Maintenance and Security
With Windows 7, Microsoft has taken another look at the controls end-users need to handle basic maintenance and security, and at making those controls simpler to understand, more powerful and more accessible. The most important change here is the move from Vista's Security Centre and assorted maintenance control panels to a unified Windows 7 Action Center; a one stop shop where security and system maintenance issues can be addressed.
The Action Center is divided into two main sections - Security and Maintenance - with alerts and active issues listed at a glance beneath the relevant heading, and an arrow button expanding the view to take you through the available options in depth. Whereas the old Security Centre gave you an at-a-glance report of the status of your Firewall, Updates and Malware Protection, whether you needed it or not, Action Center doesn't push anything at you unless it's something you need to deal with right now.
It's also the Action Centre that sends up the Notifications that appear above the system tray when Windows encounters a problem. If you find these an annoyance, the 'Change Action Centre Settings' link on the left allows you to choose when you want to be notified, and when you don't.
Even better news awaits those of us who hated Vista's annoying User Account Control. We all know UAC is a good idea, but does it really have to be so obtrusive? Apparently not. Expand the Security section, click 'Change Settings' under User Account Control, and you can move the slider between Maximum Security (Always Notify) and Minimum Irritation (Never Notify). Generally speaking, UAC seems to pop up less often than it did with Vista on either of the middle settings, and the first from bottom option turns off UAC's stress-inducing screen dimming effect to boot.
The Action Centre also makes Windows 7's troubleshooting options easier to get hold of, allowing you to configure whether Windows actively checks for routine maintenance issues, or select the Troubleshooting or System Restore wizards should the introduction of new hardware or new software screw things up royally.
On the left you'll also see a link for Windows Update. Now, we all get annoyed with Windows Update's rather nanny-ish approach, but it plays a vital role in keeping your system secure and up to date. What's more, Windows 7 now watches for updated hardware drivers too, making it much, much easier to keep your PC running at optimal speed and stability without having to use a third-party driver update app or perform your own manual updates.