Windows 7 (codenamed Vienna, formerly Blackcomb) is a personal computer operating system developed by Microsoft. It is a part of the Windows NT family of operating systems. Windows 7 was released to manufacturing on July 22, 2009, and became generally available on October 22, 2009, less than three years after the release of its predecessor, Windows Vista. Windows 7’s server counterpart, Windows Server 2008 R2, was released at the same time.
Windows 7 was primarily intended to be an incremental upgrade to the operating system intending to address Windows Vista’s poor critical reception while maintaining hardware and software compatibility.
FEATURES OF WINDOWS 7
Shell and user interface
Windows 7 retains the Windows Aero graphical user interface and visual style introduced in the operating system’s predecessor, Windows Vista, but many areas have seen enhancements. Unlike Windows Vista, window borders and the taskbar do not turn opaque when a window is maximized when Windows Aero is active; instead, they remain translucent.
Support for themes has been extended in Windows 7. In addition to providing options to customize colors of window chrome and other aspects of the interface, including the desktop background, desktop icons, mouse cursors, and sound schemes, the operating system also includes a native desktop slideshow feature. A new theme pack extension has been introduced,
.themepack, which are essentially cabinet files that consist of theme resources including background images, color preferences, desktop icons, mouse cursors, and sound schemes. The new theme extension simplies sharing of themes, and can also display desktop wallpapers via RSS feeds provided by the Windows RSS Platform. Microsoft provides additional themes for free through its website.
The default theme included with Windows 7 is a namesake theme, and consists of a single desktop wallpaper named “Harmony” and the default desktop icons, mouse cursors, and sound scheme introduced in Windows Vista; however, none of the desktop backgrounds included with Windows Vista are present in Windows 7. Additional themes are also included: Architecture, Characters, Landscapes, Nature, and Scenes, and an additional country-specific theme that is determined based on the defined locale when the operating system is installed; all themes included in Windows 7, excluding the default theme, include six wallpaper images. While only the theme for a user’s home country is displayed within the user interface, the files for all of these other country-specific themes are included in the operating system. A number of new sound schemes, each associated with an included theme, have also been introduced: Afternoon, Calligraphy, Characters, Cityscape, Delta, Festival, Garden, Heritage, Landscape, Quirky, Raga, Savana, and Sonata. Though itself not a new feature, individual sound schemes can be used within custom themes as well.
Windows 7 introduces a desktop slideshow feature which periodically changes the desktop wallpaper based on a designated interval specified by a user; the change is accompanied by a smooth fade transition with a duration that can be customized via the Windows Registry. The desktop slideshow feature supports local images as well as images obtained via RSS.
With Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced gadgets to display information, such as image slideshows and RSS feeds, on the user’s desktop; the gadgets could optionally be displayed on a sidebar docked to a side of the screen. In Windows 7, the sidebar has been removed, but gadgets can still be placed on the desktop. Gadgets can be brought to the foreground on top of active applications by pressing ⊞ Win+G. Several new features for gadgets were introduced, including new desktop context menu options to access gadgets and hide all active gadgets, high DPI support, and a feature that can automatically rearrange a gadget based on the position of other gadgets. Additional new features include optimizations for touch-based devices, cached gadget content, and a new Windows Media Center gadget.
Gadgets are more closely integrated with Windows Explorer, but the gadgets themselves continue to operate in a single
sidebar.exe process, unlike in Windows Vista where gadgets could operate in multiple
sidebar.exe processes. Active gadgets can also be hidden via a new desktop menu option; Microsoft has stated that this can result in power-saving benefits.
Branding and customization
For original equipment manufacturers and enterprises, Windows 7 natively supports the ability to customize the wallpaper that is displayed during user login. Because the settings to change the wallpaper are available via the Windows Registry, users can also to customize the wallpaper that is displayed. Additional options are also provided for the login UI, including the ability to customize the appearance of interface lighting and shadows.
Windows Explorer in Windows 7 supports file libraries that aggregate content from various locations – including shared folders on networked systems if the shared folder has been indexed by the host system – and present them in a unified view. The libraries hide the actual location the file is stored in. Searching in a library automatically federates the query to the remote systems, in addition to searching on the local system, so that files on the remote systems are also searched. Unlike search folders, Libraries are backed by a physical location which allows files to be saved in the Libraries. Such files are transparently saved in the backing physical folder. The default save location for a library may be configured by the user, as can the default view layout for each library. Libraries are generally stored in the Libraries special folder, which allows them to be displayed on the navigation pane.
By default, a new user account in Windows 7 contains four libraries for different file types: Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. They are configured to include the user’s profile folders for these respective file types, as well as the computer’s corresponding Public folders. The Public folder also contains a hidden Recorded TV library that appears in the Windows Explorer sidepane when TV is set up in Media Center for the first time.
In addition to aggregating multiple storage locations, Libraries enable Arrangement Views and Search Filter Suggestions. Arrangement Views allow you to pivot your view of the library’s contents based on metadata. For example, selecting the “By Month” view in the Pictures library will display photos in stacks, where each stack represents a month of photos based on the date they were taken. In the Music library, the “By Artist” view will display stacks of albums from the artists in your collection, and browsing into an artist stack will then display the relevant albums.
