Microsoft Windows 7 - New Taskbar, Aero Peek & Aero Snap Review

New Taskbar, Aero Peek, Aero Snap & Beyond

Naturally enough most of the focus on Windows 7 has been on the interface changes and it’s to those we now move. And, yes, the new taskbar – where you can now pin program shortcuts – does have a mild whiff of Apple about it, but who really cares? What matters is whether it’s good or not and there’s no equivocation here: it is.

Anyone prone to running a large number of programs at the same time will instantly appreciate the brevity and consistency of the new taskbar. Multiple instances of the same application are now grouped together – a particular blessing where Windows Explorer items are concerned – and since you can pin your regularly used applications, everything is always in the same place instead of being lost among all the other taskbar items like before.

Key to this change is Aero Peek. This gives you a thumbnail view of applications and windows that, as you hover over them, are highlighted on the main desktop at the expense of other windows. It works beautifully and makes switching between and working with multiple applications a far more fluid, enjoyable experience.

Aero Snap is arguably even better. This gives you several options: dragging a window to the top edge maximises it; dragging it left or right will dock it in that half of the screen and stretching it to the top or bottom edge will ‘snap’ it to touch both. Again, these options are a particular boon to multi-tasking, especially since they can be applied across more than one monitor using shortcuts.

Only Aero Shake, the third of the new ‘Aero’ effects, feels poorly conceived. It minimises or maximises all but the active window, which is fine in principle, but the action of ‘shaking’ said window to affect it feels clumsy and ever so slightly gimmicky. Thankfully, the same effect can be achieved using the shortcut ‘Win+Home’ and, either way, it’s still significantly more useful than the lightweight ‘Aero Flip’ alt-tab effect (still present) from Vista.

Returning to more positive grounds we have Jump Lists. As has been detailed plenty of times before, Jump Lists provide context sensitive shortcuts for pinned applications on the taskbar. Of course what Jump Lists contain will vary from application to application, but they’re just another excellent way that Windows 7 makes getting to regularly used functions, files and folders faster and more streamlined.

This theme extends to other less conspicuous parts of the OS. Some of these changes, such as those detailed on the previous page (e.g. Appearance, Screen Resolution menus) have been long overdue, but elsewhere the changes are more subtle. We particularly like the Windows Explorer navigation pane, which like the OS as a whole looks cleaner and less cluttered.

Only Gadgets, now liberated from the sidebar and free to roam the desktop, hit a really bum note. Free to roam or otherwise their quality is still (at best) very patchy and there really needs to be a way to hide them ala OS X and its dashboard, especially with the newly added (and far more useful) Sticky Notes also demanding desktop real-estate.

Still, Microsoft continues to win plaudits with the tweaked system tray, which now hides unwanted icons from view and doesn’t bombard you with notifications. Best of all is the refined Wi-Fi connection dialog, where you can search, select and connect to networks all within the same menu: very neat. Likewise, Device Stage, where manufacturers can create custom pages for their devices, makes it easier to identify and access device specific functions, though it’s very dependent on manufacturers taking full advantage.

Overall the interface changes for Windows 7 are almost uniformly good. Whereas Vista seemed to only toy with the idea of improvements, Windows 7’s changes have a meaningful and beneficial impact, particularly where window management is concerned.