Peripheral support also gets a boost with Windows 7. You'll now find cameras, media players, printer, external drives, keyboard, mice and game controllers all listed in one single Devices and Printers control panel, which you can get to immediately from the right hand side of the Start menu. This works in concert with another new feature - Device Stage - which enables hardware manufacturers to create their own device-specific control panel, supporting the unique features and functions of that device from within a single window.
For example, attach a supported smartphone and you might get options to sync or manage media files, import pictures and videos, browse files or install applications. As a bonus, Device Stage options are also available from a Taskbar icon while the device is connected. The obvious issue at the moment is that Device Stage support is limited to a fairly small range of products, including some recent Nokia and Sony Ericsson mobile phones, Nikon cameras and Epson printers and all-in-ones. In some other cases you'll get a more generic Device Stage window, while in others you'll be thrown back to a more basic 'Properties' view. It's really up to the hardware manufacturers to make their support more in-depth and more widespread.
CompatibilityWindows 7 has an advantage in that, with a codebase based on Vista, most recent applications should run straight out of the box. However, Microsoft hasn't forgotten this time that there are still some older or less forgiving applications out there. Look in the Windows Action Centre and you'll see a link in the left-hand-side panel for the Windows Program Compatability Troubleshooter. This takes you step by step through a problem-solving process, attempting to detect any issues and patch them up. If this fails, there's always the new Windows XP Mode (be warned that this still requires an additional download at launch).
XP Mode is essentially a specialised version of Microsoft's Windows Virtual PC running a variant of Windows XP inside a virtual machine. Boot a reluctant application in XP Mode once and it will then run from that virtual machine on the Windows desktop in future, and XP Mode takes much of the work out of getting the virtual machine to work with the physical hard disks being used by Windows 7 itself, making it easier to work with files in both. With no hardware 3D support and a limited portion of memory by default, XP Mode isn't ideal for those wanting to run Vista-incompatible games, but it's a lifesaver for anyone who has to use old applications for work or ease of access.