Sharing files and folders under Windows 98 was as simple as right-clicking a folder and selecting ‘share’. Windows XP, in an attempt to shore up system security, instituted a user-based sharing policy. While far more secure than 98’s system, it was hardly user friendly. Users either had to add their files to the ‘Shared Documents’ folder or mess around with the user accounts on multiple computers to grant access rights. Vista was setup in this manner as well and it was a real annoyance to share even the simplest of files.
The new homegroup feature aims to simplify sharing over one network, utilizing a password-based system to grant access privileges. Creating a homegroup is easy, just go into the Network and Sharing Center and click ‘Create HomeGroup.’ You select which libraries you want to grant HomeGroup user’s access to, as well as their access restrictions like read-only or full access. Once you’ve set your group password, it’s very easy to join the HomeGroup and share any folder on the network, as long as everyone is running Windows 7. This works really well to share files simply while also maintaining a basic level of security, especially given the prevalence of wireless networks.
Windows Media Center
Windows Media Center was originally released as an update for Windows XP and is Microsoft’s attempt at making an all-inclusive home theatre application. Windows 7 is set to include an updated version of Media Center, mostly in the interface. Media Center features some updated internet channels as well as finally delivering built-in support for Divx/Xvid files. Vista, on the other hand, required 3rd party codec packs to enable Divx functionality, such as the popular K-Lite Codec Pack.
Most of the other changes to Media Center revolve around streamlining the interface. The guide has been updated for instance to keep whatever show or video playing the background, as the guide information is displayed overlaid. This does away with the current incarnation, which puts the video picture into a small window in the corner. Browsing future TV listings has been simplified as well. If you hold down the left or right key on either your keyboard or remote, the hours and days flash by in a blur of motion, allowing you to skip ahead in search of potential recordings.
PC Games are subject to their fair share of patches, even during the intervening period of time between when they go gold and hit store shelves. Keeping games up to date can be difficult, as publishers rely on the media to relay the information that a necessary patch has been released. Windows 7, however, will check games on a set schedule and notify users of pending updates that need to be applied. When you right-click a shortcut in the games window, there is now an option to keep that application up to date. Users will be notified of patches and prompted to download should an update be detected by Windows.