I installed Windows 7 this week after my Vista installation finally started going really whacky while I was in Europe. All things considered Vista has been good – the previous install lasted nearly 2 1/2 years without a repave which is more than any OS I’ve had ever had installed before.
The Windows 7 install went fairly smooth for me – no install problems although I screwed myself royally doing an upgrade from Vista using an RC build instead of final! Duh! In the end I reinstalled from scratch and used the Copy My Settings Wizard in Windows to get many of the system settings moved over. While a new install of Vista is fast, the copying of settings is very slow – those took 3 hours for storing and retrieving and I assume the same thing happens in an upgrade which took nearly 5 hours to run total. Ouch.
Otherwise the Windows 7 installation has been a non-event. Things worked, drivers installed automatically (except my nVidia drivers) and the system runs smoothly. Which is a good thing – an OS install without problems is a good install! From that perspective Win 7 was much smoother than Vista in its early days.
Can’t say I notice any big differences in operation or performance other than this system being a new clean install and running a little snappier because of that. Especially my Visual Studio installation seems to be happy from a brand new install rather than having been upgraded through 3 different versions and betas over the 2 years the old OS install lasted <s>.
The one day to day noticable difference: The Taskbar
From a UI perspective there isn’t much that’s changed from Vista except that the UI has smoothed out a little bit. UI Elements look a little cleaner and animations and effects all work a little bit cleaner. Windows 7 feels more crisp because of it. Small esthetic differences I guess and they are for the better. The only feature that has affected my daily operations though is the Taskbar in Windows 7. The taskbar has many improvements like nice pop up hover views of open windows which is useful in my chaotic desktop where I have way too much shit open for my own good all the time :-}. The pop up viewer that shows all open instances for a given application with a little preview is quite useful.
I also like the ability to hide taskbar application titles to gain a little more space on the toolbar as well as the icon differentiating active applications more clearly.
However, one thing I don’t like on the Windows taskbar is the ability to pin programs to it which provides functionality similar to what the Quick Launch toolbar used to accomplish. Actually the ability is cool enough but the way the pinned programs behave is rather sucky.
There are a few problems with this:
- It’s easy to confuse what’s an open application and a pinned application resulting in me often starting new instances of applications that I really don’t want to start. The visual clue what’s pinned and what’s active is too subtle.
- The other is that pinned applications mix into the active application icons rather than showing as a separate group. This defeats the purpose of a quick link where an icon lives in a common location and is always visible.
- The pinned icons are take up too much space – they take up way more space than the 16 pixel icons I use and real estate on the taskbar is already critical. In short pinned icons are treated just like running apps except they are static and act as launch buttons.
Over the years I’ve come to rely heavily on my QuickLaunch bar for a few things that I constantly use throughout my day. Browser, email, and a few applications that aren’t installed apps (ie. not accessible via the Start Menu) or require parameterized startups are on my QuickLaunch bar. Alas, there’s no QuickLaunch in Windows 7 at least not natively. I lamented this fact on Twitter and got back an earful from a number of other folks also missing the Quick Launch bar.
Setting up a Quick Launch Toolbar
Luckily you can still create a Quick Launch although this process is manual and you have to explicitly add items to it. But you can recreate the behavior at least. Here’s what my setup looks like:
Notice the ‘QuickLaunch’ toolbar on the left before the standard set of Windows 7 icons that make up the core taskbar in combination with the “Always Combine, hide Labels” taskbar configuration option.
This works by creating a custom toolbar and manually adding icons to it. To create a custom toolbar:
- Right click on the taskbar and select Toolbars
- Select New Toolbar
- Select or create a folder where your shortcuts are stored
- Name the folder which will become the toolbar name
Make sure the toolbar is checked in the toolbar list so it displays. Once the toolbar is created you can start dragging shortcuts into from the desktop or from other toolbars. Unfortunately you can’t just drag and drop pinned shortcuts – to move those unpin them and drag them to the desktop and then drag them into the new toolbar.
One thing you’ll want to do to the new toolbar is remove the Show Text and Show title ticks on the toolbar’s context menu so you get just the small icons to display.
Finally you probably want to drag the entire toolbar to the leftmost side of the task bar. This didn’t work for me initially – it appears it’s a heck of a lot harder to drag toolbars around in Windows 7. To get this to work I had to make the toolbar bigger and keep clicking around near the handle area until the cross-hair cursor appeared. It appears you have to click on the inside of the handle in the middle of the toolbar (hence the bigger size):
The drag the toolbar to the left. It won’t appear to drag actually – it’ll resize but keep dragging to the left. Eventually the toolbar should end up at the left margin. Then size it down to the desired height you should then end up with the Quick Launch toolbar looking as it should:
Now when new programs install and ask to add items to the Quick Launch toolbar, they won’t automatically go to this toolbar – they’ll end up as pinned items on the main programs task bar. If you rather want them on your quick launch toolbar, unpin them and then drag them from the desktop into the quick launch toolbar.
With the Quick Launch in place I’m a happy camper damn those folks that say you should just get used to the pinned items on the new taskbar :-}.