Search Filter Suggestions are a new feature of the Windows 7 Explorer’s search box. When the user clicks in the search box, a menu shows up below it showing recent searches as well as suggested Advanced Query Syntax filters that the user can type. When one is selected (or typed in manually), the menu will update to show the possible values to filter by for that property, and this list is based on the current location and other parts of the query already typed. For example, selecting the “tags” filter or typing “tags:” into the search box will display the list of possible tag values which will return search results.
Arrangement Views and Search Filter Suggestions are database-backed features which require that all locations in the Library be indexed by the Windows Search service. Local disk locations must be indexed by the local indexer, and Windows Explorer will automatically add locations to the indexing scope when they are included in a library. Remote locations can be indexed by the indexer on another Windows 7 machine, on a Windows machine running Windows Search 4 (such as Windows Vista or Windows Home Server), or on another device that implements the MS-WSP remote query protocol.
Windows Explorer also supports federating search to external data sources, such as custom databases or web services, that are exposed over the web and described via an OpenSearch definition. The federated location description (called a Search Connector) is provided as a
.osdx file. Once installed, the data source becomes queryable directly from Windows Explorer. Windows Explorer features, such as previews and thumbnails, work with the results of a federated search as well.
Miscellaneous shell enhancements
Windows Explorer has received numerous minor enhancements that improve its overall functionality. The Explorer’s search box and the address bar can be resized. Folders such as those on the desktop or user profile folders can be hidden in the navigation pane to reduce clutter. A new Content view is added, which shows thumbnails and metadata together. A new button to toggle the Preview Pane has been added to the toolbar. The button to create a new folder has been moved from the Organize menu and onto the toolbar. List view provides more space between items than in Windows Vista. Finally, storage space consumption bars that were only present for hard disks in Windows Vista are now shown for removable storage devices.
Other areas of the shell have also received similar fine-tunings: Progress bars and overlay icons may now appear on an application’s button on the taskbar to better alert the user of the status of the application or the work in progress. File types for which property handlers or iFilters are installed are re-indexed by default. Previously, adding submenus to shell context menus or customizing the context menu’s behavior for a certain folder was only possible by installing a form of plug-in known as shell extensions. In Windows 7 however, computer-savvy users can do so by editing Windows Registry and/or desktop.ini files. Additionally, a new shell API was introduced designed to simplify the writing of context menu shell extensions by software developers.
Windows 7 includes native support for burning ISO files. The functionality is available when a user selects the Burn disc image option within the context menu of an ISO file. Support for disc image verification is also included. In previous versions of Windows, users were required to install-third party software to burn ISO images.
The start orb now has a fade-in highlight effect when the user hovers the mouse cursor over it. The Start Menu’s right column is now the Aero glass color. In Windows Vista, it was always black.
Windows 7’s Start menu retains the two-column layout of its predecessors, with several functional changes:
- The “Documents”, “Pictures” and “Music” buttons now link to the Libraries of the same name.
- A “Devices and Printers” option has been added that displays a new device manager.
- The “shut down” icon in Windows Vista has been replaced with a text link indicating what action will be taken when the icon is clicked. The default action to take is now configurable through the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties window.
- Taskbar Jump Lists are presented in the Start Menu via a guillemet; when the user moves the mouse cursor over the guillemet, or presses the right-arrow key, the right-hand side of the Start menu is widened and replaced with the application’s Jump List.
- Links to the “Videos”, “Downloads”, and “Recorded TV” folders can now be added to the Start menu.
The Start Search field, introduced in Windows Vista, has been extended to support searching for keywords of Control Panel items. For example, clicking the Start button then typing “wireless” will show Control Panel options related to configuring and connecting to wireless network, adding Bluetooth devices, and troubleshooting. Group Policy settings for Windows Explorer provide the ability for administrators of an Active Directory domain, or an expert user to add up to five Internet web sites and five additional “search connectors” to the Search Results view in the Start menu. The links, which appear at the bottom of the pane, allow the search to be executed again on the selected web site or search connector. Microsoft suggests that network administrators could use this feature to enable searching of corporate Intranets or an internal SharePoint server.
The Windows Taskbar has seen its most significant revision since its introduction in Windows 95 and combines the previous Quick Launch functionality with open application window icons. The taskbar is now rendered as an Aero glass element whose color can be changed via the Personalization Control Panel. It is 10 pixels taller than in Windows Vista to accommodate touch screen input and a new larger default icon size (although a smaller taskbar size is available), as well as maintain proportion to newer high resolution monitor modes. Running applications are denoted by a border frame around the icon. Within this border, a color effect (dependent on the predominant RGB value of the icon) that follows the mouse cursor also indicates the opened status of the application. The glass taskbar is more translucent than in Windows Vista. Taskbar buttons show icons by default, not application titles, unless they are set to ‘not combine’, or ‘combine when taskbar is full.’ In this case, only icons are shown when the application is not running. Programs running or pinned on the taskbar can be rearranged. Items in the notification area can also be rearranged.
