Windows 7 Gets Pre-Release Makeover

Microsoft has tweaked three dozen features in the beta version of its new operating system.
In response to user feedback, Microsoft has made numerous changes to the Windows 7 user interface as it readies the operating system -- viewed by many as a make-or-break product for the software maker -- for formal launch later this year or early next year.

Windows 7 screen shot
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Included in the changes, which number three dozen, is a new keyboard shortcut that allows the user to launch an application simply by pressing the Windows logo key in combination with a number that corresponds to the apps' order in the Quick Launch menu. For example, if an application is listed fourth in Quick Launch, it could be opened by pressing the Windows key in concert with the number 4 key.

Microsoft also made changes to alerts that signal when an application needs attention. The icon for a so-called "needy" application will flash up to seven times, as opposed to the previous three, in an effort to grab the user's attention. Changes also include a more noticeable flashing animation in a bolder color of orange.

Other changes include modifications to the taskbar pane that allow it to display a greater number of application icons, a change that makes it easier for users to pin new apps to the taskbar, and more flexible icon and gadget view options.

Additional changes affect Windows 7's touch-screen capabilities, Control Panel, and Explorer features.

"As is evident from this sample of changes, we've been very busy improving Windows 7 based on what our customers are telling us in many forums," wrote Microsoft engineer Chaitanya Sareen in a Thursday blog post that details the changes.

Microsoft needs Windows 7 to be a hit. Vista, the company's current OS, has failed to catch on with mainstream computer users, while businesses have shunned it outright. Many users have complained about Vista's hardware requirements, intrusive security measures, and lack of compatibility with older applications.

Dissatisfaction with Vista has allowed Apple to gain share against Microsoft in the computer operating system market in recent months. Windows' market share in November fell below 90% for the first time in years, while Mac OS is now flirting with the 10% mark, according to market watcher Net Applications.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on Windows 7. Download the report here (registration required).

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