Microsoft has released the latest version of its operating system, Windows 7.

The new release supplants Windows Vista, the three-year-old operating system that was widely criticized for its slowness on older computers and initial lack of compatibility with various hardware products. Windows 7 is said to require less-demanding computing resources and offer a wider range of compatibility out of the box. Microsoft has also added various user interface improvements, along with expanded networking features, faster start-up times, and touch-screen capabilities on some new computer models.

Improvements include a redesigned taskbar with thumbnail previews of videos and other active files, and the ability to “pin” favorite files and programs to the taskbar. Jump Lists take users to documents, pictures, songs and Web sites they use often. A new “HomeGroup” feature lets home computer users share files and printers with other PCs running Windows 7 in the same home.

Mobility features include an indicator showing the status of all connected devices such as cameras and mobile phones so they can be more easily synchronized and managed.

User interface improvements include Aero Snap, which lets users drag an open window to the screen’s border to automatically resize it. Aero Shake allows users to click on a window pane and shake the mouse to minimize all other open windows and then shake the pane again to restore the windows to their original sizes. A desktop search engine helps users locate documents, songs, e-mails and other types of files on their PCs.

Add-ons include downloadable Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Movie Maker applications for editing photos and videos and sharing them with others. Another free download, Microsoft Security Essentials, helps protect users against viruses, spyware and other malicious software.

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