The Quick Launch toolbar has been removed from the default configuration, but may be easily added. The Windows 7 taskbar is more application-oriented than window-oriented, and therefore doesn’t show window titles (these are shown when an application icon is clicked or hovered over). Applications can now be pinned to the taskbar allowing the user instant access to the applications they commonly use. There are a few ways to pin applications to the taskbar. Icons can be dragged and dropped onto the taskbar, or the application’s icon can be right-clicked to pin it to the taskbar.
Thumbnail previews which were introduced in Windows Vista have been expanded to not only preview the windows opened by the application in a small-sized thumbnail view, but to also interact with them. The user can close any window opened by clicking the X on the corresponding thumbnail preview. The name of the window is also shown in the thumbnail preview. A “peek” at the window is obtained by hovering over the thumbnail preview. Peeking brings up only the window of the thumbnail preview over which the mouse cursor hovers, and turns any other windows on the desktop transparent. This also works for tabs in Internet Explorer: individual tabs may be peeked at in the thumbnail previews. Thumbnail previews integrate Thumbnail Toolbars  which can control the application from the thumbnail previews themselves. For example, if Windows Media Player is opened and the mouse cursor is hovering on the application icon, the thumbnail preview will allow the user the ability to Play, Stop, and Play Next/Previous track without having to switch to the Windows Media Player window.
Jump lists are menu options available by right-clicking a taskbar icon or holding the left mouse button and sliding towards the center of the desktop on an icon. Each application has a jump list corresponding to its features, Microsoft Word’s displaying recently opened documents; Windows Media Player’s recent tracks and playlists; Internet Explorer’s recent browsing history and options for opening new tabs or starting InPrivate Browsing; Windows Live Messenger’s common tasks such as instant messaging, signing off, and changing online status. Up to 10 menu items may appear on a list, partially customizable by user.
The notification area has been redesigned; the standard Volume, Network, Power and Action Center status icons are present, but no other application icons are shown unless the user has chosen them to be shown. A new “Notification Area Icons” control panel has been added which replaces the “Customize Notification Icons” dialog box in the “Taskbar and Start Menu Properties” window first introduced in Windows XP. In addition to being able to configure whether the application icons are shown, the ability to hide each application’s notification balloons has been added. The user can then view the notifications at a later time.
A triangle to the left of the visible notification icons displays the hidden notification icons. Unlike Windows Vista and Windows XP, the hidden icons are displayed in a window above the taskbar, instead of on the taskbar. Icons can be dragged between this window and the notification area.
In previous versions of Windows, the taskbar ended with the notification area on the right-hand side. Windows 7, however, introduces a show desktop button on the far right side of the taskbar which can initiate an Aero Peek feature that makes all open windows translucent when hovered over by a mouse cursor. Clicking this button shows the desktop, and clicking it again brings all windows to focus. The new button replaces the show desktop shortcut located in the Quick Launch toolbar in previous versions of Windows.
On touch-based devices, Aero Peek can be initiated by pressing and holding the show desktop button; touching the button itself shows the desktop. The button also increases in width to accommodate being pressed by a finger.
Window management mouse gestures
Windows can be dragged to the top of the screen to maximize them and dragged away to restore them. Dragging a window to the left or right of the screen makes it take up half the screen, allowing the user to tile two windows next to each other. Also, resizing the window to the bottom of the screen or its top will extend the window to full height but retain its width. These features can be disabled via the Ease of Access Center if users do not wish the windows to automatically resize.
Aero Shake allows users to clear up any clutter on their screen by shaking (dragging back and forth) a window of their choice with the mouse. All other windows will minimize, while the window the user shook stays active on the screen. When the window is shaken again, they are all restored, similar to desktop preview. Use when you have many open windows on your desktop. This feature will minimize all windows except the one you shake. Click and hold on the title bar of the window you need open and shake the mouse. The window you shake will maximize and all others will be minimized. To restore all windows, shake the mouse again whilst holding on to the title bar of the open window.
Global keyboard shortcuts:
- ⊞ Win+Space bar operates as a keyboard shortcut for Aero Peek.
- ⊞ Win+↑ maximizes the current window.
- ⊞ Win+↓ if current window is maximized, restores it; otherwise minimizes current window.
- ⊞ Win+⇧ Shift+↑ makes upper and lower edge of current window nearly touch the upper and lower edge of the Windows desktop environment, respectively.
- ⊞ Win+⇧ Shift+↓ restores the original size of the current window.
- ⊞ Win+← snaps the current window to the left edge of the screen.
- ⊞ Win+→ snaps the current window to the right half of the screen.
- ⊞ Win+⇧ Shift+← and ⊞ Win+⇧ Shift+→ move the current window to the left or right display.
- ⊞ Win++ functions as zoom in command wherever applicable.
- ⊞ Win+− functions as zoom out command wherever applicable.
- ⊞ Win+ESC turn off zoom once enabled.
- ⊞ Win+Home operates as a keyboard shortcut for Aero Shake.
- ⊞ Win+Tab ↹ View opened application and windows in 3D stack view.
- ⊞ Win+P Opens Connect to a Network Projector, which has been updated from previous versions of Windows, and allows one to dictate where the desktop is displayed: on the main monitor, an external display, both; or allows one to display two independent desktops on two separate monitors.
