Build 7100 is Here
The Windows 7 release candidate is officially released. You are able to download build 7100 as of May 5 and use it until June 1, 2010 (although you’ll probably want to upgrade before then, as it will start rebooting every two hours as of 1 March 2010 to remind you that it’s going to expire). There are no limits to the number of downloads you are allowed to make or the number of keys you can request, and and the release candidate will be available to download through July.
You can run it with less, but the "recommended requirements" are a 1 GHz or faster CPU, 1 GB memory (2 GB for virtual XP Mode or the 64-bit version), 16 GB hard disk space (20 GB for the 64-bit version or 30 GB if you want to use XP Mode). The paging file and system partition are smaller than they are with the beta, though.
Installing and Upgrading
Even the installation looks better in the release candidate, with the same colors and style as the main interface. This artwork shows up on the login and shutdown screens as well, and the stage that tests the capabilities of your video card lets you know what’s happening by drawing the same glow you see on the boot screen across the progress bar.
A clean install on a new machine takes about 20 minutes, which is much faster than it is with Windows Vista. Upgrading from Vista (or the beta version of Windows 7) takes a couple of hours, because it has to migrate applications and files as well.
New Look, New Backgrounds
The familiar Windows 7 interface changes only a little, with smaller icons that are more clearly defined on the taskbar and more of a glow on icons and the Start menu "orb." Icons that want your attention flash a brighter yellow and seven times instead of three times and windows have a more consistent pale blue gradient on panels. But visually the biggest change might be the new themes and backdrops that come with the release candidate. The landscape and architecture images are visually stunning but the character and scene images range from the quirky to the downright strange. When you choose a theme to try it out, it no longer jumps straight into the My Themes section, so if you don't like the way it looks, you don't have to waste time removing it. You also get more sound schemes and many more user-account icons from which to choose.
Windows Flip with Aero Peek
In the beta of Windows 7, you got the same thumbnail previews in Windows Flip (Alt-Tab) as when you hover over the taskbar. In the release candidate, when you pause on a thumbnail without releasing the Alt-Tab keys to see if it's the one you want, you get the same Aero Peek preview as when you do the same thing with the mouse and the taskbar thumbnails. This brings up the full-size window and fades out the rest so you can make sure it’s the window you were looking for. This kind of consistency goes a long way towards making the release candidate feel smoother and more stylish.
Peek or Show the Desktop
Aero Peek is now the official name for the desktop preview (with all the windows faded to transparency so you can find icons and gadgets on the desktop or just enjoy the picture). And there’s a new option if you right-click on the Aero Peek trigger area at the side of the taskbar. In the beta, hovering over the area gives you a peek (with the window outlines showing) and clicking minimizes all the windows and shows you a clean desktop. Now you can right-click and choose whether to peek at the desktop or show it fully.
See More on Jumplists
The release candidate includes the full version of IE 8, with a custom Jumplist that shows recent and favorite Web pages and links for a new tab or an InPrivate browsing session. Windows Media Player lets you choose whether you want the Jumplist to show the music you play the most or the music you've played recently, and PowerShell and Remote desktop get their own Jumplists, too. Apps that don't have custom Jumplists show the most recent files you’ve opened and any you’ve pinned in place, but to stop the list from getting too long, the default is to show only 10 items. If you want to see more, there’s a new setting in the properties for the Start menu that lets you increase the number of items.
My Computer Is Back
Libraries are new in Windows 7 and are a way of navigating to all the folders in which you keep documents, images, or any other file types. You can also search across them without having to run the search in each folder individually. Libraries can be very useful, but they can also be a little confusing. Microsoft removed the option of creating a new Library by dragging a folder into the Library pane in the release candidate because too many people thought it copied the files instead of making a link and they ended up deleting the files. The Win-E shortcut that opened the top level view of Libraries in the beta now opens My Computer in the release candidate. If you're a fan of Libraries, you’ll have to get used to clicking the Explorer icon on the taskbar, which still opens Libraries (if there’s an Explorer window open already, right-click and use the Jumplist).
By Popular Demand, Invert Selection
Microsoft removed the Invert Selection option from Explorer in the beta on the grounds that very few people used it (probably because it was so hard to find and was hidden away on the Edit menu). Also, making it work correctly on the virtual lists that make up Libraries and search results wasn’t trivial. After an outcry from the people who did use it and defended it vociferously, Invert Selection is back and it works in Libraries and any other Explorer window. It’s great if you want to select all but one or two files as you can choose the ones you don’t want and flip the selection much more quickly than you can click on everything else.
