Chris Alexander

On Engineering

Windows 7 for Students

19th October, 2009

Windows 7 is Microsoft’s latest version of its popular Operating System. But what’s new? What’s the benefit over Windows XP and Windows Vista? And (more importantly) how can it help you do better in your studies?

Now that Windows 7 is available to students, its time to see what’s what with the latest release, and what it can offer you if you upgrade.

If you’re a UK student and you don’t have access to Windows 7 through your University, you can get it for just £30 from The Ultimate Steal.

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Getting Windows 7

If you’re at the University of Reading, or another University that has an MSDN Academic Alliance (MSDNAA, the Reading one is called ELMS) you can go and download Windows 7 Professional Edition for free (for educational use!) right now. If you’re at Reading, just click here.

If you’re not eligible for this, or you can’t access it at your University, you can still get Windows 7 for only £30. Simply visit The Ultimate Steal, verify your University e-mail address, and you’re good to go!

Installing Windows 7

Installing Windows 7 is even quicker and easier than ever before. Don’t forget to back up all your files (especially your University work!!) before you do it, because there is no upgrade available from Windows XP / Vista to Windows 7.

Follow the simple installation instructions when you boot from the Windows 7 DVD, and you will be up and running in no time (when I did it I was ready to go in 1 hour, although leave plenty of time!)

But what about hardware support?

Windows 7′s hardware support is excellent - I only needed to install device drivers for my Nokia mobile phone, Windows 7 and Windows Update automatically took care of everything else.

If you bought your machine from a large PC store (PC World, Dell etc.) and everything worked fine under Windows Vista or Windows XP, chances are everything will be fine in Windows 7. If you built your own PC, you’ll have to check with your individual hardware manufacturers, but its more likely than not that recent hardware will be supported just fine.

For a detailed guide to installing Windows 7, check this excellent website.

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Using Windows 7

So what is Windows 7 actually like to use? In short, its incredibly easy, intuitive, and much more responsive than previous Windows versions. The new taskbar is much more usable than older versions, and there are improvements all over the operating system. Here are some of the highlights:

Window 7 has inherited the Start Menu Search from Vista, but made it lots better - faster and more efficient indexing and higher responsiveness make this tool completely in disposable on a day to day basis.

Simply open the Start Menu and start typing to search in your Programs, Files, and even E-Mails from Outlook if you have it installed.

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Jump Lists

Jump Lists are a new way to quickly access the features you use most in your programs.

Available by right-clicking or clicking and dragging upwards on icons in the Taskbar, or in the Start Menu, they provide links to commonly used functions in programs, or recently opened files in that application. The best bit is as developers, you will be able to access a .Net API that will allow you to build Jump Lists for your own Windows applications.

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Libraries

Libraries replace the old (My) Documents, (My) Music, (My) Pictures and so on of previous Windows operating systems. They provide an incredibly simple way of organising the files you have on your computer into accessible and easy-to-find locations. The way they work is simple - you tell each Library the various folder locations where they can find files you want to see in that Library, and it shows you the files and folders from all of those locations whenever you open the Library.

So for example, if I were to have a folder on my primary hard drive with my work documents in it, I could include it in the Documents Library. I could also include a folder from my secondary hard drive with my Uni work on it in the same Library. Then, when I visit the Documents Library, I see my documents for both work and Uni.

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Windows 7 for Students

So with all these new features, there are some that stand out for students. Whether it is increasing your productivity, getting your work done quicker, or making your computer more enjoyable to use, here are some top features and tips to help your Degree go as smoothly as possible.

I’ve already mentioned Libraries, but I’d like to mention them to re-iterate just how great they are for pulling in bits of information from all over your computer. You have already seen just how good they are at bringing together content you specify, and they become even more powerful coupled with Windows 7′s search functionality.

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Sharing with Homegroup

Homegroup is a new concept in Windows 7. If you have multiple computers running Windows 7 on your network, you want to be able to quickly and easily share files, folders and libraries between them securely. By adding each of your computers to your Homegroup, you can easily specify different sharing options for the Homegroup, so for example it is super-fast to share your Libraries with your other machines.

The best bit about it for students is that your files are protected from everyone else on the network. So if you live in a house with multiple people, or you are connected to the University network, you can still share your files with other Homegroup computers without risking making your data accessible to others.

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Taskbar Peek, Taskbar Thumbnails,Taskbar Controls and Flip

Some may say these features are just a bit of eye candy, but they really do help you get stuff done quicker. If you often have a lot going on at the same time on your computer, finding that window you want can’t always be that easy. Taskbar Peek occurs when you hover your mouse over an application’s icon in the taskbar. All your other application windows are made transparent so you can easily find the window you want.

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Taskbar Thumbnails are also visible in the above image - again hover over an icon, and a preview of the window will pop out of the taskbar. Application developers also have the ability to show multiple previews for a single application; for example Internet Explorer shows you a preview for each open tab in a particular window.

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There’s even the new ability to add Taskbar Controls to windows, and this is built into the new Windows Media Player. Life isn’t all work and no play after all.

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Finally, Windows Flip (you may recognise it as “Alt+Tab”) has been overhauled, and now provides previews of the windows as you switch between them. The coolest thing about all of these previews is that all of the previews are completely live, so if you’re watching a video in a window and you Alt+Tab, the video will appear playing in the preview window!

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Personalisation

The final cool thing I have to show you about Windows 7 (there’s lots more stuff but I don’t have the time to write about it all!) is the excellent personalisation available. The Control Panel has been completely re-built, and now it’s easier than ever to choose themes, add themes, and even create your own themes!

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Conclusion

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and get Windows 7 today! Have any other great tips? Add them to the comments for other users to discover!

If you don’t have access to Windows 7 then you can get it for just £30 from The Ultimate Steal.