- Shift + Click, or Middle click starts a new instance of the application, regardless of whether it’s already running.
- Ctrl + Shift + Click starts a new instance with Administrator privileges; by default, a User Account Control prompt will be displayed.
- Shift + Right-click (or right-clicking the program’s thumbnail) shows the titlebar‘s context menu which, by default, contains “Restore”, “Move”, “Size”, “Maximize”, “Minimize” and “Close” commands. If the icon being clicked on is a grouped icon, a specialized context menu with “Restore All”, “Minimize All”, and “Close All” commands is shown.
- Ctrl + Click on a grouped icon cycles between the windows (or tabs) in the group.
The user interface for font management has been overhauled in Windows 7. As with Windows Vista, the collection of installed fonts is displayed in a Windows Explorer window, but fonts that originate from the same font family appear as icons that are represented as stacks that display font previews within the interface. Windows 7 also introduces the option to hide installed fonts; certain fonts are automatically removed from view based on a user’s regional settings. An option to manually hide installed fonts is also available. Hidden fonts remain installed but are not enumerated when an application asks for a list of available fonts, thus reducing the amount of fonts to scroll through within the interface and also reducing memory usage. Windows 7 includes over 40 new fonts, including a new “Gabriola” font.
The dialog box for fonts in Windows 7 has also been updated to display font previews within the interface, which allows users to preview fonts before selecting them. Previous versions of windows only displayed the name of the font.
There are two major new user interface components for device management in Windows 7, “Devices and Printers” and “Device Stage”. Both of these are integrated with Windows Explorer, and together provide a simplified view of what devices are connected to the computer, and what capabilities they support.
Devices and Printers
Devices and Printers is a new Control Panel interface that is directly accessible from the Start menu. Unlike the Device Manager Control Panel applet, which is still present, the icons shown on the Devices and Printers screen are limited to components of the system that a non-expert user will recognize as plug-in devices. For example, an external monitor connected to the system will be displayed as a device, but the internal monitor on a laptop will not. Device-specific features are available through the context menu for each device; an external monitor’s context menu, for example, provides a link to the “Display Settings” control panel.
This new Control Panel applet also replaces the “Printers” window in prior versions of Windows; common printer operations such as setting the default printer, installing or removing printers, and configuring properties such as paper size are done through this control panel.
Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 introduce print driver isolation, which improves the reliability of the print spooler by running printer drivers in a separate process to the spooler service. If a third party print driver fails while isolated, it does not impact other drivers or the print spooler service.
Device Stage provides a centralized location for an externally connected multi-function device to present its functionality to the user. When a device such as a portable music player is connected to the system, the device appears as an icon on the task bar, as well as in Windows Explorer.
Windows 7 ships with high-resolution images of a number of popular devices, and is capable of connecting to the Internet to download images of devices it doesn’t recognize. Opening the icon presents a window that displays actions relevant to that device. Screenshots of the technology presented by Microsoft suggest that a mobile phone could offer options for two-way synchronization, configuring ring-tones, copying pictures and videos, managing the device in Windows Media Player, and using Windows Explorer to navigate through the device. Other device status information such as free memory and battery life can also be shown. The actual per-device functionality is defined via XML files that are downloaded when the device is first connected to the computer, or are provided by the manufacturer on an installation disc.
Hilton Locke, who worked on the Tablet PC team at Microsoft, reported on December 11, 2007 that Windows 7 will have new touch features on devices supporting multi-touch. An overview and demonstration of the multi-touch capabilities, including a virtual piano program, a mapping and directions program and a touch-aware version of Microsoft Paint, was given at the All Things Digital Conference on May 27, 2008; a video of the multi-touch capabilities was made available on the web later the same day.
Windows 7 introduces native support for sensors, including accelerometer sensors, ambient light sensors, and location-based sensors; the operating system also provides a unified driver model for sensor devices. A notable use of this technology in Windows 7 is the operating system’s adaptive display brightness feature, which automatically adjusts the brightness of a compatible computer’s display based on environmental light conditions and factors. Gadgets developed for Windows 7 can also display location-based information. Applications for certain sensor capabilities can be developed without the requisite hardware.
Because data acquired by some sensors can be considered personally identifiable information, all sensors are disabled by default in Windows 7, and an account in Windows 7 requires administrative permissions to enable a sensor. Sensors also require user consent to share location data.
Battery notification messages
Unlike previous versions of Windows, Windows 7 is able to report when a laptop battery is in need of a replacement. The operating system works with design capabilities present in modern laptop batteries to report this information.
The powercfg command enables the customization of the hibernation file size. By default, Windows 7 automatically sets the size of the hibernation file to 75% of a computer’s total physical memory. The operating system also compresses the contents of memory during the hibernate process to minimize the possibility that the contents exceeds the default size of the hibernation file.
Power analysis and reporting
Windows 7 can individually suspend USB hubs and supports selective suspend for all in-box USB class drivers.
- Direct3D 11 is included with Windows 7. It is a strict super-set of Direct3D 10.1, which was introduced in Windows Vista Service Pack 1 and Windows Server 2008.