To speed up selections in Explorer, go to Folder Options and activate the checkbox selection. Introduced with Vista, it is still not activated by default in the release candidate, and again, it makes choosing multiple files much easier because you don't have to worry holding onto the Ctrl key until you’re finished.
Find Your Place In Libraries
In the beta, Libraries showed you which folder you were in from the address bar at the top. But after clicking into a few folders, you could easily forget you were in a Library at all. In the release candidate, the Library window is clearly labeled at the top and this also names the folder you're in.
Music Library: Better, Not Perfect
The way items are arranged in Libraries in the release candidate makes more sense. For instance, the Artist View Music Library in the beta version of Windows 7 grouped music by the contributing artist. But with the beta version, if you liked compilations or albums with a lot of guest artists, you could end up with far too many musicians in the list and tracks from one album split into different places. The release candidate does a much better job at this. The Artist View, for example, groups tracks by Album Artist if that’s a tag on the tracks, puts the tracks from compilation artists under Various Artists, and only resorts to Contributing Artist if it can’t do anything else. But you can still end up with an album like "High Tension Wires" getting split into two if tracks have been attributed to different artists (in this case, "Steve Morse" and the "Steve Morse Band").
Picture Library: Now With Videos
If your digital camera also shoots video, you probably import still images and video clips at the same time and end up putting them in the same folders. In the beta, the Picture Library wouldn’t show the videos and pictures together if you chose to arrange them by the date you took the picture. In the release candidate, you can see the photos and videos you took at the same time in the same place.
And as many digital cameras save videos in the QuickTIme .MOV format, the release candidate includes a .MOV codec so you don't need to install QuickTime if the only thing you want to do with it is look at your videos. It won't handle DRM-protected content, but basic files will play in the Explorer and in Media player.
Videos from Your Homegroup
Joining a Homegroup is much the same process in the release candidate as it is in the beta. As long as all your PCs are on the same network and it’s marked as your home network, then they will see the Homegroup and can join it. If a PC is sharing documents and media, you’ll see that content in the Homegroup section that appears in Explorer organized into Libraries automatically rather than presented as folders you have to browse through, in the same way they’re organized in Windows Media Player (and you can add it to your own Libraries).
Local and network video Libraries now let you arrange videos by length, so you can divide full-length programs from short clips that you've recorded. These are all .MOV files and the release candidate plays them all, but on a slow network, you may not always see the preview icons.
Play Remote Media From Explorer
You don't have to access an index in a remote Library with the release candidate's Windows Media Player to play content on another PC. Instead, if you can see a video or a music track in Explorer, you can double-click to open it in the Windows Media mini-player.
One downside is that video playback depends on network speed. On a slow wireless network, the video can be a little jerky, with stutters and some artifacts in the video.
Easier Access to Media Enhancements
When you’re listening to music, you don't need to go back to the full Library window of Windows Media Player. Instead, the Preview thumbnail has all the controls you need. The back, forward, and pause/play controls show up over the album art when you mouse over the thumbnail. Then, when you right-click, you get a full menu that lets you access almost anything you can in the main window, including this new Enhancements’ fly-out so you can change the graphics equalizer settings or zip through a podcast at a higher play speed to get to the interesting bit.
Remote Streaming Over the Internet
Want to listen to your music when you’re away from home? You could copy albums onto your notebook, but it's a waste of space–and it doesn’t help if you're around at a friend’s house and you want to show them a photo or video you thought they’d already seen. The release candidate extends the Play-To option from the beta to PCs that aren't on your network, although they have to have been part of your home network in the past and the other PC has to be turned on and running Windows Media Player.
For security, all the streaming options in Media Player are off by default in the release candidate, but they’re all grouped logically on the new Stream menu. You have to enable streaming on both PCs before you start.
Remote Streaming Needs Live ID
To get remote streaming over the Internet rather than over your local network, you have to identify both PCs. To avoid all the problems with firewalls and network addresses, Media Player uses the same Live ID that lets you connect with Messenger to connect the machines. By the time Windows 7 is released, you may be able to use other identity systems, but at this point, you have to download the Windows Live ID Sign-In Assistant and sign in with the same Live ID on both PCs. This is simpler than it sounds, because if the network you are using wherever you’re visiting allows the connection, then the Libraries you're used to seeing will show up in Media Player under Other Libraries.
Choose What Kind of Content to Stream
You probably have all kinds of media on your PC and you might not want to share all of it with everyone. From the new Stream menu in Media Player, you can choose individual PCs and control what they can access or you can set default settings of what you want anyone to see. You can use this to stop your children from watching recorded TV that you think is too violent for them or you can make your romance audio books or country-and-western collection private. You can also rate music in Media Player and only stream music with a high star rating, which means you’ll only get your favorite music playing if you're streaming to a media adapter where you don't have as much control for skipping tracks you don't want.
