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.

Complaints about Vista's defrag program not providing enough information to the end user prompted some revamping.
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Booting Virtual Hard Drive Images

This one's for pros, but it's nifty all the same. With a little work, a user can take a virtual hard disk file, mount it in the Windows boot manager, and boot to it as if it were a real hard drive. It's immensely handy if you want to try dual-booting between multiple instances of Windows without the hassle of creating partitions. Since the native Windows 7 system-backup tool saves disk images as VHDs, this can be handy if you want to boot directly into a backup image.

This trick has some limitations. You can only boot VHDs that run Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008, and you might run into a major hassle if you try to boot a VHD from another hardware configuration. It's also not a good idea to boot VHDs generated in anything other than Hyper-V or Microsoft Virtual Server. But there's little doubt that it's the start of something potentially revolutionary.

Microsoft has its own demonstration of how to do this, and you can always grab something like the Internet Explorer Application Compatibility Virtual PC image as an example. And if you just want to do bog-standard PC-within-a-PC virtualization, you can always snag a copy of VirtualBox or Virtual PC and use that as a trial.

And Everything Else

There's a great deal more -- a slew of small things, but significant ones.

In the "stop nagging me" department, another little irritant -- the nag box that forces a shutdown and reboot after a certain amount of time after critical updates are installed -- has also been tamed. Reboots no longer happen without your express permission. This ought to make a friend of mine happy: he lost data he was typing into a Web form when he got up to take an extended break and found the computer had rebooted to apply updates in his absence.

I ran across more than a few things that made me smile because they directly reflected my work habits. Fonts can now be installed without having to crack open the Fonts folder in Control Panel: right-click and they can be installed immediately. The Bluetooth manager is far easier to deal with and less flaky -- my BT stereo headset, for instance, connects and disconnects reliably, and audio streams follow suit without balking.

Finally, if you're curious about trying Windows 7 out for yourself, go get it and give it a spin. Nothing beats personal experience, and you might find something we only gave passing mention that's a perfect fit for your workflow.

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