Windows 7: An Introduction for the XP Pro User

Reviewed by Erik Hammarlund

If you bought Windows XP Pro because you feared Vista, if you are still using Office 2003 because you don’t like the Office 2007 interface, or if you dislike change, you won’t like Windows 7 at first. On the other hand, if you use a Mac at home, if you prefer to rely on searches over folders, if you find the XP Pro interface clunky, or if you often wonder “why won’t XP do this simple thing?” you may well love Windows 7.

After all, there really are some handy upgrades in Windows 7. My favorite example is “Snap”: When you drag a window to either side of the screen, it pops to fill precisely that half of the screen. Repeat the process on the other side and you have two perfectly sized windows for comparison. No more “drag-to-resize” chores. No more overlapping windows. It’s great.

Although Windows 7 has a different feel than XP throughout, the changes to the Start menu, desktop, and taskbar are the most obvious. In XP Pro, for example, selecting “all programs” on the Start menu will expand the menu as much as necessary to display the entire list of programs, all at once. In Windows 7, the Start menu stays a (small) fixed size, forcing you to scroll through it to see the whole list.

That’s because you aren’t supposed to use the Start menu much at all. In Windows 7 the taskbar is also a dock. You can leave your common programs “pinned” to the taskbar and click on them to open. This is nice for your daily selections because you’re doing the same thing both to open and to select a program. It’s annoying, though, when you try to switch to a program only to find it opening, and the need to scroll through the small start menu to find and open programs you haven’t bothered pinning to the taskbar slows the entire process down. A larger annoyance is that the taskbar, which works just fine for programs, doesn’t work as well for folders. If you want to have quick-launch folders as in XP, you’ll need to Google “pin folder to taskbar” and follow the multistep instructions available online.

Speaking of folders, I have bad news for die-hard XP Pro users. “My Documents” is gone, along with “My Music.” Windows 7 has replaced that type of folder with “libraries,” which are a type of smart folder.

If you’ve ever used iTunes playlists or Copernic saved searches, or if you work frequently with tags and keywords, then you’re familiar with smart folders. They are collections of virtual shortcuts, as opposed to being collections of actual files. That means that the same file can appear in many different smart folders, just as your favorite iTunes song might be both in your “Workout” playlist and your “Evening” playlist.

As a result, any Windows 7 library can display items from any location all at once, from different folders or even on different computers. That gives you immense flexibility in tracking collections of files. The disadvantage of libraries is that you lose the constant awareness of exactly where documentsare “really” located—an awareness that many of us depend on to back up documents, secure them, and encrypt them.

You’ll notice a pattern here: (1) Microsoft decides that you shouldn’t be using a particular feature, such as a big Start menu or My Documents; (2) Microsoft designs something that is arguably an improvement; and (3) instead of offering both options, Microsoft removes the “bad” feature. Too bad, if you liked it.

That pretty much sums up the entire philosophy of Windows 7 and why many XP Pro users will have a love/hate relationship with it. Windows 7 represents a new way of interacting with your data and your operating system.

Regarding data, Microsoft’s New World Order has dictated that we shouldn’t care where our data is. We should only be able to find it. So instead of remembering that my estate planning form is in r:\HLO Forms\Estates, I should simply start searching for it. Instead of using My Documents, I should be using indexed search, or favorites, or some combinations of the two set up as a library.

Regarding the interaction with your operating system, you need to let Microsoft lead you. The new settings really can be more efficient (you couldn’t pay me to go back to Office 2003, and I’m rapidly gaining speed on Windows 7), but only if you change and learn to use them.

The uncomfortable part is giving up the control. In order to rely on Microsoft’s data model, you have to trust search. And in order to make Windows 7 worthwhile as an operating system, you have to change how you interact with your computer.

I’m still suspicious of Microsoft, and there’s only so much I can change my habits in any given day. I’ve tweaked Windows 7 to resemble XP more in function, and I still don’t want to rely on libraries much. And I still miss XyWrite every now and again. But in the end, I have to admit that I can do more, faster, and better with Windows 7 than I ever could before. Perhaps, some day, I’ll even reinstall Windows Live (for more, see the sidebar “Options and Extras,” above).

If your XP machine works, I’d leave it alone. But if you are buying a new machine, or if you are frustrated by Vista, I’d install Windows 7. After two weeks, you’ll be glad you did.

Windows 7: The Consultant's Perspective

Reviewed by Mark Deal and Alan Dratch

Windows 7 is Microsoft’s newest and certainly best desktop operating system. It is full of hidden gems, demonstrates significantly improved stability, and sports an improved interface that is so subtle that the average user will not notice any major changes. However, these subtle changes hide many features that will be greatly appreciated at the average law practice.

Is it worth the upgrade? Well, Windows XP was released ten years ago, and I do not usually see very many ten-year-old cars in the parking lot outside of most law firms. Although Vista may not have encouraged many law firms to upgrade, Windows 7 is different. It’s full of features that should get your attention. From our perspective as consultants, it is time to make the move. You will want and need the hardware to run it, and if you do not currently have that hardware, then, yes, it is time to upgrade your hardware as well. For now, let’s discuss the reasons you want to consider the move to Windows 7.

