Saturday, August 13, 2011

Plunge into Windows 7 and Windows 8 Preview

I've started writing for the technical section (named Tech-Tonic) of our college's e-magazine. Here's the first article published in August.                                 

Windows 7 has been around for quite a while and Windows 8 Beta is around the corner. After the delayed production of Windows Vista (Codenamed Longhorn) which was not as successful as its predecessor, Windows  7 has stood up to the mark when it comes to end user satisfaction, usability and reliability.

In this edition, I would be highlighting specific features of Windows 7 that you should be aware and make use of so as to harness the full capability of Windows 7.  In the “Tips & Tricks” section, this edition will carry some selected shortcuts for better maintaining and managing Windows 7. Finally, I will conclude with the expected feature set and how Windows 8 will differ from current line of operating systems.

Windows 7 Libraries
Libraries serve as virtual folders inside Windows 7. Many of us have various files cluttered all over our hard drive or even on external storage devices. This is time consuming when it comes to finding a particular file that u edited 3 months ago and now have forgotten where u actually saved it!  Libraries solve this problem quite efficiently. Users can add folders to a library without copying or creating shortcuts to the folder. The added folder appears under the library which can be accessed the same way as u access a real folder.  For example, I capture photos from my Sony Digital Camera and transfer them to my notebook running Windows 7. By default, Sony’s camera creates a folder named 101MSDCF and stores all captured photos in it. When my memory card fills up, I store some photos in the camera’s internal memory, which resides in a different location. Similarly, I also transfer images from a Olympus DigiCam from a relative of mine which has its own folder structure. After a year, I have tens of hundreds of folders all containing the photos I took or transferred but in separate locations. It’s a mess trying to remember which folder was copied to which location and retrieving a single image from a thousand captured from a single trip. This is when Windows 7’s Libraries come to play.
By default, Windows 7 includes 4 pre-defined libraries: Documents, Pictures, Music and Videos. Users can also create custom libraries to store relevant data according to need. For demonstration purpose, I’m going to create a custom library.
I open up explorer (Ctrl+E), select Libraries, click on “New library” and enter the library name as “Trip pics”.

In order to add folders to my Trip pics library, I navigate to each folder and select “Include in Library” drop down menu to select the library in which I want to put the selected folder. Alternatively, I right click the desired folder, select Include in library>Name of library I wish the folder to add to. Note that non-indexed locations, network paths and files from CD/DVD CANNOT be added to a library. To add non-indexed and network locations, use a 3rd party tool named “Win 7 Library Tool”.

Also note the effects of deleting folders from within a library and from their original location. If files/subfolders change in their original location, these changes are reflected in the library to which they belong. Files or subfolders deleted from their original location do not appear in the library at all. Deleting files or folders from within a library also affects the original folder or files. However, if folders are “removed” by selecting the locations link in a library and clicking on “Remove”, the folder is no longer a part of the library and is temporarily removed WITHOUT affecting files or subfolders in the original location.

After adding all the folders that I wish to keep in a separate library, I get something like shown in figure below:

I now have a clean way to have a quick glance and work with my scattered files from a central location. Yay!


Homegroups make file and printer sharing between Windows 7 machines fairly simple. However, there are some things u should keep in mind before getting started with your own homegroups. First and foremost, you should be connected to a network that has its location set to home. Secondly, homegroups require IPv6 to be enabled on your home network. Double check these two pre-requisites from your adapter settings via Network and Sharing Center.

After I’ve ensured the above requirements, I open my explorer and select Homegroup. While creating a homegroup, I have the ability to share Pictures, Documents, Music, Printers and Videos [Libraries, not folders]. After making my selections, Windows 7 assigns a password for other Windows 7 machines to connect to your homegroup.

On other computers, Windows 7 detects existing homegroups and provides you the option to add the computer to the created homegroup. Once this is complete, your libraries, printers as well as media can be accessed from other computers that are a part of the same homegroup. On other computers, navigate to Homegroups and select “Join Now”.

To change homegroup settings, such as Turning off password protected sharing (to not force users to type the password), change media sharing options, alter homegroup password, navigate to Control Panel->Network Internet->Homegroup. As a side note, other computers should have Network Discovery turned on, as well as File and Printer sharing to take the full advantage of homegroups.

