modifications.
How to get it: If your system doesn't already have a batch of program icons located just to the right of Vista's Start button, right-click the taskbar and click Toolbars, Quick Launch. Next, unlock the taskbar by right-clicking again and clearing the check mark next to Lock the Taskbar. This operation adds a handle (which looks like three columns of tiny dots) to the right side of the Quick Launch toolbar. Drag the handle to the right to make more room for icons. Finally, to make the icons larger and closer in form to the ones in Windows 7, right-click the taskbar a third time and choose View, Large Icons. (Make sure that you click in an open area of the taskbar, and not directly on an icon.) Besides adding new icons for programs, you can attach icons for folders and even for documents to your newly improved taskbar. Just drag an icon down and drop it in. If you need extra space, you can always drag the toolbar handle farther to the right.