Users who don't want to give them up can find all three at live.windows.com as free Windows Live Essentials downloads. They may even come with your new PC, courtesy of deals Microsoft is striking with PC manufacturers. But since they are no longer tied to the leisurely release schedules of Windows, they are far less likely than most bundled Windows apps to remain mired indefinitely in an underachieving state.
Still present--and nicely spruced up--are the operating system's two applications for consuming audio and video, Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center. Windows Media Player 12 has a revised interface that divides operations into a Library view for media management and a Now Playing view for listening and watching stuff. Minimize the player into the Taskbar, and you get miniplayer controls and a Jump List, both of which let you control background music without having to leave the app you're in. Microsoft has added support for several media types that Media Player 11 didn't support, including AAC audio and H.264 video--the formats it needs to play unprotected music and movies from Apple's iTunes Store.
Media Center--not part of the bargain-basement Windows 7 Starter Edition--remains most useful if you have a PC configured with a TV tuner card and you use your computer to record TV shows à la TiVo. Among its enhancements are a better program guide and support for more tuners.
Windows Vista's oddly underpowered Backup and Restore Center let users specify particular types of files to back up (such as 'Music' and 'Documents') but not specific files or folders. Though Microsoft corrects that deficiency in Windows 7, it deprives Windows 7 Starter Edition and Home Premium of the ability to back up to a network drive. That feels chintzy, like a car company cutting back on an economy sedan's airbags. It also continues the company's long streak of issuing versions of Windows that lack a truly satisfying backup utility.
The new version of Paint has Office 2007's Ribbon toolbar and adds various prefabricated geometric shapes and a few natural-media tools, such as a watercolor brush. But my regimen for preparing a new Windows PC for use will still include installing the impressive free image editor Paint.Net.
The nearest thing Windows 7 has to a major new application has the intriguing moniker Windows XP Mode. It's not a way to make Windows 7 look like XP--you can do that with the Windows Classic theme--but rather a way to let it run XP programs that are otherwise incompatible with Win 7. Unfortunately, only Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate offer it, and even then it comes as an optional 350MB download that requires you to have Microsoft's free Virtual PC software installed and that only works on PCs with Intel or AMD virtualization technology enabled in the BIOS.