When one of the most talked about features of your upcoming operating system is its ability to emulate an older one, you have big problems. That was my initial reaction when I heard that the new Release Candidate version of Windows 7 would enable users to run older Windows XP apps in a virtual environment. But after I thought about it for a while, it made perfect sense. According to a recent survey of technology professionals, 84 percent of participants do not plan to upgrade to Windows 7 in the coming year, so why not try to court them by giving IT organizations a security blanket of sorts? Microsoft needs its OS to be a hit with businesses and consumers, and the lengths which the company is willing to go to make its customers happy speaks volumes about where Windows is heading. I don’t think it’s an insult when people claim that Microsoft isn’t attempting to wow its user base with all of the enhancements Windows 7 offers. Microsoft’s goal is to make Windows more usable and intuitive. Something as simple as Microsoft keeping a button for parent folders in the address bar in Windows Explorer makes a world of difference for me. I can’t stand how difficult it is to find and save files in Vista compared to XP, and it’s one of the reasons why I still use XP on my primary machine. I also like what Microsoft is doing with the taskbar to improve navigation and save users time. For example, Windows 7 lets you peek at or close a window directly from a list in the taskbar. In the same vein, the Control Panel Jump List lets you do a lot more without having to leave the desktop. Letting you do more in less clicks is not only important for those of us who are accustomed to using a mouse and keyboard, it’s critical for the next generation of touch-based notebooks that will be hitting the market later this year and into early 2010. The ability to perform gee-whiz gestures à la the iPhone will ring hollow if the rest of the time you’re jabbing at the screen multiple times just to perform simple tasks. Windows 7 offers several other enhancements on the touch computing front, including multitouch support for the touch keyboard (paving the way for touch-only netbooks, perhaps), the ability to perform right-clicks using two fingers and to select text inside Web pages. Just as encouraging is the work Microsoft is doing to tie its OS into the cloud, such as the new Remote Media Streaming feature. This clever addition lets you access the media libraries on your Windows 7 PC away from home (although having to provide a Windows Live ID to connect two computers is cumbersome); I could easily see this feature coming to Windows Mobile phones. And that’s the point. The more Microsoft can get consumers and business users alike excited about Windows 7, the better chance the company has at keeping its ecosystem of products relevant, whether it’s Windows inside your PC, phone, game console, or car. Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP's online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark's SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on twitter.
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