BOOT CAMP 566 (04/03/09) - Introducing Windows 7, part 3


So far in this short series we've looked at what makes Windows 7 tick; now it's time to take a look at the user interface or desktop, the parts of Windows that you see and use, next week in the concluding episode we'll delve into the Start menu and key applications.


There are a number of clever new desktop features and one or two that will undoubtedly annoy Apple fans but we're not here to point fingers, unless it involves using the new Multi-Touch screen facility.


Of course you will need a touch-sensitive screen in order to use it, however, these are a bit thin on the ground and still quite expensive but I have no doubt that this feature will become cheaper and much more widely available on laptops and monitors in the coming year.


What makes Multi Touch interesting is the fact that it works with existing software, as well as specially written applications. You can scroll through a Word document or web page, for example, simply by stroking your finger up and down the screen, and that's anywhere on the screen, not just the thin scroll bar on the side. If the document is a long one you can 'flick' through it quickly, and one very neat touch, no pun intended, is the way the page 'bounces' to let you know you've reached the top or bottom. 


Software designed to make use of Multi-Touch and touch screen displays will be able to do all sorts of nifty things using 'gestures'. For instance, by 'gripping' a picture between your thumb and forefinger you can move it, twist it or make it bigger or smaller by moving your fingers apart or together.


Touch screen displays are going to take off in a big way but they have one fairly obvious downside and if anyone out there has any money left I would think seriously about investing in companies making screen wipes and cleaners... 


There's no need to worry about buying a new computer just yet, though because most of W7's new features, most of which come under the heading of the new and improved 'Aero Desktop', work happily using old-fashioned keyboards and mice. Here's one that might be of interest to online shoppers, it's called 'snap to side'. Let's say you are trawling the Internet, looking for a new washing machine, comparing prices and specifications on multiple websites. Often you will end up struggling with overlapping browser windows or tabs. In Windows 7 all you have to do is drag or 'snap' one browser window to the left, and the other to the right and they automatically resize to fit in each half of the screen.


The Windows 7 Taskbar is fully mouse compatible, of course, but it has been spiced up for touch screen operation. Taskbar icons are larger and like Vista, they show a thumbnail of the open application, When you click or tap an application icon it opens it to full screen display and you can easily switch between applications just by clicking or touching the windows or application tabs. If you have several browser tabs or documents open you can use the thumbnails like a task switcher.


If you stroke the Taskbar icons in an upward direction you see a 'Jump List. (It also appears if you hover the mouse pointer, or right-click the icon). Jump Lists are a genuinely useful innovation; they are like mini Start menus and they automatically show the options, open tabs, actions and so on, associated with the selected application. A Word Jump List shows open and recent documents, the Media Player Jump List displays playlists and so on.


Open windows can be made to do all sorts of other things with your finger or mouse pointer. Dragging a window to the top of the screen maximises it, and if you drag the border to the bottom of the screen the window expands vertically. However, all this moving, resizing and snapping can be a bit off-putting if you are not expecting it but Windows 7 helpfully warns you that something is about to happen by displaying an open frame, or tinting the screen blue (on PCs with less capable video adaptors), so if you don't want it leap around just back-track on whatever you are doing.


One unusual, some might say, quirky feature, and something that you are unlikely to stumble on by accident is 'shake'. If you click and hold (or touch) on a window's title bar, then give it a vigorous shake all other open windows are automatically minimised. Shake it again and they reappear. It's not intuitive and I still haven't figured out what it is for but it's fun to play with.  


In the bottom right hand corner of the desktop there's what appears to be a blank button. If you hover the mouse pointer over it, or touch it, open windows become transparent and show the desktop beneath. On machines with lower spec video adaptors clicking the button shows the desktop.


Finally, Microsoft has fixed the annoying Windows Sidebar that first appeared in Vista. It's no longer locked to the screen and for those, who like me prefer to have the taskbar on the right side of the screen 'gadgets' now become much more user friendly. They can be taken out of the Sidebar and placed anywhere on the desktop and they are resizable too.


Next Week - Introducing Windows 7, part 4





Authentic Energetic, Reflective and Open - a combination of visual themes and eye-catching graphical features first incorporated into Windows Vista



Small self-contained application or web link designed to sit on a PC desktop



Video display with a transparent, electrically sensitive film or layer that respond to the touch of a finger



The themes and wallpapers supplied with Windows 7 will be specific to each region. They haven't been finalized yet but it looks as though American Windows 7 users will have views of the Grand Canyon and bison grazing the plains, Australians get a lot of big skies, South Africans will be treated to exotic plant life and the UK version will include a Neolithic stone circle...


Don't forget, there's a full archive of previous Boot Camp Top Tips at



(c) R. Maybury 2009, 1102

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