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Windows 7 Desktop, Taskbar, and Start Menu Enhancements

Check out the new features and functionality in Windows 7 that you'll use every day. Eric Geier discusses and shows you the changes from Vista to Windows 7. You’ll get a feel for the new and improved desktop, taskbar, and start menu.
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Windows 7 is slated to be on the shelves and available online by late October. You might be asking these questions:

  • Will it look much different from Vista?
  • Are there any new features?

We'll try to answer those questions and more in this sneak peek.

You'll see one of the final Release Candidate versions of Windows 7, in which we'll examine the desktop, taskbar, and start menu.

You'll also discover the new taskbar buttons, the improved pinning functionality, the new Jump List feature, tricks to move and manipulate windows, and more.

New Look and Feel of the Taskbar and Start Menu

Back when XP made a hit, we were shocked by the almost-neon blue and grass-green color scheme. Then Microsoft toned it down in Vista with a cool-black taskbar and start menu.

Again, one of the first changes you'll notice—or at least when you minimize an application—in Windows 7 is the taskbar.

The change to a light chrome-looking blue taskbar and start menu isn't the big surprise. More shocking is how the taskbar buttons for programs and windows are handled.

In just about every Windows version to date, the taskbar buttons sport the program or window icon and a text title.

However, as you see in Figure 1, you won't see text titles right off the bat; just the program or window icons are shown.

An icon and text title is shown when hovering over the main icon. Plus, by default, icons don't appear for each instance of a program/window; they're combined under the same icon/button on the taskbar.

If your computer supports the new Aero Peek feature, you'll also see a thumbnail of each window when hovering over its icon/title. This is similar to Vista, but in Windows 7 it shows each file or window; not just the first one when hovering over a grouped icon.

Even better: Hover over the thumbnail and you'll see a full preview.

Remember the Quick Launch toolbar that was usually on the left of the taskbar in Vista and previous versions? It might have had the icons for Internet Explorer, the Media Player, and the Show Desktop shortcut. Well now that's gone (or you could say replaced with another feature).

Now you can "pin" shortcuts to the taskbar and start menu. By default, the taskbar will have a Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer, and Windows Media Player icon pinned to the taskbar, as you saw in Figure 1.

You probably won't have any icons pinned to the start menu by default. However, you can add some.

They will appear on the top of the start menu, separated from the icons for recently opened applications, as in Vista.

Though it might be confusing at first, the pinned icons look very similar to the regular icons of currently opened programs.

Plus it might be hard to tell at first whether you have a pinned program currently open. When it is open, it will be highlighted, as you see for the Internet Explorer icon in Figure 1.

The New Jump Lists Feature on the Start Menu

A totally new feature in Windows 7 is the Jump List. It offers shortcuts for popular tasks, recently opened files, and other related items for programs on or pinned to the start menu or taskbar.

For example, as Figure 3 shows, the Jump Lists for Internet Explorer might show sites you frequently visit and common tasks.

On the start menu, you simply hover to the right arrow and the Jump Lists for that application (if any) will appear.

On the taskbar, right-click the icon. Remember that the exact Jump List types and shortcuts differ depending upon what you do with the program.

Plus you can customize it by pinning files and/or shortcuts to the Jump List.

Positioning Windows with Snaps and Shake

Two less noticeable—but still helpful—features debuting in Windows 7 are Snaps and Shake. These features give you more ways to move and manipulate your windows around.

For example, to maximize a window, you simply click the title bar (very top of the window) and drag the window to the top of the desktop.

Want to compare two open windows? Simply grab a window and drag it to either side edge of the screen to fill half the screen.

Wanna shake? To get all but one window out of the way, grab the window you want to keep and shake it. This will magically minimize the others to the taskbar. Then simply shake the window again to get 'em all back.

We've discovered the new look and feel of the desktop, taskbar, and start menu.

There's still more. Don't forget to check out all the new Windows themes. Right-click the desktop and select Personalize to explore the themes and other settings.

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