With the millions of downloads of the Windows 7 public beta in the hands and on the hard drives of PC enthusiasts, the upcoming Microsoft operating system could be the most eagerly anticipated yet.
Most of those testing Windows 7 find many things to like about it, with some saying that it’ll finally give them a reason to start anew after running Windows XP for many, many years. Some are even running the Windows 7 beta as their main OS on their main machines. But the operating system isn’t done cooking yet.
The latest entry on the Engineering Windows 7 blog details some of the changes that the team has made to for the upcoming Release Candidate (RC) since the last public beta.
“We’ve been quite busy for the past two months or so working through all the feedback we’ve received on Windows 7. It should be no surprise but the Release Candidate for Windows 7 will have quite a few changes, many under the hood so to speak but also many visible,” wrote Steven Sinofsky, senior VP of the Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group. “The goal of having a fully functional Beta was to make sure we received reliable feedback and not a lot of ‘hey this doesn't work at all sorts of reports. This has allowed us to really focus on delivering a refined RC where the changes we made are all the reflection of feedback we have received.”
Sinofsky then turned the blog content over to program manager Chaitanya Sareen to explain some of the more notable interface tweaks made to Windows 7 since the beta.
The most immediately appreciable feature of Windows 7 is the new taskbar. With Aero Peek, users can preview or “peek” at all the windows open for a particular program. This goes a long way in making life easier for those who work with multiple windows open of the same program. Microsoft has now implemented the same sort of “peek” behavior when using Alt-Tab for scrolling through windows. While the Alt-Tab menu itself brings up a small preview box like it does in Vista, the change for the RC now makes the full window appear by itself on the desktop after a short timed delay.
Of course, those with many windows open will find Alt-Tab a bit too laborious. For that reason, the upcoming RC will feature an upgraded version of a shortcut that is presently in the beta. Holding the Windows key with a number in the will launch that corresponding program (i.e., if Internet Explorer were first in the taskbar from the left, hitting Windows key + 1 would launch it). For the RC build, doing the same key command would also switch to that program if it were already active – and repeatedly hitting the number key would cycle through the window. Other new functions are also opened when the Shift, Ctrl and Alt keys are added into the mix, which will launch new windows, jump lists, or switching back to the last active window. Sareen says, “Think of this as per-program ALT +TAB shortcut for the first 10 items on the taskbar,” – and it’s one of the keyboard shortcuts that we can already picture ourselves using on a very regular basis.
Microsoft is also changing the way a program will alert you if it requires attention. The RC will have a changed flashing animation with a bolder orange color; and instead of flashing just three times, it will flash seven times as a nod to the Windows version designation.
To even further beef up the taskbar, Windows 7 will better scale the number of large and small icons, resulting in a 24 to 39 percent increase in icon quantity before the taskbar scrolls. Sareen adds, “We believe customers will find more than enough room to pin their common programs.”
Those are just some of the more notable changes that caught our eye (you can see a much longer list with descriptions here). Furthermore, Sinofsky pointed out that this is just a “sampling” of just the more visible changes since the beta and that we could expect even more before the final version.
Of course, Sinofsky didn’t shed any light on any shipping date, saying only, “We’re still on the same path working towards the release candidate and of course we know everyone is anxious for the next phase of our path to RTM. In the meantime, our full time machines are still running the Beta build.”