Windows 7's worst features

Windows 7 fixed many of Vista's ills, but it also introduced a few of its own.

There's a lot to love about the Windows 7 operating system: it's fast, it looks great, and it has some cool features--like Jump Lists for quickly opening recently used files, Homegroup for sharing files between computers, and Aero Snap to help you quickly organize your open desktop windows.

Windows 7 is addresses some of the problems that plagued its predecessor, Windows Vista, such as the Universal Access Control security system, the constant stream of notifications, and the lack of device drivers for printers and other peripherals.

Microsoft hasn't solved all of those issues--in fact, getting Windows 7 drivers for some printers continues to be a struggle--but so far Windows 7 is a vast improvement over Vista, despite their underlying similarities.

That said, Windows 7 has downsides of its own. Some of the problems involve minor inefficiencies that grow annoying over time; others truly degrade the user experience through lack of functionality, poor organization, or an overabundance of choice. Here are the problem children of Windows 7--the faulty features I found in the Home Premium version of Microsoft's latest OS.

When Clicking Isn't Switching

If you're looking for a good reason never to use Internet Explorer 8 in Windows 7, try this: Open multiple tabs in IE 8, and open a Microsoft Word document. Then click the IE icon in the taskbar, and...nothing happens. Instead of switching over to Internet Explorer as you'd expect it to, Windows 7 greets you with miniature pop-ups for every tab you've opened in IE and asks you to choose the one you'd like to go to.

This feature, called Aero Peek, is actually a nice idea, since you get to choose the tab you want to see. But we've been trained for years to expect to switch to a new program when we click on its icon in the taskbar, so why change the behavior now? In Windows 7, many Microsoft-made programs (including Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer 8, and Windows Live Messenger) use this feature. But since you can also activate Aero Peek by hovering over a taskbar icon instead of clicking it, a better solution for Windows 7 would be, hover to peek but click to switch.

The Automatic Switch

Thanks to another Aero Peek function, when you move your pointer over any of the small pop-ups, you suddenly find yourself in the new program--except that you aren't really there. When you mouse over a pop-up, the corresponding application fills the screen, but when you move the pointer to go to the app the app disappears. The purpose of this feature is to enable you to quickly navigate to another program like IE, refer to something in the browser, and then jump back to where you were. But suppose that you're in Microsoft Word and you jump over to IE 8 to check out a news item on CNN. As you read the article, you decide to click an accompanying video--but the moment you move your mouse, you're back in Microsoft Word. That's not helpful; it's frustrating.

Windows 7 behaves similarly when you hover over 'All programs' in the Start Menu. Hover too long over 'All programs', and Windows 7 will switch to your full programs list instead of remaining in the primary Start Menu. Unfortunately, this little trick takes just under 2 seconds to pull off, which is too slow to be useful but just fast enough to be annoying.

Too Many Notifications

Windows 7 greatly improves on Vista by cutting down the number of system notification pop-ups that interrupt you during a Windows session--but there's still room to cut down on the excess. For example, Windows 7 issues an "Information" notice when you plug headphones or speakers into your computer's headphone jack. You can't get a virus through a headphone jack, though, so why alert me to something so innocuous?

The most ridiculous alert I've encountered was an update telling me that Windows 7 was going to check for a system update at 3 a.m. Do I need to know this? Just do the update; and if you need my authorization to proceed, let me know when it's time. My computer should work on my schedule, not interrupt me with details about its itinerary.

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
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