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6/3/2009
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Microsoft Windows 7 Under The Hood

We dig into the operating system's security User Account Controls, Resource Monitor, and Action Center and uncover a trove of advanced features in Vista's upcoming successor.




Windows 7 screen shot.
(click for larger image and for full photo gallery)

The Action Center

Nobody likes being nagged. And apart from UAC, one of the biggest source of nags in Windows was the seemingly endless stream of "You need to do this and that" balloons that popped up from the System Tray for what seemed like days on end after uncrating a new system. Not that it ended there, but that was where most of it appeared. Worse, this would lead to situations where you'd reflexively dismiss something -- only to realize a split-second later you wanted to read that.

To that end, Microsoft consolidated as many of the nag dialogs generated by Windows and made them centrally manageable and accessible in the Action Center. Its behavior is vaguely similar to the "Search for solutions to problems" dialog we first encountered in Vista: messages can be reviewed there, and you can take action as needed or selectively dismiss or archive messages that don't need immediate action.

This at least solves half the problem -- that of dismissing a dialog that you realized you needed to read -- although it doesn't completely tame the original issue (being bombarded by nags). But it's a big step in the right direction, and if third-party programs can register their own actions with the Action Center, that'll make the process of collating and staying on top of such things far less disparate.

Devices And Printers

Time was, the only way to see details about hardware in Windows was to use the Device Manager. Not a bad way to do it, but it's far from intuitive, and crammed with too much information about things you never touch.

Windows 7 goes this one better with the Devices and Printers window. Here you have access to the settings and statuses of the hardware you use most directly: input devices, displays, communications hardware, printers, scanners, faxes, audio and gaming devices, and so on. It's far easier to navigate and get relevant information about everything. It also lets you see at a glance what devices might be missing drivers or experiencing trouble, and you can kick off the troubleshooting process for any piece of hardware with a simple right-click.

That's the good news. The bad news, as my colleague Alex Wolfe pointed out, is that troubleshooting problems through the Devices and Printers interface often leads you in circles. It's too easy to get stuck in an endless debug loop when trying to get devices to work, where you repeat the same sequence of actions in the futile hope that things will be different this time around. I experienced this myself a couple of times, and I, too, hope this particular process gets its rough edges smoothed down a bit.

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