- Direct2D and DirectWrite, new hardware-accelerated vector graphics and font rendering APIs built on top of Direct3D 10 that are intended to replace GDI/GDI+ for screen-oriented native-code graphics and text drawing. They can be used from managed applications with the Windows API Code Pack
- Windows Advanced Rasterization Platform (WARP), a software rasterizer component for DirectX that provides all of the capabilities of Direct3D 10.0 and 10.1 in software.
- DirectX Video Acceleration–High Definition (DXVA-HD)
Direct3D 11, Direct2D, DirectWrite, DXGI 1.1, WARP and several other components are currently available for Windows Vista SP2 and Windows Server 2008 SP2 by installing the Platform Update for Windows Vista.
Desktop Window Manager
The Desktop Window Manager still requires at least a Direct3D 9-capable video card (supported with new
D3D10_FEATURE_LEVEL_9_n  device type introduced with the Direct3D 11 runtime).
With a video driver conforming to Windows Display Driver Model v1.1, DXGI kernel in Windows 7 provides 2D hardware acceleration to APIs such as GDI, Direct2D and DirectWrite (though GDI+ was not updated to use this functionality). This allows DWM to use significantly lower amounts of system memory, which do not grow regardless of how many windows are opened, like it was in Windows Vista. Systems equipped with a WDDM 1.0 video card will operate in the same fashion as in Windows Vista, using software-only rendering.
The Desktop Window Manager in Windows 7 also adds support for systems using multiple heterogeneous graphics cards from different vendors.
Support for color depths of 30 and 48 bits is included, along with the wide color gamut scRGB (which for HDMI 1.3 can be converted and output as xvYCC). The video modes supported in Windows 7 are 16-bit sRGB, 24-bit sRGB, 30-bit sRGB, 30-bit with extended color gamut sRGB, and 48-bit scRGB.
Each user of Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 has individual DPI settings, rather than the machine having a single setting as in previous versions of Windows. DPI settings can be changed by logging on and off, without needing to restart.
Solid state drives
Over time, several technologies have been incorporated into subsequent versions of Windows to improve the performance of the operating system on traditional hard disk drives (HDD) with rotating platters. Since Solid state drives (SSD) differ from mechanical HDDs in some key areas (no moving parts, write amplification, limited number of erase cycles allowed for reliable operation), it is beneficial to disable certain optimizations and add others, specifically for SSDs.
Windows 7 incorporates many engineering changes to reduce the frequency of writes and flushes, which benefit SSDs in particular since each write operation wears the flash memory.
Windows 7 also makes use of the TRIM command. If supported by the SSD (not implemented on early devices), this optimizes when erase cycles are performed, reducing the need to erase blocks before each write and increasing write performance.
Several tools and techniques that were implemented in the past to reduce the impact of the rotational latency of traditional HDDs, most notably disk defragmentation, SuperFetch, ReadyBoost, and application launch prefetching, involve reorganizing (rewriting) the data on the platters. Since SSDs have no moving platters, this reorganization has no advantages, and may instead shorten the life of the solid state memory. Therefore, these tools are by default disabled on SSDs in Windows 7, except for some early generation SSDs that might still benefit.
Virtual hard disks
The Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Windows 7 incorporate support for the Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) file format. VHD files can be mounted as drives, created, and booted from, in the same way as WIM files. Furthermore, an installed version of Windows 7 can be booted and run from a VHD drive, even on non-virtual hardware, thereby providing a new way to multi boot Windows. Some features such as hibernation and BitLocker are not available when booting from VHD.
By default, a computer’s disk is partitioned into two partitions: one of limited size for booting, BitLocker and running the Windows Recovery Environment and the second with the operating system and user files.
Windows 7 has also seen improvements to the Safely Remove Hardware menu, including the ability to eject just one camera card at the same time (from a single hub) and retain the ports for future use without reboot; and the labels of removable media are now also listed, rather than just the drive letter as for Windows versions from Me and 2000 to Vista. Windows Explorer now by default only shows memory card reader ports in My Computer if they contain a card.
BitLocker to Go
According to data gathered from the Microsoft Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP), 35% of Vista SP1 installations boot up in 30 seconds or less. The more lengthy boot times on the remainder of the machines are mainly due to some services or programs that are loaded but are not required when the system is first started. Microsoft’s Mike Fortin, a distinguished engineer on the Windows team, noted in August 2008 that Microsoft has set aside a team to work solely on the issue, and that team aims to “significantly increase the number of systems that experience very good boot times”. They “focused very hard on increasing parallelism of driver initialization”. Also, Microsoft aims to “dramatically reduce” the number of system services, along with their demands on processors, storage, and memory.
Windows Media Center
Windows Media Center in Windows 7 has retained much of the design and feel of its predecessor, but with a variety of user interface shortcuts and browsing capabilities. Playback of H.264 video both locally and through a Media Center Extender (including the Xbox 360) is supported.
Some notable enhancements in Windows 7 Media Center include a new mini guide, a new scrub bar, the option to color code the guide by show type, and internet content that is more tightly integrated with regular TV via the guide. All Windows 7 versions now support up to four tuners of each type (QAM, ATSC, CableCARD, NTSC, etc.).
