Check out our Windows 7 photo gallery for the first official screenshots of Microsoft's successor to Vista. (Credit: Chris Duckett/Builder AU)
Although Windows 7 won't be available until 2010, a pre-beta version is available to developers. At first glance, it appears to be a more advanced iteration of Windows Vista. Windows 7 also seems to be geared more toward the consumer with many more user interface enhancements. Windows 7 builds on the internals of Windows Vista. One immediate benefit is that Windows 7 should have fewer compatibility problems upon release. CNET News took a look at Windows 7 Ultimate Build 6801 and found it to be a remarkably stable and feature-rich alpha.
Up front we noticed a more intuitive interface within Windows 7. For example, if you drag a window all the way to the left or right edge, it'll snap to fill half the desktop, knowing that you intended to view another window at the same time. Also, the toolbar ribbons available in Office 2007 will be available within Windows 7 accessories, such as WordPad and Paint.
Missing is the Welcome Center from Windows Vista. The sidebar also appears to be missing, although you can simply install gadgets to the desktop. What is seen when you first boot into Windows 7 is Windows Live Messenger.
Another important user interface change from Windows Vista is in regards to User Account Control. In Vista, you could have this protection either on or off. In Windows 7 there's a slider control between "always notify" and "never notify", allowing you to find a personal setting that fits you.
New features include a Bluetooth File Transfer Wizard that lets you share files between two computers. There's also Sticky Notes, similar to an application on Mac OS X, that allows quick notes to be "pasted" over the desktop; there's even a corkboard to post your notes for easy review. A new accessibility feature is the Windows Key: the plus key gives the screen an instant zoom, and the minus key returns the resolution to the normal size.
The included version of Internet Explorer is the current beta 8.
The boot process is much faster, although this hasn't been confirmed in a lab. Restore from hibernation appears much quicker.
Although it was not available in build 6801, CNET saw the new Taskbar in Windows 7 available in a more advanced build. The new Taskbar uses icons, not the names, across the bottom.
Microsoft is being coy about final release dates for Windows 7, stressing that it will depend on the quality of the builds. The company is hoping for the new operating system to be available roughly three years from Windows Vista's January 2007 release. From what we've seen in build 6801, we think they'll make that deadline.