Windows 7 in-depth review and video: This time Microsoft gets it right

In his hands-on review of the Windows 7 pre-beta, Preston Gralla decides that Microsoft's upcoming OS shows great promise.

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File organization and search

One of Windows 7's most subtle changes will have a surprisingly large impact on the way that people use their computers. It changes the way in which files and documents are organized.

In earlier versions of Windows, including XP and Vista, you're practically forced to organize all of your files and documents under the Documents folder in your user account. Everything about Windows, including default locations for saving, default locations for searching and so on, is built that way. Organize things differently, and you'll make your life difficult.

Windows 7 changes that. Instead of organizing your files and folders in a Documents folder, there is instead an overall Libraries folder, under which separate Downloads, Music, Pictures, and Videos areas can be found.

However, that's not the big change. You can now include folders from other locations on your network in your Libraries. For example, if you have three PCs, and you would like to be able to see all of your work files from all those PCs in one location, you can drag them to your library. Those folders will still live in their original locations but will also show up in your library.

Search has also been improved considerably. From your Windows 7 machine, you can now easily search through other PCs on your network. Place the folders from another PC into a library, do a search on that library, and you'll search the other PC's folders

In addition, search results are easier to scan, and they present more information for each file. It's also much easier to filter searches using file name, author, and file type, because those filters appear just underneath the Windows Explorer search box when you put your cursor into the box.

But you don't need to be in Windows Explorer to search other PCs, as long as you've added folders from those PCs to your library. When you do a search from the Start menu's search box, you'll search through those folders as well.

Hardware support

One of Vista's biggest problems has been its lack of hardware support; when it shipped, many peripherals simply didn't work with it. Even Microsoft executives were bedeviled by the problem.

Microsoft says that Windows 7 will support all hardware that Vista does, and even in a pre-beta, it did a stellar job. It recognized all the hardware on my laptop, including the wireless card (something that Vista was particularly finicky about), and my Lexmark E120 network laser printer. In addition, I plugged in an I/O Magic LightScribe DVD burner, and it recognized it without a hitch.

Video: The new Libraries folder in Windows 7

I experienced only one glitch: At first, Windows 7 could not properly recognize the laptop's wide-screen resolution. However, a restart unaccountably fixed the problem. So it goes with betas.

Windows 7 has also added a new feature that's designed to make it easier to work with hardware -- a Device Stage window. This window appears only when a hardware manufacturer has created one to appear specifically for the device. When you plug in the device, instead of familiar Auto-Play, the Device Stage window appears and gives you options such as an icon for scanning or printing, for example. However, given that the window will be written by the vendor, it may also include marketing materials. In any event, none of the hardware I plugged in launched the window; they most likely won't appear until much closer to the Windows 7 launch.

Microsoft is also pushing Windows 7's touch-screen capabilities, although most weren't enabled in this version and very few existing machines include touch-screen features. The idea is that you'll be able to shuttle around applications and windows, run programs and accomplish plenty of tasks this way. Microsoft also claims that the operating system will recognize when you tend to use a mouse or your hands and will, for example, make the Start button larger if you typically touch it with your finger instead of clicking with a mouse.

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