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Microsoft Windows 7 - Networking, Libraries & Multimedia

Andy Vandervell

By Andy Vandervell



Our Score:


Networking, Libraries & Multimedia

Since networking and multimedia are so closely linked these days it makes sense to look at them together. Microsoft seems to have finally cracked easy home networking, too, in the shape of HomeGroups. When you set up a HomeGroup all you need do is stipulate what you'd like to share, as well as if you'd like to allow streaming. You're then given a password you can input into other PCs to allow them to connect to the network. That's it! It takes all the pain and randomness out of home networking; the only caveat being it's not backward compatible with older Windows PCs in your network (this being a major caveat as setting up a conventional home network is still a real pain - Ed.).

Windows Media Player, now in its twelfth edition, sees quite a few new networking related features, too. 'Play To' allows you to push media playback to connected devices (e.g. an Xbox 360) or a PC, while you can now stream your media library over the Internet by pairing your Windows 7 user account to your Windows Live ID. This latter feature has garnered plenty of press, but given it requires your home PC to be powered-up, one has to wonder how useful it'll be in a world dominated by Spotify, Napster and other streaming services. Moreover, if you really need such functionality, a low power NAS box is a far more sensible option.

On a more superficial level WMP12 sees another, relatively minor, UI refresh. Again everything is just a bit cleaner and less cluttered. The 'Rip', 'Burn' and 'Sync' tabs have been shifted to the list pane, making them easier to use in conjunction with the library. Format support has also been improved, now including DivX (Xvid), AVCHD and H.264 video formats. And, though FLAC, OGG and wrappers like MKV aren't natively supported, there are already workarounds available to enable all of these in WMP itself. On a more general note, WMP12 - native format support aside - has become an outstanding media player. It's not perfect by any means, but its integration with the rest of the OS and the new libraries system (more on which in a moment) means it's very quick and intuitive to use. Quite why anyone would voluntarily use iTunes instead of it is beyond us.

Media Center, meanwhile, has seen a smattering of interface improvements, including the addition of Internet Video support (e.g. Sky Player) and a 'turbo scroll' feature to make navigating very large libraries easier. Of greater significance, though, is how you can access more functions without entering WMC itself. This includes the new Media Center gadget, one of the few useful gadgets available, as well as Jump List support.

What's really intriguing, however, is the previously alluded to libraries system. Superficially it's just as before, folders being divided by 'Documents', 'Music', 'Videos' and 'Pictures', but these are no longer function like regular folders. You can now add folders from other locations, such as separate partitions, hard drives and even external storage, to the libraries to be listed and indexed together.

This helps organise collections very quickly and saves constantly pointing programs to different folders (other than the default ones), but Microsoft has missed a huge trick by not supporting network attached drives! This is because libraries have to be indexed (i.e. searchable) and network drives can't be indexed. You're left with two options: synchronise the network drive locally (defeating the point of a NAS) or use an already available workaround. We haven't tried the latter yet, though we've heard it can cause issues when backing up, but in any case Microsoft ought to have added this ability in the first place.


October 22, 2009, 3:03 pm

Good reviews, I've been using the Beta for several months, and have overall positive opinions of it. Something I've not been able to work out, in the past, with a new install it was beneficial to install Mobo drivers, is this now part of the Win7 package?


October 22, 2009, 3:23 pm

All is forgiven TR. Vista actually introduced a lot of these features. I could never get a home network set up with XP, and Vista made that a lot easier. In essence Vista brought us the features of Windows 7, whilst Windows 7 improved the performance.

If there was one feature in this release I couldn't live without now, it would be libraries. A simple networking feature, but for those of us with large external hard drives, priceless.

Tim Rice

October 22, 2009, 3:46 pm

On the point about it being a no-brainer for XP die hards to upgrade, I don't totally agree.

One of the reasons I keep my home destop and home laptop on XP is that my PC at work is on XP, and it makes my life easy to have the same interface for everything. I know is sounds like a basic point (and kind of makes me sound like a simpleton), but using W7 at home, and XP at work would just give me a headache.


October 22, 2009, 4:20 pm

I was running a beta version on an old laptop but I upgraded my main desktop at home to Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) last night. I did a fresh install and it took less than 20 mins!

It took a further 3-4 hours to install my software & copy my data back to the machine but what's 4 hours worth of hassle when I'll be using it for up to 6 or 7 hours a day, every day?

