Over the past several post-Beta Windows 7 builds, we've seen a crazy number of changes, and I've been told to expect that to continue as Microsoft rolls ever onward to the Release Candidate (RC) build, due publicly next month. Today, the Engineering Windows 7 blog piped up about this very issue, as it turns out, discussing publicly some more changes to expect in the RC. With comments, of course. :)

Note that most of these are very minor changes, as usual.

Desktop Experience

1. Improved taskbar thumbnail overflow

Our customers are enjoying how windows are grouped and revealed on the enhanced taskbar.

Um. Not all of your customers enjoy the default taskbar button grouping scheme, actually. I have stated this repeatedly, and still feel very strongly, that the default view is anti-productive and confusing to users. A better choice is the option "Combine when taskbar is full," which provides button labels and, more importantly, different buttons for different windows. In the default view, a single IE button can have any number of underlying windows (and tabs). It's a bad system, and I don't mean just for me.

Improved overflow is fine but nowhere near as meaningful as doing the right thing here.

2. Control Panel Jump List

Right-clicking on the Control Panel icon on the taskbar in Beta revealed a noticeably sparse Jump List ... Now [it] surfaces recently used items.

A minor refinement.

2. PowerShell Jump List
3. Remote Desktop Jump List

These will affect very few users. And the list is mis-numbered. :)

4. Applying taskbar settings

For a variety of reasons, previous versions of Windows saved taskbar settings only after Explorer exited at the end of a session.

So. This is a bug fix.

Touch

5. Multi-touch zoom

We have added support for the zoom gesture in Windows Explorer.  Using the zoom gesture you can switch between view modes in Explorer such as zooming from Small Icons to Extra Large icons.

Neat.

Windows Explorer and Libraries

6. Invert Selection

"Invert Selection" [is a] rarely used feature [that] is pretty complex to implement in the context of virtualized lists ... we added back the functionality for RC.

If only you gave this level of attention to the important stuff. The taskbar default view. The inconsistencies between the taskbar button and tray notification icon behaviors. You know, the big stuff. The message here seems to be, no picayune issue is too small to ignore, while the important stuff is always to big to address.

7. Going up?

We’ve heard feedback, especially from those on this blog,  that in Windows 7 moving up in the folder hierarchy often requires multiple clicks ... For RC, the parent folder’s button will appear in the address bar at all times and therefore going ‘up’ will always be a single click away in a predictable location.

Small, but nice. Certainly more of an issue than "invert selection."

8. Finding music by artist

In RC, the “Artist” view in the Music Library groups together multiple tracks from an album by the common “Album Artist” property when it is available, groups tracks from compilation albums together into a “Various Artists” group and finally resorts to grouping by “Contributing Artist”.

This is a bug fix. That should have simply been there already.

9. New folder is always available

We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback during Beta about adding a top level “New folder” button in Explorer, freeing customers from digging into submenus.  A common complaint we received, however, was that the button only appeared when nothing is selected.  For RC, we’ve changed this so the “New folder” button will always appear, regardless of selection.

10. Right-click in Windows Explorer

We heard feedback that it was too hard to find space and get to the view’s background context menu for items such as New and Paste.

11. Content view for search results

12. Intelligent re-indexing after application installation

In Win7 Beta (and previous versions of Windows), customers were required to rebuild their index whenever a new file handler was installed ...

Performance

13. Trimming sound schemes to help performance

We know our customers care about performance. We discovered that by just trimming the shutdown and logoff WAV files, we could save up to 400 ms. Every little bit counts.

More bug fixes. It should always work like that.

Device Stage

14. Baseline Device Stage experience

Several manufacturers are implementing custom experiences, but a large number have also opted to support their older devices in what we call the “baseline” Device Stage experience ... This UX works exactly like full Device Stage; the device image appears on the taskbar whenever it is connected and tasks are exposed in the Jump List.

15. Devices and Printers enhancement

PC and laptop makers such as Lenovo, were very interested in doing more than just showing the machine’s icon in Devices and Printers. They told us they wanted to leverage Device Stage to help them better customize the experience for our mutual customers. In RC double-clicking on the PC icon now offers a Device Stage UX. Like the other Device Stage devices, Device Stage for PC will be enabled when the PC maker has chosen to participate with their system.

Small but important and elegant expansions of this feature. They both make sense, and these are the type of refinements you get when you actually use received feedback about a product. Good one.

Devices and Printers

16. Unified experience for removing devices

[Previously], removing a printer only removed the print queue and for Bluetooth devices it only removed the pairing of the device to the PC. We have changed this action to always completely uninstall the device across all device classes – which is the action that most customers expect.

17. Hardware properties

We know enthusiasts use the Device Manager’s property page to check the status of a device. We heard feedback that this wasn’t convenient and so we now also surface the property page directly from the Devices and Printers experience. Simply right-click on the device and one has one less reason to visit Device Manager.

18. Improved eject experience

Based on feedback, we have integrated Safely Remove hardware and Eject to one option, "Eject."

Common sense. (i.e. are arguably bug fixes as this is the way it should always work.)

19. USB device reliability on resume

20. FireWire camera support

Some customers informed us they were unable to connected their 1394 HDV camera and stream its contents to their Beta machine. With the help of customers, we were able to identify a fault with our core 1394 stack and we’ve validated the scenario works in RC.

Device Installation

21. Add Legacy Hardware functionality restored

The Add Legacy Hardware action was provided in Device Manager on past Windows releases to install non-Plug and Play devices. We removed this functionality for Windows 7 with the belief that this was rarely used ... this functionality has been restored to Device Manager for RC to help add non-Plug and Play devices.

22. Increased responsiveness of Add Printer Wizard

Bug fixes, plain and simple.

System

23. Partition size reduction

In Windows Vista, configuring features such as Windows Recovery Environment and Bit Locker required significant customer interaction.  Also, a significant amount of drive space was reserved. The Windows 7 System partition enables features to be configured to work “out of the box” so very little customer interaction is needed to configure and utilize them.  Based on feedback and telemetry data received through the beta, it became clear that we could cut the drive size in half (from 200M to 100M).

24. Reserved System Partition naming

The system partition is created automatically by Setup when installing on a machine with no existing partitions ... We will now label it “System Reserved”.

This one has been in planning for some time, I was told at a recent reviewer's workshop. It's a simple refinement, but in the days of 320 GB hard drives on starter laptops, it's unclear what difference this really makes. Just a simple refinement.

25. Dual Boot partition drive letter assignment

For a dual boot configuration for the Beta, the other Windows OS wouldn’t get a drive letter and therefore wouldn’t show up in explorer. Assigning the drive letter makes it visible in explorer and aids in navigation across OS installations.

Common sense bug fix.

26. Pagefile reduction

Through extensive use of Beta telemetry data, we have determined we can slim down the Windows disk footprint further by reducing the default page file size to be 100% of the available main memory.  It used to be "Memory + 300MB."

Network

27. Improved driver support

Based on telemetry data received from the beta, we identified networking drivers that were not available inbox.  We worked with ecosystem partners to achieve increased inbox driver coverage across wireless and wired with significant coverage for some of the new ATOM-based laptops.

Both are simple refinements, and both should help on low-end systems. (Especially netbooks.)

OK. So what have we learned here?

Of the 28 items, most can be labeled bug fixes or minor feedback-related refinements. Very few involve any major UI changes, which is odd because we've seen a lot of UI work occurring over the 703x - 705x builds, and we can expect more before RC is finalized. Microsoft still refuses to address the (admittedly few) very real UX issues in Windows 7, the most notable of which (the taskbar) could be "fixed" with a simple default button view change. That's too bad, but we are making progress.