When browsing the media library, items that don’t have album art are shown in a range of foreground and background color combinations instead of using white text on a blue background. When the left or right remote control buttons are held down to browse the library quickly, a two-letter prefix of the current album name is prominently shown as a visual aid. The Picture Library includes new slideshow capabilities, and individual pictures can be rated.
Also, while browsing a media library, a new column appears at the top named “Shared.” This allows users to access shared media libraries on other Media Center PCs from directly within Media Center.
For television support, the Windows Media Center “TV Pack” released by Microsoft in 2008 is incorporated into Windows Media Center. This includes support for CableCARD and North American (ATSC) clear QAM tuners, as well as creating lists of favorite stations.
A gadget for Windows Media Center is also included.
Windows 7 includes AVI, WAV, AAC/ADTS file media sinks to read the respective formats, an MPEG-4 file source to read MP4, M4A, M4V, MP4V MOV and 3GP container formats and an MPEG-4 file sink to output to MP4 format. Windows 7 also includes a media source to read MPEG transport stream/BDAV MPEG-2 transport stream (M2TS, MTS, M2T and AVCHD) files.
Transcoding (encoding) support is not exposed through any built-in Windows application but codecs are included as Media Foundation Transforms (MFTs). In addition to Windows Media Audio and Windows Media Video encoders and decoders, and ASF file sink and file source introduced in Windows Vista, Windows 7 includes an H.264 encoder with Baseline profile level 3 and Main profile support and an AAC Low Complexity (AAC-LC) profile encoder.
For playback of various media formats, Windows 7 also introduces an H.264 decoder with Baseline, Main, and High profiles support, up to level 5.1, AAC-LC and HE-AAC v1 (SBR) multichannel, HE-AAC v2 (PS) stereo decoders, MPEG-4 Part 2 Simple Profile and Advanced Simple Profile decoders which includes decoding popular codec implementations such as DivX, Xvid and Nero Digital as well as MJPEG and DV MFT decoders for AVI. Windows Media Player 12 uses the built-in Media Foundation codecs to play these formats by default.
Windows 7 also updates the DirectShow filters introduced in Windows Vista for playback of MPEG-2 and Dolby Digital to decode H.264, AAC, HE-AAC v1 and v2 and Dolby Digital Plus (including downmixing to Dolby Digital).
A new user interface for User Account Control has been introduced, which provides the ability to select four different levels of notifications, one of these notification settings, Default, is new to Windows 7. Geo-tracking capabilities are also available in Windows 7. The feature will be disabled by default. When enabled the user will only have limited control as to which applications can track their location.
The Encrypting File System supports Elliptic-curve cryptographic algorithms (ECC) in Windows 7. For backward compatibility with previous releases of Windows, Windows 7 supports a mixed-mode operation of ECC and RSA algorithms. EFS self-signed certificates, when using ECC, will use 256-bit key by default. EFS can be configured to use 1K/2k/4k/8k/16k-bit keys when using self-signed RSA certificates, or 256/384/512-bit keys when using ECC certificates.
In Windows Vista, the Protected User-Mode Audio (PUMA) content protection facilities are only available to applications that are running in a Protected Media Path environment. Because only the Media Foundation application programming interface could interact with this environment, a media player application had to be designed to use Media Foundation. In Windows 7, this restriction is lifted. PUMA also incorporates stricter enforcement of “Copy Never” bits when using Serial Copy Management System (SCMS) copy protection over an S/PDIF connection, as well as with High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) over HDMI connections.
Windows 7 includes the new Windows Biometric Framework. This framework consists of a set of components that standardizes the use of fingerprint biometric devices. In prior releases of Microsoft Windows, biometric hardware device manufacturers were required to provide a complete stack of software to support their device, including device drivers, software development kits, and support applications. Microsoft noted in a white paper on the Windows Biometric Framework that the proliferation of these proprietary stacks resulted in compatibility issues, compromised the quality and reliability of the system, and made servicing and maintenance more difficult. By incorporating the core biometric functionality into the operating system, Microsoft aims to bring biometric device support on par with other classes of devices.
A new Control Panel called Biometric Device Control Panel is included which provides an interface for deleting stored biometrics information, troubleshooting, and enabling or disabling the types of logins that are allowed using biometrics. Biometrics configuration can also be configured using Group Policy settings.
- DirectAccess, a VPN tunnel technology based on IPv6 and IPsec. DirectAccess requires domain-joined machines, Windows Server 2008 R2 on the DirectAccess server, at least Windows Server 2008 domain controllers and a PKI to issue authentication certificates.
- BranchCache, a WAN optimization technology.
- The Bluetooth stack includes improvements introduced in the Windows Vista Feature Pack for Wireless, namely, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR support and remote wake from S3 or S4 support for self-powered Bluetooth modules.
- NDIS 6.20 (Network Driver Interface Specification)
- WWAN (Mobile broadband) support (driver model based on NDIS miniport driver for CDMA and GSM device interfaces, Connection Manager support and Mobile Broadband COM and COM Interop API).