Internet TV in Media Center
Internet TV support is a little smoother in the release candidate version of Media Center, but there aren’t major changes. It’s still under the Extras menu rather than integrated with broadcast TV and we’re still seeing MSN video rather than any of the content from the final media licensing deals–if you’re hoping for "Hulu" in Media Center, you’re going to have to wait.
The DRM protection on recorded TV is now Microsoft’s own PlayReady DRM, version 1.3, but this doesn’t seem to add any extra restrictions or make any other changes. Again, this may depend on content deals. PlayReady also lets providers be more flexible. You might get content that’s initially free, for example, but has to be paid for once it moves into an archive or it becomes free after a month (without the provider having to reapply the DRM). For recorded TV, it might allow you to record content that would otherwise be blocked, so we might see familiar pay TV services showing up in Media Center.
Custom DVD Menus and New Icons
All the built-in accessories are getting a new look in Windows 7 as Windows DVD Maker is now a wizard that lets you choose and customize animated menus for video DVDs. The options haven't changed much from the beta release, but like other Windows apps, DVD Maker gets the latest icons, panel colors, and menu styles. These are the kind of "fit-and-finish" changes that Microsoft is making throughout Windows 7 and it indicates that we really are getting close to the final version.
Control Panel Jumplist
The control panel taskbar icon changes from something that looks rather like a desk calendar to a screen that might have checkboxes on it. Much more importantly, instead of the Jumplist always showing "All control panel items" as the only entry under Recent, you get a full list of the control panels and tools you’ve opened recently.
The button for All Control Panel Items is missing. Instead, you get the option of choosing large or small icons (along with the standard Category view, so you can get back to this layout more quickly than having to navigate back from the address bar).
Streamlining the Control Panel
There are no changes to the categories on the front screen of the control panel in the release candidate, but when you look at the individual control panels, you’ll find several changes. For example, there are slightly fewer control panels listed here. That’s partly because if you don't have a Windows Sideshow device, then you won't see the Sideshow control panel. Other tools have been demoted so that they only appear inside another control panel. This puts settings where you’d logically expect them, so if you want to tweak the Text to Speech options they’re under Speech Recognition, and if you want to get rid of the volume control, you do it from the same control panel that lets you turn hide icons in the notification area.
Feedback is also gone, because Microsoft sees the release candidate more as an opportunity for users to kick the tires and less as a way of finding out what people want.
Show and Hide Fonts
There are a lot of foreign fonts that Windows 7 installs so they will display correctly if you have a document or Web page that needs them, but they don't show up in font menus inside applications because most people aren’t likely to use them. If you want to see a hidden font or hide some of the other fonts on the system, there’s a new option in the Fonts control panel. If a font is already hidden, the Hide button changes to Show.
Device Options without DeviceStage
Until more hardware vendors provide DeviceStage interfaces for peripherals, you’ll be working with the Devices and Printers control panel. Right-click on a device and you get a new menu that brings together most of the things you can do with it (in the beta you could only see the properties or start a troubleshooter). For a removable drive you get links to AutoPlay actions; for your PC you get links to the most useful settings and control panels; and for a printer you can see the print queue. This isn’t as glossy as the full DeviceStage experience is, but it’s still very useful (especially for older devices that may never get a DeviceStage view).
UAC: More Secure, Less Annoying
There aren't any new levels for User Account Control in the release candidate, but as with many of the control panels, the wording has changed to make some options clearer–and to make it obvious when you choose a less secure option. The User Account Control panel itself runs as a high-integrity process, so that in order to make any changes, you have to elevate (hence the shield icon on the OK button). This also helps protect the User Account Control system from malware, as does the fact that you can no longer elevate a program with a dynamic link library (.DLL) file, which could make you think you were running a Windows tool when it was actually malware.
Virtual XP Mode: Not a Solution for Everyone
In Virtual XP mode, apps running in XP show up as windows on the standard desktop and in the Windows 7 Start menu, as long as they're in the All Users group in the XP installation. The experience thus feels more integrated in the main operating system than it would with a virtual machine and is less confusing than having the XP taskbar on top of the Windows 7 taskbar (like Sun’s VirtualBox). This is a separate download that’s still in beta and the installation and integration only work on PCs with Intel VT or AMD-V hardware support for virtualization. You also have to follow the complex set of instructions precisely and remember that you have a second copy of Windows to manage and update. Perhaps because it includes a free XP license, XP Mode doesn't work with the Home Premium version. Instead, Microsoft says it’s designed for business users (although you get support from Microsoft as long as you have the right version of Windows), and unless it gets much simpler, we agree.