Sunday, December 13, 2009

Windows 7 Cool New Features – Part 3

So far, we’ve covered Snap!, Shake, Jump Lists, and Live Taskbar as well as Pinning, Windows Search and Aero Flip 3D. Today we’ll cover two very useful features that give you information at your finger tips, and one that will make sorting files on your hard drive a horror of the past.

Desktop Gadgets

Now, gadgets aren’t really new to Windows. In fact, you could get them back in the Windows 98 days (and probably earlier) with third party software. However, Windows Vista added the sidebar, which made gadgets an integral component of the operating system itself. Now, with Windows 7, they have been vastly improved.
Unlike with Vista, where gadgets had to be installed on the sidebar, Windows 7 allows you to place gadgets anywhere on your desktop. Hence they have been named “Desktop Gadgets.” These gadgets are mini-applications that can do almost anything. They sit on your desktop and run mostly in the background.  To add them, all you have to do is right-click on the desktop, and select “Gadgets” from the context menu. Then just take an installed gadget, drag it and drop it on your desktop. Presto! You now have a gadget on your desktop. To remove a gadget just hover over it and click on the Close button that appears.
Each gadget can be customized individually. Most come with two size modes (small and large) and can be dragged to anywhere on the desktop. When you reach the border of the screen or another gadget, they will snap (no not “Snap!”) into place for easy arrangement. You can force gadgets to always display on top of all other windows, and you can also set the opacity on each. So if you want it to be mostly transparent, you can do that. But don’t worry, just hover the mouse over the gadget and it is fully opaque again. Each gadget also has its own options screen to allow you to configure things specific to that gadget.
Weather Gadget: Large Size
1 – Close, 2 – Smaller size, 3 – Options, 4 – Drag gadget
Windows comes with a couple of really useful gadgets: Calendar, Clock, Feed Headlines, Weather, and few more.  But the real fun is that you aren’t limited to just those. There is a link on the gadgets screen to go to a gallery that is loaded with more gadgets. Gadgets that can do tons of different things, from the mildly entertaining to astoundingly useful. Don’t believe me? Then why don’t you go check it out. Go ahead, I’ll wait here. In addition, lots of things are starting to come bundled with gadgets. For instance, HP offers their Photo Print gadget which allows you to drag and drop photos onto it and it will automatically print them at the size specified.

Aero Peek

Now, gadgets are pretty cool, and they can show you a lot of useful information. But they would be pretty useless without a way to get at them. And minimizing every window you have open can be a bit time consuming, and wasteful if all you want to do is look at the desktop. This is where Aero Peek1 comes in.
Looking at the lower right corner of the screen just to the right of the system clock, and you’ll notice a little rectangular space. If you hover your mouse over that spot, you’ll notice something really cool: all of your windows will become transparent. That’s right, you can now see your desktop without closing/minimizing a single window.
But wait, it gets better. Say you have a gadget that you actually need to interact with. Well, just click while the windows are transparent and Windows 7 will minimize all of your windows for you. Now you can interact directly with the desktop. But wait, now you want all of your windows back again?  Just click in the lower right corner again and all of your windows that were open are restored. It’s that easy.


Probably the best thing to happen to Windows in regard to organization is libraries. Libraries are a sort of pseudo-folder for organizing the contents of your drive. They can display all of the files and folders from different locations on your machine, all merged into one nicely indexed result. So how does it work?
First, you start off with four default libraries: Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. They do pretty much what you would expect. Each library includes two folders by default: the current users Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos folder, and their Public equivalents. This means that by using the libraries you have seamless access to both your private documents and the public ones on your machine.
It doesn’t stop here, however. You can add additional folders to any one of these libraries. Say you have a second hard drive that you like to store your music on (I know I do). Well, you simply open up Windows Explorer and navigate to the folder you want to include in the library, right-click on the folder, and select “Include in library” and pick the library. Presto, all of the files and folders will be merged with the others in your library.
You aren’t limited to just four libraries either. You can create as many as you like. Want to separate your work documents from your personal ones? No problem, just go into Windows Explorer, right click on “Libraries” and select “New—>Library” from the menu. Now you can have one library for personal documents and one for work documents. Note, however, that you need to add at least one folder included in a library for it to be of any use.
Another key feature of libraries is the ability to sort and group the files within the library. Now you can browse by folder (and the library will automatically merge subfolders from different locations with the same name), but if that was all there was, this would only be a marginally useful feature. The real strength is in the ability to view all the files within a library by different criteria. So what options are there? Well that depends on the type of library it is. There are 5 different types of libraries: General Items, Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. Each one can be sorted and grouped on different things.
  • General Item libraries deal with typical file information: file size, last modification, name…
  • Document libraries add authors, titles, word counts, etc…
  • Music libraries also include things like title, artist, play length, album…
  • Picture libraries add  things like photo size, tags, rating…
  • Video libraries include play length, frame rate…
And yes, these lists are customizable, but each field is based on whether a particular file has the information available (so a file without author information will show a blank in the Authors field).


Well, three more exciting new features of Windows 7. In our next installment, we will be covering Parental Controls, Media Center, and Windows Live.
1 Yes, this is another feature of Aero, and as such, you must have Aero enabled for these feature to work.

No comments: