By all accounts, Windows 7 is only a few months away. If you've snagged your own copy of the Release Candidate, you've seen many of the subtle enhancements and tweaks that are starting to define Windows 7 as one of Redmond's most tantalizing entries in the Windows family.
Follow along as we go on a short tour of some of the most compelling changes to Windows.
Windows 7 lets you permamently pin programs to the taskbar and drag them around to set the order they appear in -- something we've wanted for a very long time. If a program is running, hovering shows you all the open files -- click a thumbnail to start working.
Likewise, right-click an icon to see the "Jumplist." The Jumplist is like a Recent Documents list, only it's customized for every program. And you can pin commonly used documents to the Jumplist as well.
You probably remember the System Tray as a bloated junk bin where all sorts of notifications and applets would generally just be a nuisance. Now, only a few items are allowed to be there by default, and you can add or remove items by dragging them in or out of the Notification Tray's "overflow" container.
The Action Center is one of the default Notification Tray icons. It holds all the system notifications that would normally bug you with constant balloon pop-ups. Now you can deal with those messages on your own timetable.
You can also use the Notification Tray icons to open the full-up Action Center, where you can get additional information about problems and run troubleshooters that try to automatically solve common problems.
Back in the Notification Tray, notice there's also a power management icon which you can use to change your power plan on the fly.
A drastically updated Windows Media Player feels far more efficient and enjoyable to use than the version that shipped in Vista. Case in point: three tabs make it easy to switch between you playlist, your burn list, and your sync list.
Right-click any song or album and you can "play it to" another computer or device. I've successfully started playing music stored on my PC on another networked computer and on my Sonos system. You can reportedly also "play to" a networked Xbox 360.
You remember UAC, don't you? The official Vista whipping boy has been greatly overhauled. It is far less bothersome now, especially since there are four levels of protection. And any change to your UAC level requires admin approval, by popular request.