Microsoft Opens Windows 7
With its latest version of the Windows operating system, Microsoft is offering a faster OS with improved networking and security features that business owners will appreciate.
Windows 7, released in October of 2009, eliminates many of the cumbersome features that made businesses reluctant to adopt Windows Vista, and makes networking computers and sharing files or folders easier. Windows 7, often abbreviated as Win 7, has been designed to be faster and more stable than Vista, and Microsoft and PC manufacturers hope it will inspire users to finally upgrade from Windows XP machines.
Networking and Sharing
For small business owners, probably the most significant improvements offered by Windows 7 are faster and easier ways to share documents between networked computers. Sharing files and printers under previous versions of Windows meant wrestling with a variety of Control Panel settings that could be frustrating and bewildering.
Windows 7, in contrast, offers a new feature called HomeGroup that automates the commands and permissions needed to connect computers. You create a HomeGroup and a password is generated that allows you to network other computers simply by adding them to the HomeGroup and entering the password on the new machines.
Once the PCs are added to the group, specific folders or files can be shared by right-clicking their name or icon. You can also exclude files or folders from the group by right-clicking, and can exclude specific files within a folder.
HomeGroups can provide small businesses with much of the functionality of a corporate intranet, without the need to install and maintain servers or to network storage devices.
Similarly, the new RemoteDesktop feature makes it easier for users to access files stored on a different computer, such as using your office PC while you're in a hotel or at a client site. This functionality has long required an external program or service, but now comes standard with Windows 7.
Searching has also been improved under Windows 7, with new documents being indexed and accessible within seconds. Search indexing also includes files and folders within HomeGroups, which makes it easier to find a document stored on a different PC.
UAC Less Intrusive
Windows 7 also makes a number of refinements to User Access Control, Vista's frequent (and often irritating) "Are you sure?" dialog boxes that forced users to confirm a wide range of actions and potential changes to their PCs. While UAC was developed to prevent malware from making unauthorized changes that could compromise a system's security, many users found the resulting prompts to confirm basic changes annoying.
In Windows 7, Microsoft has made the default settings less restrictive, so routine system maintenance should trigger fewer warnings. Users also gain more control over the types of warnings they'll receive, so you can customize UAC to meet your needs. For example, someone doing financial trading is likely to need a more secure system than a soap-opera blogger.
Another security refinement under Windows 7 is disabling Auto-Run functionality when external USB memory sticks or hard drives are attached to a PC. Connecting an infected memory stick is a common way for viruses or other forms of malware to compromise a PC, and Windows 7 will reduce the vulnerability of this vector.
The Professional version of Windows 7 (which comes in six editions) offers an XP Mode feature designed primarily for business users who depend on a specific application that hasn't been updated for Vista or Win 7. XP Mode creates a virtual environment that effectively operates as a stand-alone computer running XP within Windows 7.
XP Mode will be helpful for business owners running older or industry-specific applications that have prevented them from upgrading. Under XP Mode, applications "think" they're running on an XP machine, so users can continue to use them. Setting up XP Mode is likely to take some tinkering and experimentation, but could prove helpful to users with specific needs.
Windows 7 introduces a new Taskbar that, like the Dock in Apple's OS X, allows users to launch applications by double-clicking or by dragging a file onto a program icon. The Taskbar shows users which applications are running, and also allows you to pin frequently used applications to the desktop for easier access.
If you hold your mouse pointer over an application icon, Win 7 displays open Web windows or document files. If you then mouse over one of those preview panes, you can close the window or file without switching to the underlying application.
Window 7 also introduces JumpLists, which are similar to the "Recent files" list from previous versions of Windows. JumpLists can include frequently used and recent files. Right-clicking on a program icon helps you find recently opened files easily.
Another potential benefit of Windows 7 is that if you're running a relatively new PC, you may not need to replace it. The Windows 7 installation process looks for Vista, and makes the necessary upgrades. If you're running an XP machine, you'll basically need to start from scratch. In either instance, back up your data before doing anything.
Although you'll get better performance with more memory, 32-bit versions of Windows 7 require a 1 Ghz processor, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of free hard-drive room, and a DirectX 9 graphics card.
Windows 7 is the first version of the operating system with less demanding system requirements than previous editions, which is just one of several improvements likely to prove popular as Windows 7 becomes more common.