July 06, 2010, 8:17 AM — by Daniel P. Dern - Although "Microsoft Windows" is commonly referred to as an operating system -- the master program that coordinates user interaction with application programs, and application interactions with the hardware and the file system -- the product sold as Windows (like, to be fair, Unix, Linux, MacOS and many other things referred to as OSs) includes an ever-growing cornucopia of utilities, productivity applications, troubleshooting programs, and, of course, consumer/entertainment applications, and games.
Much of this, however, isn't obvious, particularly if you don't know the names for these things, and haven't taken the time to read any "what's new" articles, read an introductory book like Windows 7 For Dummies, or watched some free online training videos.
Here are 6 included apps (or features) that are new to Windows 7, or improved, or were previously available from Microsoft as downloads but not bundled in, or that you simply may not yet know about, which you may find useful (or may encourage you to move to Windows 7). (Note, some of these aren't included in all versions of Windows 7.)
Like using Google, Windows Search is an addictive time-saver.
Windows 7's Search makes it easier to get to not just files but also programs, Control Panel settings, and email. As you type, Windows offers a list of matches, grouped, with highlighted text snippets or keywords; when you see what you want, stop typing in the Windows Search field, and go click on the result you want.
For example, if you've installed the PuTTY SSH program, typing "PU" into Windows Search is likely to bring PuTTY up as the first or even only choice; just click on that search result.
This is so much easier that even if you know where something "is," that using Windows Search can be a surprisingly quicker way to get to a program or file than by clicking through to it.
It is available from the Windows 7 Start menu and also through Windows Explorer.
WINDOWS SPEECH RECOGNITION
Windows Speech Recognition lets you control your computer, and dictate text, without using the keyboard or mouse -- a free, built-in alternative to buying something like Nuance's Dragon Naturally Speaking.
"Sticky Notes" creates post-it notes on your desktop view, which you can then type in, copy-and-paste, etc. I'm finding them useful for parking URLs, software key numbers for programs I'm trying, and other whatnot.
Screen shots, a.k.a. "screen grabs," are often useful, whether to illustrate a point, copy a piece of a web site, report a problem, or... well, whatever you might want a screen grab for.
Windows 7's free Snipping Tool isn't as versatile as the well-known Snagit or sundry browser add-ons (which are, of course, only useful in the browser)... but it's right there, built in, and can grab, a window, the entire area, or a rectangular or freehand-selected portion of the screen. (I did all the screen grabs for this article with the Snipping Tool.)
Desktop "Gadgets" are small programs, like a clock, calendar, weather bug, etc. In Vista, these all had to be in the Sidebar; with Windows 7, you can drag a gadget wherever you want, and resize it.
MATH INPUT PANEL
If you need to write and correct equations on the computer, the Math Input Panel may be just the ticket -- with a few minutes of practice.
For more Windows 7 tips, see:
Free Windows 7 training videos (and more)
Windows 7 upgrade: What you can, can't, and should do
Bend Windows 7 to your will
Windows 7 Migration: Don't rush the prep work
Migrate to a new Windows 7 PC