Turn off all the excessive babysitter prompts ("are you sure you want to allow this?"), forget the hefty footprint (standard HDD sizes on new machines size can take it), and the one feature of Windows 7 which makes it my new best friend: improved file search.
Finally coming out of the dark ages and catching up with Spotlight for file indexing and searching, the lightening fast full-text search means that regardless of whatever quirky way I've decided to organize my multitude of academic files, articles, books, notes, fieldnotes, web junk and miscellaneous accumulation of unsorted mess, I can find it in a few keystrokes. I can even get it to trawl my Zotero database along with my other files. Academics, rejoice. And whatever you do, don't listen to the advice telling you to disable the file indexing system to save resources and speed up the OS. Slim down everything else, but not this.
What makes Win 7 file search worth blogging about is that all I'm really dependent upon to get my PhD done efficiently is a word processor and a browser. I didn't have any fieldnote software like NVivo when I was in the field, so all my files are in separate Word and Excel docs, in Zotero, zip archives or simply photo and video files. My folder tree is fairly logical, but my PDFs, articles, books and resources are scattered across folders corresponding to 8 years of Higher Education and hundreds of subject headers. More file creation and management software never helped. In fact, I discovered a long time ago that I don’t need or want more software to manage it all. That just produces an even more fragmented mess plus ties me in to costly proprietary software. All I need is a good search system.
Congrats, Microsoft. You've made your first improvement since Windows 3.1 (I still have a copy; too bad it won’t dual boot). I'm impressed.