Once active, XP Mode lets Windows 7 run apps that supposedly aren't compatible by launching them in separate windows that contain a virtualized version of XP. Microsoft clearly means for the mode to serve as a security blanket for business types who rely on ancient, often proprietary programs that may never be rewritten for current OSs.
Device Management: Setting the Stage
Windows 7 offers you numerous ways to connect your PC to everything from tiny flash drives to hulking networked laser printers--USB, Wi-Fi, ethernet, slots, and more. Devices and Printers, a new section of the Control Panel, represents connected gadgets with the largest icons I've ever seen in an operating system. (When possible, they're 3D renderings of the device; the one for Sansa's Clip MP3 player is almost life-size.)
More important, the OS introduces Device Stages--hardware-wrangling dashboards tailored to specific items of hardware, and designed by their manufacturers in collaboration with Microsoft. A Device Stage for a digital camera, for instance, may include a battery gauge, a shortcut to Windows' image-downloading tools, and links to online resources such as manuals, support sites, and the manufacturer's accessory store.
You don't need to rummage through the Control Panel or through Devices and Printers to use a Device Stage--that feature's functionality is integrated into Windows 7's new Taskbar. Plug in a device, and it will show up as a Taskbar icon; right-click that icon, and the Device Stage's content will at once appear as a Jump List-like menu.
Unfortunately, Device Stages were the one major part of Windows 7 that didn't work during my hands-on time with the final version of the OS. Earlier prerelease versions of Win 7 contained a handful of Device Stages, but Microsoft disabled them so that hardware manufacturers could finish up final ones before the OS hit store shelves in October. The feature will be a welcome improvement if device manufacturers hop on the bandwagon--and a major disappointment if they don't.
Even if Device Stages take off, most of their benefit may come as you invest in new gizmos--Microsoft says that it's encouraging manufacturers to create Device Stages for upcoming products, not existing ones. At least some older products should get Device Stages, though: Canon, for instance, told me that it's planning to build them for most of its printers. And Microsoft says that when no full-fledged Device Stage is available for a particular item, Windows 7 will still try to give you a more generic and basic one.
Input: Reach Out and Touch Windows 7