However, before printing from other computers to a printer attached on a homegroup hosting computer, make sure u double click the printer in Network and Sharing Center->View computers and devices and the printer will be automatically installed for you to use.
Homegroups form a mesh-type of sharing where files shared by people in the homegroup are accessible by anyone in the homegroup. For users who shared files via Sharing Tab in folder properties in previous versions of Windows can also share files by Public Folders in Windows 7. However, sharing files/folders via the Public folders method requires a copy of the files to be present in the public folder. Homegroups simplify this procedure by placing links of shared libraries (which in turn use links to real folders) instead of the entire contents.

If media sharing is enabled (i.e. “Share my pictures, music and videos to all devices on my network” is checked) files from media libraries are available directly in windows media player of members in the homegroup without having the need to share them explicitly as files.
To add a custom library to your homegroup, simply navigate to your library via explorer and select the “Share with” option. U can specify nobody (deny), read, read/write or even specific permissions to different users in the homegroup.

Tips & Tricks

Essential Windows 7 management shortcuts for everyday use:

1. Win+1,2,3,4…: Launches shortcuts in taskbar bar in order from left
2. Win+Alt+1,2,3,4…: Opens up jump list for program in the taskbar in order from left
3. Win+Home: Minimizes every other window except the current one
4. Win+T: Cycle through programs in taskbar
5. Win+B: Select programs in order in the notification area
6. Win+Up/Down: Maximize/Minimize the current window
7. Win+Left/Right: Moves the current window to the left/right side of the screen
8. Ctrl+Shift+Esc: Opens up task manager without using Ctrl+Alt+Delete
9. Ctrl+Shift+N: Creates a new folder in the current directory
10. F10: Toggles the menu bar in Windows Explorer
11. Shift+F10: Opens the context menu for the current selection
12. Alt+Up: Move one folder up in the hierarchy
13. Shift+Delete: Delete the current selection permanently, without moving to recycle bin
14. Alt+Enter: Opens the properties of the current selection
15. F3 or Win+F: Opens up Windows Search
16. Ctrl+Esc: Opens up start menu (called as Orb in Windows 7)
17. Alt+Space: Opens up windows system menu (Restore, Move, Size, Minimize, Maximize, Close)
18. F2: Rename the current selection
19. Hold current window with mouse and shake left and right quickly several times: Minimizes every other window except the current one (=Win+Home)
20. Win+Tab/ Win+Shift+Tab: Flip 3D open windows in forward/reverse order

Previewing Windows 8

In the past 1-2 years, the Redmond based company is releasing a line of products for home/office use with lightning speed. With the release of Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft made a mark yet again in both home and enterprise environments. But innovation and creativity does not halt as we already see milestones and newer windows 8 builds being mentioned on the internet.

The start menu (Orb in Windows 7) was doomed to be changed since Windows Vista. However it was untouched until Windows 7. In windows 8 we see a focus of touch input to control your favorite programs, although the same could be achieved via mouse and keyboard. The applications are now displayed in a larger form of vista gadgets, called as “Tiles” in windows 8. Users can now scroll through program tiles by using hand flicks both to the left and the right. Touch input, much like tablet pc, uses on screen keyboard to deliver keystrokes.
Microsoft has been considerate to post preview videos titled “Building Windows 8”. Using tiles allows the user to focus on a single application while keeping background tasks unaffected. Also, expanding a tile shows detailed information and allows user interaction.

The complete User Interface was re-designed when Microsoft transited from Windows XP to Windows Vista. Windows 7 is built on the same kernel with some improvements over the vista kernel. 
Rumors are spread throughout the internet with respect to Windows 8 features. Most systems today run on a 32 bit and some on 64 bit operating system. Windows Core development team may make Windows 8 a 128bit operating system allowing huge amount of allocable memory addresses. Some even say that Windows 8 will be EFI compatible, which is still to replace the current BIOS based systems.

With every new version of Windows, users expect speed and ease of use. However, providing eye-candy user interface can negatively impacts overall performance. We expect a balance of both system speed along with pleasing UI. Ideally, this is what makes an operating system successful and marketable.

Have a happy tech-month.

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