Windows 7: Microsoft's Useful Yet Annoying New OS

New PC operating system deserves mixed reviews

It's an important launch day for Microsoft, and you'll probably be hearing a lot about the most important new features in its Windows 7 operating system debuting today. Just how useful is each of these ballyhooed characteristics of Windows 7?

We've been using the OS since its beta days last January, and we've come away with strong impressions — both negative and positive — about Windows 7. Here's our take on ten of what Microsoft says are among the top additions to the Windows feature set, along with a bonus: a key 11th attribute of Windows 7 we think Microsoft left out of its rah-rah feature list.

1. Homegroup: Annoying
This easy file-sharing capability is brilliant, but it only matters if everybody on your network has Windows 7. How presumptuous, Microsoft!

2. Jump Lists: Useful
Right-click evolves into something even more useful, taking you all over your PC, with history files, favorites and a lot more. Bravo.

3. Snap: Annoying
More often than not, you move a window and it snaps fullscreen, just when you don't want it to. Can we disable this, please?

4. Windows Live Essentials: Annoying
No, Microsoft, you're not Google, and we don't want your Windows Live Messenger, Movie Maker (bring back that crummy desktop app, good for cuts-only junk), Mail app, or any of that other me-too stuff you took out of Windows for fear of an antitrust suit.

5. Windows Search: Useful
Whoa, this is fast — almost as good as Spotlight search on the Mac. And the results can be previewed in a viewer without launching any app. Fantastic.

6. Windows Taskbar: Useful
The best feature of Windows 7, by far. Aero Peek gives you a look at what's running in a glassy, gorgeous preview. And there's a handy date at the bottom right corner — surprisingly useful.

7. Full 64-bit support: Useful
Not sure how "full" full is when most apps are still 32-bit, but we're loving what 12GB of RAM does to 64-bit Photoshop.

8. More personal: Borderline
We know how to make our PCs personal, and we don't need Microsoft's creepy wallpaper to show us the way.

9. Performance Improvements: Useful
This is the best-sounding improvement of them all, but in practice, if you have a fast PC, it's hardly noticeable compared to Vista or XP. But not everybody has a fast PC.

10. Play To: Borderline
Another feature that only works if you have a houseful of Windows 7-running PCs. Maybe someday we'll enjoy using Windows 7 to play media from somebody else's PC, but today, it's demoware.

11. BONUS! Easy Turning off of UAC: Useful
It's odd that Microsoft didn't mention on its list another one of the best aspects of Windows 7, the ease with which you can turn off the reviled User Access Control (UAC), that super annoying nag that wouldn't leave you alone every time you tried to change something on your PC. Making it easy to shut off is definitely useful.

Final Verdict: Useful
Of all Microsoft's main talking points about Windows 7 on that PR page, we're finding more of them fit in our Useful category than Borderline or Annoying. After working with Windows 7 daily since its early beta stage, we have to say that it's a significant improvement over its predecessor. Its new graphics and features must make Microsoft think it's justified to call Windows 7 a whole new version, understandably distancing itself from Vista. That might be a stretch, but we think, for a major service pack, it's excellent. Too bad it costs hundreds of dollars to do for Vista what should have been done in the first place. Even so, we still call it Useful.

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