I mentioned in a previous posting (Computer Disasters, 1/22/11) that Windows 7 is so packed with features, you will never discover them all on your own. You have to buy a book. Here are a few:
- Speech Recognition. Yes, you can actually lean back with your hands behind your head and just talk to your computer. You can, for example, open Word, begin a new document, and dictate what you want, all hands-free. Of course, it takes some time to set it up. It first goes through all of your other documents to build your unique vocabulary. You then teach it your speech pattern. And, as you use it, it gets better and better. When it misunderstands, you can correct it—all by voice—and it learns. The correction is cleaver. You pick the incorrect word, and it you gives a short list of other possibilities. If none are right, you can spell it out. Next time, it will know.
- Remote Access. This was available on previous versions of Windows, but you probably did not know about it. If you have a problem with your computer and a brilliant grandchild (aren’t they all?), this feature allows them to run your computer from anywhere in the world. You sit back and watch them move your cursor around on your screen while they fix your problem. When they finish, close the program and they have to ask permission to help you again.
- Windows Manipulation. If you have a desktop full of reduced windows open, (not full-screen, not minimized, but in between) you can take the one you want and shake it. All of the other windows minimize. How cool is that? Drag a reduced window to a side edge and it fills half the screen. Why would you use this? Most monitors are now very wide, so you can drag a window to each side. You now have two windows opened together and you can work on both. Also, trying to read a line of type that stretches the entire width of your monitor can be a chore. A half-width window is much easier. (Some of these special effects, more fun than useful, are only available in Windows 7 if your computer is robust enough for them.)
- Search. This is the real game-changer. People were always losing files. They were patronizingly advised to set up a logical file system and always notice where downloaded and saved files were headed before hitting Enter. Still they lost them. So, now, Search is the key to everything. It works as fast as Google and brings up a menu of possibilities even before you finish typing. No longer are you expected to step through your not-always-logical hierarchy to find the file you want. Just press the Microsoft key on the keyboard, and the Start menu will open with your cursor on the Search box. Type either the file name or any word in the file. It will quickly find all possibilities. Pick the one you want, and it will open it in the correct program to use it. You can even search for a program, such as “Excel,” or “Speech,” or a help question, or a favorite website. Wake up your computer in the morning, and your first step will usually be Search. (With the Sleep function, there is no longer any reason to completely turn off your computer except when instructed to after installing programs or updates.)