Windows 7 is fantastic. The only issue I had is that it doesn't like my old Netgear print server, nor an old internal media card reader (driver issue). But that's not Microsoft's fault.

It Windows 7 an essential upgrade for home users? Yes, unless you want to stay stuck well and truly back in the dark ages! After using Windows 7, I find myself missing little features when I use Vista on my laptop. I have no idea what I will feel like using Windows XP after using Windows 7, XP is bound to feel quite primitive and 'old hat'.

I think the best new feature is the new task bar. People will say they have just copied Apple, but I'd argue they looked at Apple's idea and made it better! I have no idea why people think copying ideas is such a bad idea, it seems to work well in every other industry!


October 22, 2009, 4:24 pm

@ Tim Rice

Really? I've never heard of being confused by an Operating System before.

If we all did things to 'keep it simple', we'd still be living in caves and making grunting noises at each other instead of using language ;-)


October 22, 2009, 4:25 pm

I don't think I can justify upgrading my 'home PC' to Windows 7 from XP. I just don't use it enough :( Parallels on OS X aside, I think I'll only be exposed to Windows 7 running natively if I have to buy a new PC *shudder*. Still, I'd be more likely to buy a PC running Windows 7 than I ever would have been running Vista.


October 22, 2009, 4:46 pm

@Tim Rice:

I agree it's easier to keep the same OS for home and work. Steve, have you actually TRIED switching between two different versions of Windows on a regular basis? It CAN get confusing, attempting to use functions that aren't there, looking for buttons in different locations, etc.

Having said that, I think the inconvenience is worth it as XP just lacks too many features - but then I'm an enthusiast user and gamer, which certainly doesn't apply to many.


October 22, 2009, 4:48 pm

I'm sorry but Vista's issues should have been immediately obvious (as they were to me).

In spite of this TR's gave it 9/10.

Since you were _so_ wrong about Vista, why should I trust your review of Windows 7?


October 22, 2009, 4:48 pm

@Steve - "living in caves making grunt noises" {insert appropriate joke}.

I have used ubuntu quite a bit, never a mac. Win 7 much "nicer" to use so far. I have stuck it on my netbook, although I now have to rollback the bios, as the asus eee pc boots into a black screen using the latest firmware. How pants is that ?

Justin case anyone else is upgrading their asus eee pc to win7: http://forum.eeeuser.com/vi...

Sits backs and waits for the fanboi-ism to start.

Tim Rice

October 22, 2009, 4:48 pm

@ Steve

Thanks for the reply. My point was more about consistency, rather than keeping it simple. As you (or another Steve) point out in an earlier comment, once you get used to a certain set of new features in W7, you don't want to give them up. At the very least, it is likely to be a annoying when you arrive at your work desk each day.

I think there are a lot of low-tech PC users out there (like me perhaps!) who would naturally tend towards OS consistency with their work PC, and also take a phychological lead from the OS they use for long periods during the working day.


October 22, 2009, 5:05 pm

I'll save you all some time. Just buy it :-)


October 22, 2009, 5:33 pm

I have MSDN subscription and have been using Windows & from the first version. I was stunned the first time I installed it and it found every single driver for me. I had only ever saw this on Linux before. I don't think Vista does this but I could be wrong.

With every build it has got better and better. Since vista came out I have uninstalled it from maybe 20-30 PC's of friends and family putting XP in its place. They don't buy expensive equipment and even with 4 gig mem and dual core I find Vista unusable. Its that spinning circle every time I do something and forget about aero effects unless you have a good graphic card.

I got a new Acer Aspire 150 netbook, usual 1 gig ram and atom proc. Usb install of W7 took 10-15 mins. Then I found that even when writing on word, hovering over the taskbar with a video playing in WMP actually showed the video running. No slowdown, again amazed. Fanboy mode off.


October 22, 2009, 5:43 pm

XP fanboy to friend:

"XP is better than 7 because it's SIMPLE!"

Caveman #1 to Caveman #2:

"Square-wheel is better than Round-wheel because it's SIMPLE!"


