Thu, Nov 05, 2009 - Page 14 News List

Windows 7’s hidden gems

Under the hood, Microsoft’s new operating system packs discrete features that are a vast improvement on Windows Vista and make computing more efficient and safer

By Jay Dougherty  /  DPA , WASHINGTON

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Windows 7’s headline features naturally get all the attention. If you’ve read anything about Microsoft’s latest operating system, you probably already know that Windows 7 is faster, more compatible, and less annoying than Windows Vista. But Microsoft has also sneaked quite a few less visible but still noteworthy features into Windows 7. Here are a few.

SHAKE

Let’s say you have dozens of applications open on your Windows 7 desktop — so many, in fact, that that you have a difficult time sorting through them all, or you have difficulty concentrating on the foreground application because of everything else that’s open. Sound familiar?

In previous versions of Windows, you’d typically have to close all of those applications in order to get some sanity back into your desktop. Not anymore — thanks to the new feature dubbed “shake.” True to its name, the feature is activated by grabbing the title bar of an open application with your mouse cursor and then “shaking” the program back and forth a few times. When you do, everything else that’s open on your desktop is minimized automatically.

Perform the shake operation again, and the clutter returns to your desktop, exactly as it was before.

PROBLEM RECORDER

How often have you had to try to describe a problem you’re having with your Windows computer, and the person you’re describing the problem to acts like you’re talking in a foreign language? Or how often have you, as the local computer expert, had to rely on someone’s fuzzy description of a problem?

In Windows 7, there’s help for both scenarios in the form of the new Problem Steps Recorder. In a nutshell, the Problem Steps Recorder, or PRS for short, will record exactly what you’re doing on your PC that results in a problem. Optionally, you can use the tool’s Add Comment feature to add a note about what issue you’re experiencing. When you’re finished, PRS packages up the recording in a compressed ZIP file. Open the ZIP file, and out pops an “mht” that can be viewed with Internet Explorer.

To start PRS, just open the Windows 7 Start menu, and type “PRS.” Click Start Record, and then walk through the steps that result in a problem. Click Stop Record, and you’ll be asked to indicate a location on your hard drive where the zipped file will be created.

ISO BURNING

For quite a while now, the preferred way to copy and store installation CDs and DVDs has been to create “ISO” files of the entire disk. An ISO file is a single image of the contents of the entire disk. To create an ISO file, you must use a third-party ISO creation tool such as UltraISO or the free ImgBurn.

Reading ISO files also required a third-party tool, at least until now. Windows 7’s new Windows Disc Image Burner, which comes free with all editions of Windows 7, allows the operating system to recognize ISO files and burn their contents to a CD or DVD drive. To activate Disc Image Burner, you merely double-click an ISO file.

BITLOCKER TO GO

USB flash drives are everywhere these days, and with good reason: they hold a lot of data, and they’re small and convenient to carry. There’s just one problem: anyone who happens upon your unencrypted flash drive can read whatever data you have stored there. And that could be a very big problem if you frequently transport sensitive information.

The solution: Windows 7’s BitLocker To Go technology, built into the Ultimate and Enterprise editions of the operating system. Using BitLocker To Go couldn’t be easier. You simply plug your USB flash drive into a USB port, right-click the resulting drive in Windows Explorer, and select Turn on BitLocker from the pop-up menu.

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