Features baked into the first public Windows 7 build but hidden from most users can now be unlocked using a simple download.
So far, Microsoft's efforts to keep a tight lid on early Windows 7 builds haven't gone swimmingly. Not long after the M3 release was made available to developers at PDC, torrent copies started showing up online. Microsoft executives appeared resigned to having to put up with that state of affairs, sensibly reasoning that in this day and age material in digital format is rarely safe for long.
Despite that apparently relaxed attitude, we doubt that Redmond is entirely pleased with the latest development, which has seen a bunch of features that weren't due to debut in this pre-release version of Windows 7 made available to pretty much anyone with the energy to download a copy of Windows 7.
At both PDC and WinHEC, Microsoft made no secret of the fact that its internal staff were working with a later build than M3, one which featured a considerably enhanced taskbar and other user interface improvements. (The M3 build is API-complete but missing many user interface options, partially because the distribution of those options won't become clear until the version plan for Windows 7 is nailed down).
However, when hacker Rafael Rivera Jr dug into the Windows 7 code, he discovered a protection scheme designed to stop some features incorporated within the build, including the enhanced taskbar, from being accessed by standard users (the options are only available to employees logging on from a recognised Microsoft domain). Rivera has now released a tool dubbed "Blue Badge" which lets you automatically unlock the Microsoft protection scheme, having previously detailed a more complex manual process for achieving the same goal.
The tool is completely unsupported by Microsoft, and Rivera suggests you back up some key system files before installing it. It's also likely that the final implementation of these features will be at least slightly different to their current hacked form — but if you want a sense of how the Windows 7 interface is going to evolve, this is currently the easiest way to get a hands-on look.