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Introducing the Windows 7 UI

Update: For more video demos please check out the Windows 7 Demos post.

During the Windows 7 reviewers workshop on Sunday Linda Averett demonstrated the user interface enhancements introduced with Windows 7. Keeping with the trend, Averett described herself as a PC, wearing a red top matching her fall colored desktop with orange and red aero glass tones.

The session was an overview of some new features demonstrated on Windows 7 build 6933.winmain.081020-1842. Unfortunately the build that will be handed out to PDC attendees will not feature most of the enhancements I am about to detail.

First up was the new Windows 7 desktop. The new desktop includes a thicker taskbar, improved system tray and no sidebar. The orb on the start menu also glistens after hover over.

Although the look is similar to Vista, the main changes would be demonstrated next, hovering Window display and Jump lists. Averett described the jump lists as a "very addictive feature".

Jump lists are accessible by right clicking on instances in the taskbar and they give you a list of recent documents using the recent documents API. Jump lists are also available on the start menu.

I got the chance to play around with a more recent build of Windows 7 and recorded the following demo of jump lists and the Window preview:

The new hover over window previews:

Averett went on to demo the new Windows Media player controls from the taskbar. You can skip, play tracks and fully control the WMP experience from the new taskbar control.

Snap to side is the next major UI enhancement meaning if you have 2 windows open you can tile them easily by snapping them to the side. This also works by dragging the window up to the top of the monitor and snapping it to the top (maximising it). Interestingly in the demonstrations we saw when windows were maximised the glass effect was still visible. You can also see some of the latest Windows 7 touch advancements where jump lists are 25% larger than when used with the mouse and flick gestures are evident. When Sinofsky was asked if this violated Apple's patents he said he could not discuss any legal issues.

Another great new feature named in the Windows 7 build as "preview desktop" but described as "peek into desktop", allows you to see through windows and straight onto the desktop. Interestingly Microsoft have decided to remove the Windows Sidebar and simply drop the gadgets onto the desktop.

Averett went on to describe data Microsoft had gathered regarding customising Windows. 30% of people customise their glass colour. Customers and OEMs both care a lot about customisation. Windows 7 boosts what you can do with the glass colour. You can now create theme sets and save them to share with friends and family.

The system tray has also been re-designed allowing users to hide system tray icons if they wish:

Libraries are now included in Windows 7 to help you better manage documents. Libraries is a collection of content like photos, pictures and music. Libraries allow you to add storage and keep the pictures stored locally across lots of drives but have links to the library.

Federated search allows you to search across multiple PCs to pull photos from another photo library on another PC. The new search pane gives you a great preview of documents too within explorer.

HomeGroup is the feature that allows federated search to search across multiple PC libraries. A HomeGroup allows you to easily link Windows 7 computers on your home network so that you can share pictures, music, videos, documents and devices. It also makes them ready to stream media to devices on your home network such as a media extender. You can help protect your HomeGroup with a password, and you can choose what you want to share.

Another demonstration focussed on the new "PlayTo" option that will stream your music from other PCs and other music libraries (including iTunes) to your media receivers or other PCs. Windows Media Player now plays AAC songs that iTunes uses but as Apple does not license FairPlay content Microsoft is unable to provide this functionality. PlayTo also works on pictures and videos.

Device stage was demonstrated next. This is a part of explorer which will demonstrate what a device is and what it can do. It's an opportunity for the device vendor to fully showcase the device and present a photo realistic image of the device. It has a task area at the bottom section where the vendor can provide links to inbuilt applications and device information. Microsoft believes this will transform opportunities for vendors. The entire device stage is an implementation of software + services and devices built inside an XML document.

A new feature in Windows 7 that was not fully demonstrated was the magnifier tool pictured below. This allows users to zoom into specific parts of the desktop.

My first impression of Windows 7 is that it's a great improvement on Vista. It has improved performance, a neat boot screen that fires up devices quicker than before and the improved taskbar and windows management features will help when switching between various applications. Throughtout the rest of PDC Microsoft will be unveiling more information about the Windows 7 desktop improvements. We'll be there so keep an eye out on our PDC section.

For more images and screenshots check out our Windows 7 gallery. Our friends at ActiveWin and Paul Thurrott have some great reviews too so check them out.

View: Windows 7 Screenshot Gallery

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