Manage your desktop. Windows 7 makes it much easier to arrange applications, documents, and other windows on your desktop. One of the hidden gems is the ability to dock a window on one-half of the screen, in essence treating a single monitor as two monitors. For example, if you have two documents open on your desktop in previous versions of Windows, you would have the ability to tile them or cascade them on the desktop. The problem is that you never had the chance to choose which windows to act upon; it was an all-or-nothing game. In Windows 7, you now have the ability to dock a window to the left or right of any monitor. Simply drag a document to the left or right of the screen and it will expand automatically to fit one-half of the monitor. Drag another document to the other side and it will expand to fill the other half. This is a great way to view two documents at the same time. For the keyboard drivers out there, you get the same affect with the Windows key plus the left and right arrow keys.

Go to the library. One of the more interesting new features in Windows 7 is something Microsoft refers to as “libraries.” A library is a collection of folders that you wish to manage as a single folder. Most lawyers who use Microsoft Outlook utilize this concept regularly by creating folders within Outlook to manage their e-mail. In Windows 7, you now can create a library and add client folders, images, and music to the library and treat them as a single folder. You can even include Outlook e-mail in the library.

The library can be shared with other users, but it is not necessarily intended to replace a server’s shared files. The best part is that Windows 7 gives the user a single “view” of multiple folders and files but does not move the files into the single folder structure. Instead, it points to the files in their native locations so that you are always working with live data. This concept really shines when you create a library of pictures from several different folders because it consolidates all of your pictures into a single structure that you can share with others. We anticipate improved use of this concept as other software embraces it.

Take notes. How many Post-it notes do you have stuck to the edges of your monitor? Get rid of the paper clutter and use your monitor as something other than a bulletin board by using the built-in Sticky Notes feature in Windows 7. Sticky Notes are note cards that replace their paper equivalent. They are color coded, simple to use, resizeable, and will save a lot of trees. To use them, click on the Start menu, Accessories, and Sticky Notes.

Calculate it. How old was your client at the time of the incident? What is the equivalent cash value of an annuity if my client elects to go that route? The often-ignored Windows Calculator has been improved in Windows 7 and now can help with scientific, programming, and statistical calculations—not to mention mortgages, leases, temperature conversions, and time calculations.

Manage your documents. Windows 7 can now search internal and external drives for any file you have misplaced. Open the Start menu and begin typing in the search box at the bottom of the menu. If the file is anywhere on your PC, Windows 7 indexes it and will find it for you. If you are using Windows 2008 server, you can take advantage of the server’s indexing capabilities to search network drives as well.

Shuffle your windows. We are frequently amazed at how many documents people have open on their desktop at the same time. We may never understand how anybody can work on ten or more documents at one time, but Windows 7 offers an improved way to keep up with them. If you hold the Ctrl key down while clicking on the application’s icon in the Taskbar, Windows will cycle through the open windows of that application. Each click will display the next window in sequence in the order that you opened them.

Snip it. If you have ever needed to capture something on your screen to paste into a document, the Snipping Tool does the job. You can copy a single graphic from a web page, crop a picture, or capture a few lines from an Adobe Acrobat document. If it can be viewed on your screen, the Snipping Tool can capture it for you.

One ring to rule them all. This article has addressed some of the new features of Windows 7, but we would be remiss if we did not mention that there are some interface changes that may cause you to search for features that you were once familiar with in previous versions of Windows. There is an undocumented solution to this problem as well. In Windows 7, create a new folder and give it the following name:


When you open the folder, it will contain just about every possible configuration tool that you need to manage Windows 7. As an aside, it does not seem to matter what you use in place of “OneRing” in the sample above.

Hardware and software compatibility. Any new computer you buy today should be able to run Windows 7. For the best performance and the fewest headaches, consider a dual-core processor and 4 GB of RAM. If you elect the 64-bit version of Windows 7 (see the sidebar “Options and Extras” on page 63), then you should consider adding even more RAM. The minimum requirements can be found on Microsoft’s website (, and this site also includes a free application that will scan your hardware and offer upgrade advice.

If you have an application that will not run on Windows 7, Microsoft offers Virtual PC for free. This tool allows you to run an XP window inside Windows 7, but this is only available on Windows Professional and Ultimate.

Conclusion. Windows Vista may not have encouraged the legal community to invest in the upgraded hardware it required, but Windows 7 is the game changer. Make the switch. You owe it to your bottom line to become more productive.


  • Erik Hammarlund practices law in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts; he may be reached at eh@hammarlundlaw.comor via his website, Mark Deal has for 15 years been a principal of Document & Data Solutions, LLC (, which specializes in business automation using HotDocs, Time Matters, and PCLaw; he may be reached at Alan Dratch has been supporting law firm networks in the greater Atlanta, Georgia, area since 1997; he is the principal of Best Network Support ( and may be reached at

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