Windows Vista brought deep changes to security and drivers, causing some pain during the transition from Windows XP. Windows 7 doesn’t undo any of those changes; it is focused on tweaking the user interface to make it easier for people to use programs and get work done.

This article has a nice overview of the changes in the user interface introduced by Windows 7. We have some adjustments ahead! The task bar has some pretty dramatic new features, for example.

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Instead of a Quick Launch bar next to the Start button, there are icons for frequently used programs pinned to the task bar, indistinguishable from the icons for running programs. The idea is interesting – if you want to use a program, it shouldn’t be particularly relevant whether it’s already running. Click the icon and the program will start if it’s not running and it will come to the front if it’s running. Hmm. Well, we’ll see.

The article details many other small changes – more ways to get thumbnail previews of open windows, easier ways to minimize and maximize programs, and the like. Random example: if you grab a program’s title bar and shake it from left to right, all the other windows are minimized. Do things like that matter? I feel so old sometimes.

The changes in User Account Control will quiet down some of the staunchest Vista critics, I think.

“One of Vista’s most hated features was User Account Control. The point of UAC was to make running as an Administrator safer and running as a non-Administrator more convenient by allowing easy elevation of user privileges on an as-needed basis, rather than the XP tradition of running with full privileges all the time. On this front, UAC was a huge success, and though it got a bad reception, the reality is that for most usage scenarios, UAC prompts are really pretty rare and inoffensive. One of the bigger annoyances with UAC was that it somewhat second-guessed the user by asking them to confirm actions that they’d already (implicitly) confirmed. For example, if an Administrator started up regedit or Computer Management, they’d be asked to confirm what they were doing. “Well duh, of course I want to let that program run—that’s why I just started it“.

“Windows 7 provides a resolution for this situation. In Windows 7, user-initiated actions are distinguished from software-initiated actions. If the action is user-initiated (such as clicking a button in Control Panel) then by default, Administrator-level users don’t receive any prompting; the action just happens. If, however, the action is software-initiated, a UAC prompt is shown, much like the existing Vista ones.”

That’s not a bad compromise. Personally, I think the User Account Control prompts in Vista are a valuable way to be reminded that something is happening that might affect the computer at a deep level. For those who don’t want to be bothered as often, there will be a slider in Windows 7 to offer more granular control of how often the prompts appear.

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“Now, my friend would prefer a different UI metaphor than a slider – he’d like to see a pair of pants – the further down you pull the slider, the further down your pants are while you’re computing. I actually think that’s a really good analogy.” That’s from this article, which provides more details about UAC in Vista and Windows 7. If you want a really good discussion of what UAC does to keep your computer safe and how Microsoft has studied it after Vista’s release, this is really interesting reading.

We’ll be talking more about the changes in Windows 7 – it’s right around the corner!