October 22, 2009, 5:47 pm

Good review and im glad you pointed out vista has come a long way since release. I near put my PC through the wall out of frustation when upgrading 2 years ago but the last year its been great. I wouldn't go back to XP. I bought windows 7 for £45 (thanks amazon) and it arrived yesterday. I had a few problems with the RC client which Im hoping have now been fixed. Will do a new install tonight or tomorrow, very much looking forward to it :)


October 22, 2009, 5:53 pm

@SB - ASUS latest eee pc BIOS revisions fix the black screen issues - go to the last page of the link you posted and it even says so. Doh !!!!


October 22, 2009, 6:11 pm

The points raised above about not wanting to move on from a prior OS is partially why Microsoft et al refrain from releasing the really cool stuff they have in reserves years too early. Of course, incremental upgrades from OS to OS keep the monies rolling in but if they jumped their OS to where the believe it should be at (chances are it has already been developed in some R&D room too) people just wouldnt buy it. It would frighten them off.

Having grown up with computers and particularly Windows I would suggest that people in my shoes are a little more "adaptable" in shifting from one OS to another. Having witnessed my mums attempts at simple Windows tasks I can fully accept why some would be reluctant to shift OS and would prefer to stick to the one they know best and use at work!

Sticking to XP is no bad thing. Comparatively speaking, it took years before the likes of Vince Clarke and Norman Cook ditched their beloved Atari's and ancient gear and it did them no harm at all.


October 22, 2009, 6:23 pm

Quick to boot up, easy on system resources, intuitive interfaces, troubleshooters that actually work and correct problems, nice backward compatibility... I could go on and on, but I won't. Well done Microsoft.


October 22, 2009, 6:35 pm

"style to boot" well in my eyes it's just the same old CHEAP overdesigened spacetrash look...


October 22, 2009, 6:41 pm

@rellik: There's always one who has to twist the knife...

As the review states, Vista really isn't as bad as it's often made out to be. TR weren't the only critics to sing its praises, and I reckon the reason for the acclaim was simple - few of Vista's initial issues were even noticed by many critics. If you had a fast PC with hardware that happened to be well catered for with reliable drivers, Vista worked pretty well from day 1 (silly issues like file copying excepted). The improvements made over XP were plain to see. It was only once vocal users with particular hardware reported their problems that widespread derision broke out, and Vista was almost universally panned.

For the most part, Vista's issues have since been resolved, so perhaps TR's review was more forward-looking than most. I was hoping they'd buck the trend and defend their opinion of Vista. Oh well...


October 22, 2009, 6:42 pm

@ Ardjuna

"Steve, have you actually TRIED switching between two different versions of Windows on a regular basis?"

All the time. XP at work, Vista Business on my Vaio Z, Win7 now on my desktop (and on the Vaio X I ordered), plus I have a MacBook for good measure.

Do I find it confusing? No :-)

Mike B

October 22, 2009, 7:06 pm

One real let down is no system wide spelling checker as found in Mac OS X. Seems a very poor omission? Microsoft are still playing catch up when they should be leading. I switched to Mac at home for all my family 3 years ago now and having looked at Windows 7 it would not tempt me back. Nothing too wrong with Windows 7 just not as nice and integrated as the Apple experience!


October 22, 2009, 7:24 pm

Maybe I'm not a power user who spends a lot of time digging around in the innards of my OS, but I really don't have any problems switching between XP at work and Vista at home - I even use a mac as well to complete the hat-trick.

Will definitely be loading 7 when amazon sends me my copy.


October 22, 2009, 7:29 pm



Fiar enough.

Are you sure you shouldn't get a netbook with Linux on it, just to complete your OS collection? ;)

Personally it's little things like wanting to partition a drive on a new XP PC (yes, they're still being sold {http://www.trustedreviews.c...}) and then remembering I need to install third-party software, but I realize a lot of these are issues most people won't come across. Then again, everyone's different with varying capacities for befuddlement.

Out of interest, which OS do you prefer out of the ones you use?


October 22, 2009, 7:45 pm

@Steve: SuperSteve more like!

@Mike B: I can spell...


October 22, 2009, 7:58 pm


That's my point. Vista was released to unanomous praise across the board. Not one major reviewer gave it a negative review. Now we're hearing exactly the same thing about Windows 7. After putting up with Vista for over a year I switched back to XP. I've been using Windows 7 since it was released to MSDN and while it is better than Vista (little things have been returned, like giving you feedback when defragging), it's still not good enough.

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