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TECH TRENDS

Microsoft hopes Windows 7 makes you forget about Vista

The new operating system is more consumer friendly and includes several upgrades, including a lightning-fast search function.

October 04, 2009|David Colker

(The standard version of Outlook that comes with the Microsoft Office suite is not affected by the new operating system.)

One item that stands a good chance of not working after the upgrade is a virtual private network used to access a remote computer. That's not a surprise -- VPN settings sometimes have to be adjusted to fit a new operating system.

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Speed

We didn't have access to equipment needed to scientifically measure the speed of Windows 7 operations.

But programs and Internet browsers appeared to move at far snappier speeds than on former Windows versions.

Especially impressive was Photoshop photo editing software, which got a terrific speed boost post-upgrade in our tests.

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Screen design

Yuck.

I don't know what consultant (probably a committee) advised Microsoft that everything had to be tinged with baby blue, but it gives Windows 7 a vague, messy look.

The other color choices, if you can find them (Windows 7 does not make changing the appearance easy) are just about as wishy-washy.

Apple's Mac OS X operating system, by contrast, has a crisp, architectural look that's much more pleasurable to view hours on end.

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Screen organization

Windows 7 comes with several new tricks for manipulating and organizing open documents, Web pages and applications.

At the bottom of the screen is the task bar with block-shaped icons representing the open windows. It looks suspiciously like the dock feature that has been a part of Mac OS X for several years.

And it has a couple of cool enhancements. When you move the cursor over the icons, thumbnail views of that program's open windows appear. Click one, and the window pops to the front.

Also, if you right-click on an icon, a handy list of commands, such as print, pops up.

There's an especially nice feature that allows you to easily re-size two windows so that they are side by side, each taking up half the screen. Then it's a simple matter to copy and paste (or even click and drag, depending on the program) from one to the other.

Microsoft seems to have "borrowed" several Apple features over the years, but this side-by-side trick is so useful that it would be swell for Mac users if Apple appropriated this one.

So at the end of the day, is the Windows 7 upgrade worth $119? That depends on how you feel about your current PC operating system.

If you have XP and it's working perfectly for you, it might be just fine to stick with it, especially if you're only doing basic e-mail, word processing and Web browsing. But keep in mind that XP is 8 years old and eventually probably won't be able to handle state-of-the-art programs.

If you have Vista and can't understand why people put it down, you could stick with it too.

But Windows 7, at least in our preliminary tests, has some real advantages in speed, user friendliness and stability. The only problem we had was waking the computer from sleep in a couple of instances. We had to do a full restart instead. Hopefully, this will be solved by the time Windows 7 goes on sale

So, upgrading seems to have real advantages.

But you have another, money-saving choice: You could wait a year or so and see what Google has up its sleeve with Chrome.

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david.colker@latimes.com

Times staff writers Jon Healey, Jim Granelli and Jerome Adamstein helped test the software.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

A new Windows

Microsoft's new Windows 7 operating system, which later this month supersedes the much-scorned Vista, sports several new consumer-friendly features. Here are our three favorites:

Search: At long last, Windows gets a decent search function to speedily track down words or phrases on stored documents or other files.

Snap: This handy feature allows a user to position two files side by side and then easily copy and paste from one to the other. You could have your notes on the left side of the screen, for example, and the great American novel you're writing on the right.

Taskbar: The icons of programs are lined up along an edge of the screen in this much-improved taskbar. Hover your cursor over an icon and you get thumbnail views of all the program's open windows, no matter how far they're buried under other stuff on the screen.

-- David Colker

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