Review: A Close Look at Windows 7 RTM

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Sleeper features: Libraries and Search

No one runs an operating system just for the pleasure of the interface; the point is to get work done. And that means getting to your files quickly. But file-handling and search rarely get headlines.

With the release of Windows 7, perhaps they should. Windows 7 makes it much easier to organize and find files and folders; this will most likely save you far more time than you might imagine. In past versions of Windows, the operating system practically forced you to use the default Documents folder to store all your files. Even hard-core holdouts, including me, have given up fighting it; it's easier to switch than fight.

With the new Libraries folder structure, Windows' folder organization finally makes sense. It can greatly improve your productivity by letting you assemble a virtual library of all of your work folders and files, even if they're on multiple computers and drives. There's now a very good reason to use this default.

In Windows 7, the Documents folder has been replaced by Libraries, under which can be found separate Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos areas. That by itself is nothing new. What's new is that you can now add virtual locations to the Library.

Say you've got three networked PCs, and you'd like access to some of their folders on your Windows 7 PC. You can simply add the folders to your Library. They'll still live in their original location, but you'll be able to access their files over your network by simply opening them from within Libraries. Better still, when you do a search on your own PC, you search those folders as well. That means you can do networkwide searching from your PC, a big timesaver for those who work with multiple computers.

Be aware, though, that when you use your applications, the virtual folder feature can be somewhat confusing. Let's say you have a folder on a second drive in your PC. You include it as a virtual folder in Libraries. You can open up the file by going to Libraries and then navigating to the virtual location in Libraries, but you can't save the file by going to Libraries and then navigating to the virtual location in Libraries. To save a file, you instead have to go to the physical location, for example, on another drive or PC. Microsoft would do well to find a way to allow you to save to your virtual folders.

windows 7 rtm
The Libraries feature lets you add virtual folders so that you can easily access files and folders on other drives.

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Search has also been much improved. When you search from Windows Explorer, it's easier to customize and filter your searches using file name, author, file type and file size. You can also add tags from in Windows Explorer to individual files, and sort by them. And search now displays long snippets for each result, so that you can easily locate the file you want among many search results.

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