Windows Aero

Windows Aero is the premium user experience in Windows 7 and the one most users will want to access. Fortunately, it's also the one most users will access. It provides a number of unique features.

First, Windows 7 Aero enables the Aero Glass look and feel in which the Start menu, task-bar, and all onscreen windows and dialogs take on a glasslike translucent sheen. While this effect debuted in Windows Vista, it's been enhanced in Windows 7. In Figure 4-6, you can see how overlapping objects translucently reveal what's underneath.

Figure 4-6: The Aero Glass effect provides a heightened sense of depth and a more professional-looking user experience.

Aero Glass is designed to move the visual focus away from the windows themselves and to the content they contain. Whether that effort is successful is open to debate, but it's certainly true that window borders lose the vast, dark-colored title bars of previous Windows versions and provide a softer-looking and more organic-looking container around window contents. Compare Windows XP's My Computer window to Windows 7's Computer window in Figure 4-7.

When you have a lot of Aero windows open onscreen, it's often hard to tell which one is on top, or has the focus. Typically, that window will have a bright red Close window button, while lower windows will not.

Figure 4-7: In Windows XP, too much of the visual focus is on the title bar, whereas the software window chrome in Windows 7 puts the focus on the contents of the window.

When you utilize the Windows Aero user experience, you receive other benefits. Certain Windows 7 features, for example, are available only when you're using Aero. Windows Flip and Flip 3D, two task-switching features, are available only in Aero. Windows Flip 3D is shown in Figure 4-8.

Aero also enables dynamic window animations, so that when you minimize a window to the taskbar, it subtly animates to show you exactly where it went. This kind of functionality was actually first introduced in Windows 95, but it has been made more subtle and fluid in Windows 7. Aero also enables live taskbar thumbnails: when you mouse over buttons in the taskbar, a small thumbnail preview will pop up, letting you see the window or windows represented by that button without having to actually activate it first, as shown in Figure 4-9.

In addition to its obvious visual charms, Windows Aero also offers lower-level improvements that will lead to a more reliable desktop experience than you might be used to with previous Windows versions. Thanks to a graphics architecture that's based on DirectX video-game libraries, Windows 7 can move windows across the screen without any of the visual tearing or glitches that were common in Windows XP. The effect is most prominent in windows with animated content, such as when you're playing a video in Windows Media Player (WMP). But it's not just about looks. Windows Aero is simply more reliable than the other user experiences. To understand why that's so, we need to examine Aero's hardware and software requirements.

Figure 4-8: Flip 3D enables you to visually inspect all of the running tasks and pick the window you want.

Figure 4-9: Live taskbar thumbnails make it possible to preview windows without maximizing or bringing them to the forefront.

Figure 4-9: Live taskbar thumbnails make it possible to preview windows without maximizing or bringing them to the forefront.

Windows Flip and Flip 3D are typically accessed via keyboard shortcuts. The problem, of course, is that you have to know what those shortcuts are. To use Windows Flip, hold down the Alt key and tap the Tab key to cycle between all of the running applications and open windows. To use Flip 3D, hold down the Windows key and tap the Tab key to cycle between these windows.

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