Monday, January 3, 2011

Beginners' Guide to Windows 7 - Step-by-step

So you've unwrapped a shiny new computer that runs Windows 7, feeling euphoric to have something new since the old computer that ran Windows XP or Vista. But where do you start? What do you do? I did the same a few days ago, and wanted a step-by-step guide that explained all the new features in the newest edition of Windows. But I didn't find any such thing.

Sure, Microsoft does have a getting started guide for Windows 7 that I checked out and liked a lot, but it's all scattered here and there, and most of it is video and animation, which doesn't do a lot of good for people with slow connections. And it's simply too much. I wanted a quick, short and step-by-step guide.

So I set out myself to write a guide in order to help you out.

Note: This guide was written on Windows 7 Home Premium. A lot of Aero features and other stuff will be missing in Windows 7 Starter and Home Basic editions.

Windows 7 is simply a magical operating system. It has more eye-candy than Windows ever had before, and things are readily accessible and snappy. Windows 7 doesn't crash and hang noticeably in the way Vista did. But maybe that's because I am now working on a more powerful computer that's running Windows 7 64-bit. Anyways, many flaws have been fixed.

So, when you set-up a brand new PC, here are the following steps you should take in order to check out all the new features one by one and get started right away, without wasting any time.

Get acquainted with the new Taskbar
Windows 7 changes things. The Taskbar and its functionality have been revamped. It is not the same as it used to be in the past few decades. When you get started using Windows 7, you certainly have to make out how the Taskbar now works.

Refer to this image as you read! [Click on it to open a large version]

In effect, the Quick Launch bar and the regular Taskbar features have been merged together. You are now able to pin your programs to the Taskbar. When you start them, they are marked. The icon looks like an embossed button instead of flat, as when the program is closed.

When you have multiple windows in a single program, the icon looks like two buttons stacked on one another. When you click them, you see a small pop-up that allows you to look at the windows, before you click one and open it.

The Notification Area has changed slightly. There is a little arrow that points up (see the picture above) instead of the slide-out button that displayed hidden icons. Optionally, you can always display the icons that you like from the settings. Also, if you notice there is a transparent button-like thingy to the right of the Notification Area. Click it to see the desktop. It works exactly like the Show Desktop button in the older versions. Except that you can mouse over it to use Aero Peek. You 'peek' through all the open windows and see the desktop and gadgets when you do that (with Aero enabled).

I won't go into every detail, but there are other features like Jump Lists on the Taskbar and other features like Aero Snap, Shake and more in the interface. And you'll discover a lot more by yourself when you're out in the wild and using your computer yourself. Trust me.

Change the theme
Windows 7 has a better and more usable system for getting and managing themes for your desktop and more. Change the theme on your new computer before doing anything else and get rid of the boring, generic manufacturer's wallpaper or the Windows 7 wallpaper (which is really elegant, by the way).

When you right-click the desktop and hit Personalize, you are greeted with a window very much different from Windows Vista, and simply incomparable from XP.

Themes are given more importance than desktop backgrounds, window color and screensavers separately. When you select a theme here, your background is changed along with the window color and also the... system sounds!

Most of the themes have multiple wallpapers, which, by default, cycle every hour. You can of course, change this. The sounds all over the computer are also changed. All the default themes have specific sounds pre-enabled for error messages, notifications, UAC prompts, Windows log-on and log-off, and a lot more.

Through the Personalization window, you can also visits Microsoft's gallery of themes. And this time, there is an official gallery with some marvelous themes available for free downloads (updated regularly).

Set up HomeGroup
If you have multiple computers in your household that run Windows 7, you can easily share printers, media and files over your home network (I mean really easily) using the new HomeGroup feature.

Since I don't have multiple Windows 7 computers, I haven't used this. So I can't help a lot. But when you connect to a network, Windows automatically asks you if you want to set it up and guides you through the process. And you can always access HomeGroup settings through the Control Panel.

Check out Windows Media Player 12
Windows Media Player 12 is exclusively available for Windows 7. And it has some exclusive features that can only be used with Windows 7. That's bad, Microsoft.

But anyway, since you are now enjoying the fact that your new PC has got so much packed into the small body, just go have a look at the new Windows Media Player, even if you're already downloading iTunes in the background.

Windows Media Player 12 has a flashy new interface, easily navigable and straightforward, it shouldn't be a problem for anyone who happens to be using it, be it a straight beginner, or a full-time programmer who works for Google. I don't need to explain anything here, except mentioning that this version of Windows Media Player supports streaming media from your home straight to your portable computer (that also happens to be running the same version of the player, and in effect, Windows 7). You can set it up from the Stream button at the top.

Check out the updated Windows applications
There is a lot of new stuff to see in Windows 7. Some of them are the apps that come with Windows. Microsoft Paint has finally (!) got a brand new interface. It has a ribbon at the top, which makes it look like Microsoft Office 2010. Some options, like Crop are available at hand, and overall the app looks great. But it is still the same old photo editing and drawing app that it used to be.

WordPad that by default, comes with Windows also has the ribbon from Microsoft Office.

It looks so much like Word, doesn't it? You can fool people!

Install new applications!
C'mon! You have a brand new computer running Windows! Why not go install some programs to start out with?

I will be posting a list of programs that I first go out and install on a new (or refurbished) computer the first thing after setting it up. So check back soon! Until then, you can check out the lists others have made on the web.

UPDATE! Here's the must-have apps article.
Also, here's an old article of mine that lists out the must-have apps for geeks.

Lifehacker has a pack of (self-installing) apps that is updated every year. Here's the one from 2010. CNET's has three lists of recommended first apps for Windows also. They are the Windows Starter Kit, Security Starter Kit and Utilities Starter Kit.

Want to purchase Windows 7?
Get the best deals at Amazon:

Windows 7 Home Premium
Windows 7 Professional
Windows 7 Ultimate

Here's the comparison chart.