With each new version of Windows Microsoft has done its best to streamline wireless network access, and Windows 7 takes this one step further. Out goes the 'Connect to a Network' dialog. In comes the ability to click on the Network icon in the single tray and browse available Wireless networks for security and signal strength in an instant. A right-click brings up the option to open the Network and Sharing Centre, which works in much the same way as Vista's.
It does, however, present us with another gem. Microsoft has decided to make home networking easier with a feature it calls HomeGroup. HomeGroups are basic home networks that allow connected PCs and laptops to share pictures, documents, music and video files and printers seamlessly. Windows 7 creates the HomeGroup when you install it on the first PC, and gives you a password which you enter into subsequent PCs. It really is as easy as that. The only downside is that it only works with Windows 7 PCs. If you want to run a network of mixed Windows 7, Vista and XP systems, you're still going to have to do things the hard way.
Two old and oft-used Windows applets enjoy a Windows 7 makeover, with both Wordpad and Paint benefiting from a smart, Office 2007-style ribbon interface and Paint gaining an improved range of brush and shape options, anti-aliasing and support for the PNG file format.
Sticky note applets have been around for years, but Microsoft now offers a native Sticky Note app for Windows 7. It doesn't do much that you haven't seen before, but it's handy, it's integrated with the Taskbar and jumplists, and it works.
Another feature you used to have to find outside Windows - ISO burning. No longer. Double click on that ISO file and, rather than act confused, Windows 7 simply asks you which disc and drive you want to burn it to.
Finally, Windows 7 provides an enhanced version of Vista's built-in desktop search. Start typing in the Start Menu's Search box and you'll see relevant items appear almost instantaneously, the field narrowing down the more letters you type. Documents, Outlook emails and media files are all fair game, and Windows 7 is now better equipped to search networks and the Internet as well.
The highlight here is a new feature called Federated Search. Using custom 'search connectors' you can search certain online repositories with the same ease that you would search files on your PC. Some connectors even provide thumbnails, videos and document previews direct from Windows Explorer.
That concludes our look at the key new features of Windows 7. Check back next week for our in-depth look at how it performs compared to both Vista and the still popular Windows XP. In the meantime, why not share your thoughts on the new OS in the comments?