Thursday, November 05, 2009

Windows to the (PC) soul

Windows 7
How does one launch a computer operating system? By keeping it simple, of course. And that is exactly what happened in Singapore recently when Microsoft launched Windows 7. They called the launch “a deep dive into Windows 7.” I guess it meant that we would plunge head first into Windows 7, and figure out how it works, hands-on. The hall was filled with PCs of different shapes, sizes and colors. There were netbooks, notebooks, desktop computers (touchscreen and not) — all loaded with Microsoft 7, of course.

A Window To Windows 7

I had fun playing around with the computers, most specially with the touchscreen computer, which allowed me to rearrange the screen to my liking. Fun! Drag, position and set. The games were also quite cool, although I had to make sure that I did not hog the computers because there were lots of folks waiting to get their hands on them, too. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it is to get the hang of Windows 7. “In 1975, Bill Gates was quoted as saying in Popular Electronics magazine after he saw the first micro computer, that it would be the device that would change the world,” says Richard Francis, GM for Windows, Microsoft Asia-Pacific at the launch of Windows 7. “Today, 24 years later, I am pleased to say that there are over a billion personal computers running on Windows.” At the time, what Gates said was a very ambitious vision statement. Ten years later, in 1985, Microsoft introduced the first copy of Windows, which was called Windows 1.0. “What started off as a vision of a computer in every desk and home is now coming closer to reality,” Francis says and adds that it took one year for Microsoft to develop Windows 7. “This OS was developed because our consumers told us what they wanted in a computer system. We listened and are happy to say that we have come up with a product that our users want.”

He says the development of Windows 7 was based on three tenets:

1. Simplicity: People want to work with a computer they are familiar with, something that they use in the office, and something they can feel equally as comfortable with back home.

2. Value: Nothing comes close to the Windows value system. Because of Microsoft’s close relationship with its hardware manufacturers, all the devices that are out today have been developed in close coordination with their partners. There are all sorts of computers, just as there are all sorts of users.

3. Choice: They have PCs that are all-in-one: multi-touch laptops, netbooks, and so much more. And as far as innovation goes, the hardware manufacturers are constantly innovating. Today, there are multi-touch-capable PCs. Today, more and more homes have multiple PCs because they are looking at ways to make it easier to connect.

We Hear You

What Microsoft said it did with Windows 7 is that it listened a lot. The program was tested on more than eight million users. After all, when you have a billion people using PCs out there, you are bound to get millions of suggestions.

What makes Windows 7 click?

The first key principle was to simplify tasks. Windows 7 has made doing things that used to take three to four mouse clicks to open, just one click. Launching programs has also been made easier and faster. Connecting to the Internet and searching for info have also been made easier. So is searching for programs within the PC. The second key principle is that the program works not the way Microsoft wants, but rather, the way PC owners want it to. The third principle was to make new things possible.

Let’s Boot In

Install, turn on, turn off. Microsoft made sure to give Windows 7 a nice look when it came to these things as it is fast and lightweight. Everybody who’s used a modern operating system for more than five minutes has met with the hassle of juggling too many windows, and Windows 7 Aero Peek seeks to alleviate some of these hassles. Aero Peek lets one hover over a “show desktop” field on the right of the task bar and shows the outlines of every window, which is open — which usually amounts to chaos. More helpful though is the ability to hover over the thumbnails that pop up from the taskbar app groupings, and isolate that specific window while all other windows are sent to outline mode. It serves as both geography lesson and a rapid navigation method without feeling clunky. It was lots of fun to grab the title bar of a window and give it a vigorous shake to minimize all other windows. It’s fun when you’re changing tasks and want to rid yourself of the clutter of your previous activities. Windows 7 has a pop-up menu at the start. Once you start typing and proceed to search, the results start appearing. The start menu has also been enhanced with a refined layout and supplemental menus for frequently used items that give access to recent items used by that application, along with the new “tasks” list that Microsoft has snuck into the OS. The Aero Snap app offers an intelligent way of working with windows using click and drag. I had fun maximizing the screen by pulling a document to the top of the screen, or filling one half of the screen by dragging it to the far left or right edge of the screen. An Aero Peek-style outline gives one a preview of what you’re doing, and it’s easy enough to bounce away from the “sticky” edges, or pull an already maximized window. If you press the Windows key + left arrow or right arrow, you are able to fill half of the screen with the current window, which is perfect for comparing documents.

Play It Now

How do we survive in the age of multimedia? We get a computer that can be connected to our PC and to our TV and to our PS3 and Xbox and whatever other gaming system we may have. Windows 7 is even more fun with the new “Play to” function. With this function, one can beam a locally controlled audio playlist to computers that are part of your HomeGroup, DLNA devices like the PS3, or Media Center Extenders like the Xbox 360. Remotely shared libraries are also automatically detected off of DLNA or Home Server devices. And, if you really are in love with your media library, you can connect it to your Windows Live ID and access your home media from anywhere over the Internet.

Simple Does It

So, just how simple is it really to use the new Windows 7? Finally, it seems that after many years of being bogged down by Windows OS setups, we’ve finally been able to reliably and rapidly connect with many computers. I was able to share files, media and printers without needing to ask an old-time Windows user to help me figure out the system. Windows 7 seems to have patched up some of the problems that came with Vista. It’s hardly full of surprises, but that’s usually a good thing when it comes to operating systems. If you’ve never been a Windows person, there’s hardly anything here that will change your mind about staying with Windows. But, what I do know? Because of the work we are in, it is inevitable that there are days when I do have to work with a PC and Windows — whether by choice or necessity. And, I must say that Windows 7 is great news for millions of folks like me — and those who love Windows.