- Wireless Hosted Network capabilities: The Windows 7 wireless LAN service supports two new functions – Virtual Wi-Fi, that allows a single wireless network adapter to act like two client devices, or a software-based wireless access point (SoftAP) to act as both a wireless hotspot in infrastructure mode and a wireless client at the same time. This feature is not exposed through the GUI; however the Virtual WiFi Miniport adapter can be installed and enabled for wireless adapters with drivers that support a hosted network by using the command netsh wlan set hostednetwork mode=allow “ssid=<network SSID>” “key=<wlan security key>” keyusage=persistent|temporary at an elevated command prompt. The wireless SoftAP can afterwards be started using the command netsh wlan start hostednetwork. Windows 7 also supports WPA2-PSK/AES security for the hosted network, but DNS resolution for clients requires it to be used with Internet Connection Sharing or a similar feature.
- SMB 2.1, which includes minor performance enhancements over SMB2, such as a new opportunistic locking mechanism.
- RDP 7.0
- Background Intelligent Transfer Service 4.0
Alongside the workgroup system used by previous versions, Windows 7 adds a new ad hoc home networking system known as HomeGroup. The system uses a password to join computers into the group, and allows users’ libraries, along with individual files and folders, to be shared between multiple computers. Only computers running Windows 7 or higher can access or join a HomeGroup.
HomeGroup as a concept is very similar to a feature slated for Windows Vista, known as Castle, which would have made it possible to have an identification service for all members on the network, without a centralized server.
HomeGroup is created in response to the need for a simple sharing model for inexperienced users who need to share files without wrestling with user accounts, Security descriptors and share permissions. To that end, Microsoft previously created Simple File Sharing mode in Windows XP that once enabled, caused all connected computers to be authenticated as Guest. Under this model, either a certain file or folder was shared with anyone who connects to the network (even unauthorized parties who are in range of the wireless network) or was not shared at all. In a HomeGroup, however:
- Communication between HomeGroup computers is encrypted with a pre-shared password.
- A certain file or folder can be shared with the entire HomeGroup (anyone who joins) or a certain person only.
- HomeGroup computers can also be a member of a Windows domain or Windows workgroup at the same time and take advantage of those file sharing mechanisms.
- Only computers that support HomeGroup (Windows 7 and later) can join the network.
Windows 7 adds support for multiple firewall profiles. The Windows Firewall in Windows Vista dynamically changes which network traffic is allowed or blocked based on the location of the computer (based on which network it is connected to). This approach falls short if the computer is connected to more than one network at the same time (as for a computer with both an Ethernet and a wireless interface). In this case, Vista applies the profile that is more secure to all network connections. This is often not desirable; Windows 7 resolves this by being able to apply a separate firewall profile to each network connection.
Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 introduce support for Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC), a set of specifications for securing certain kinds of information provided by the Domain Name System (DNS) as used on Internet Protocol (IP) networks. DNSSEC employs digital signatures to ensure the authenticity of DNS data received from a DNS server, which protect against DNS cache poisoning attacks.
- Windows Troubleshooting Platform
- Windows PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment
- PowerShell Remoting
Other new management features include:
- AppLocker (a set of Group Policy settings that evolved from Software Restriction Policies, to restrict which applications can run on a corporate network, including the ability to restrict based on the application’s version number or publisher)
- Group Policy Preferences (also available as a download for Windows XP and Windows Vista).
- The Windows Automation API (also available as a download for Windows XP and Windows Vista).
Windows 7 includes Internet Explorer 8, .NET Framework 3.5 SP1, Internet Information Services (IIS) 7.5, Windows Installer 5.0 and a standalone XPS Viewer. Paint, Calculator, Resource Monitor and WordPad have also been updated.
Calculator has been rewritten, with multiline capabilities including Programmer and Statistics modes, unit conversion, and date calculations. Calculator was also given a graphical facelift, the first since Windows 95 in 1995 and Windows NT 4.0 in 1996.
Resource Monitor includes an improved RAM usage display and supports display of TCP/IP ports being listened to, filtering processes using networking, filtering processes with disk activity and listing and searching process handles (e.g. files used by a process) and loaded modules (files required by an executable file, e.g. DLL files).
Windows Installer 5.0 supports installing and configuring Windows Services, and provides developers with more control over setting permissions during software installation. Neither of these features will be available for prior versions of Windows; custom actions to support these features will continue to be required for Windows Installer packages that need to implement these features.
- Windows 7 improves the Tablet PC Input Panel to make faster corrections using new gestures, supports text prediction in the soft keyboard and introduces a new Math Input Panel for inputting math into programs that support MathML. It recognizes handwritten math expressions and formulas. Additional language support for handwriting recognition can be gained by installing the respective MUI pack for that language (also called language pack).
- Windows 7 introduces a new Problem Steps Recorder tool that enables users to record their interaction with software for analysis and support. The feature can be used to replicate a problem to show support when and where a problem occurred.
- As opposed to the blank start-up screen in Windows Vista, Windows 7’s start-up screen consists of an animation featuring four colored light balls (one red, one yellow, one green, and one blue). They twirl around for a few seconds and then join together to form a glowing Windows logo. This only occurs on displays with a vertical resolution of 768 pixels or higher, as the animation is 1024×768. Any screen with a resolution below this displays the same startup screen that Vista used.
- The Starter Edition of Windows 7 can run an unlimited number of applications, compared to only 3 in Windows Vista Starter. Microsoft had initially intended to ship Windows 7 Starter Edition with this limitation, but announced after the release of the Release Candidate that this restriction would not be imposed in the final release.
- For developers, Windows 7 includes a new networking API with support for building SOAP-based web services in native code (as opposed to .NET-based WCF web services), new features to shorten application install times, reduced UAC prompts, simplified development of installation packages, and improved globalization support through a new Extended Linguistic Services API.
- If an application crashes twice in a row, Windows 7 will automatically attempt to apply a shim. If an application fails to install a similar self-correcting fix, a tool that asks some questions about the application launches.
- Windows 7 includes an optional TIFF IFilter that enables indexing of TIFF documents by reading them with optical character recognition (OCR), thus making their text content searchable. TIFF iFilter supports Adobe TIFF Revision 6.0 specifications and four compression schemes: LZW, JPEG, CCITT v4, CCITT v6
- The Windows Console now adheres to the current Windows theme, instead of showing controls from the Windows Classic theme.
- Games Internet Spades, Internet Backgammon and Internet Checkers, which were removed from Windows Vista, were restored in Windows 7.
- Users can disable many more Windows components than was possible in Windows Vista. The new components which can now be disabled include: Handwriting Recognition, Internet Explorer, Windows DVD Maker, Windows Fax and Scan, Windows Gadget Platform Windows Media Center, Windows Media Player, Windows Search, and the XPS Viewer (with its services).
- Windows XP Mode is a fully functioning copy of 32-bit Windows XP Professional SP3 running in a virtual machine in Windows Virtual PC (as opposed to Hyper-V) running on top of Windows 7. Through the use of the RDP protocol, it allows applications incompatible with Windows 7 to be run on the underlying Windows XP virtual machine, but still to appear to be part of the Windows 7 desktop, thereby sharing the native Start Menu of Windows 7 as well as participating in file type associations. It is not distributed with Windows 7 media, but is offered as a free download to users of the Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate editions from Microsoft’s web site. Users of Home Premium who want Windows XP functionality on their systems can download Windows Virtual PC free of charge, but must provide their own licensed copy of Windows XP. XP Mode is intended for consumers rather than enterprises, as it offers no central management capabilities. Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (Med-V) is available for the enterprise market.
- Native support for Hyper-V virtual machines through the inclusion of VMBus integration drivers.
- The memory manager is optimized to mitigate the problem of total memory consumption in the event of excessive cached read operations, which occurred on earlier releases of 64-bit Windows.
- AVCHD camera support and Universal Video Class 1.1
- Protected Broadcast Driver Architecture (PBDA) for TV tuner cards, first implemented in Windows Media Center TV Pack 2008 for Windows Vista.
- Support for up to 256 logical processors
- Fewer hardware locks and greater parallelism
- Timer coalescing: modern processors and chipsets can switch to very low power usage levels while the CPU is idle. In order to reduce the number of times the CPU enters and exits idle states, Windows 7 introduces the concept of “timer coalescing”; multiple applications or device drivers which perform actions on a regular basis can be set to occur at once, instead of each action being performed on their own schedule. This facility is available in both kernel mode, via the
KeSetCoalesableTimerAPI (which would be used in place of
KeSetTimerEx), and in user mode with the
SetWaitableTimerExWindows API call (which replaces
- Multi-function devices and Device Containers: Prior to Windows 7, every device attached to the system was treated as a single functional end-point, known as a devnode, that has a set of capabilities and a “status”. While this is appropriate for single-function devices (such as a keyboard or scanner), it does not accurately represent multi-function devices such as a combined printer, fax machine, and scanner, or web-cams with a built-in microphone. In Windows 7, the drivers and status information for multi-function device can be grouped together as a single “Device Container”, which is presented to the user in the new “Devices and Printers” Control Panel as a single unit. This capability is provided by a new Plug and Play property,
ContainerID, which is a Globally Unique Identifier that is different for every instance of a physical device. The Container ID can be embedded within the device by the manufacturer, or created by Windows and associated with each devnode when it is first connected to the computer. In order to ensure the uniqueness of the generated Container ID, Windows will attempt to use information unique to the device, such as a MAC address or USB serial number. Devices connected to the computer via USB, IEEE 1394 (FireWire), eSATA, PCI Express, Bluetooth, and Windows Rally‘s PnP-X support can make use of Device Containers.
- User-Mode Scheduling: The 64-bit versions of Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 introduce a user-mode scheduling framework. On Microsoft Windows operating systems, scheduling of threads inside a process is handled by the kernel. While for most applications this is sufficient, applications with large concurrent threading requirements, such as a database server, can benefit from having a thread scheduler in-process. This is because the kernel no longer needs to be involved in context switches between threads, and it obviates the need for a thread pool mechanism as threads can be created and destroyed much more quickly when no kernel context switches are required.
- Windows 7 will also contain a new FireWire (IEEE 1394) stack that fully supports IEEE 1394b with S800, S1600 and S3200 data rates.