Mobile Computing in Windows Vista

Notebook computers used to occupy very specific and unalterable niches in the computing ecology. Sales professionals didn't leave home without them, executives on business trips routinely packed their portables, and corporate employees without a personal machine lugged a laptop home to do some extra work.

In each case, though, the notebook computerwith its cramped keyboard, hard-to-read LCD display, and minuscule hard diskwas always considered a poor substitute for a desktop machine. For many years, it seemed that notebooks were doomed to remain among the lower castes in the social hierarchy of personal computers.

But recent developments have caused notebooks to shed their inferiority complex. Today's luggables have impressive 1024x768 (or better) displays, tens of gigabytes of hard disk real estate, and built-in wireless capabilities. Add a couple of PC card slots, connectors for full-size keyboards and monitors, and maybe even a docking station, and suddenly your desktop system doesn't look so superior.

The notebook community's bid for respectability wasn't lost on the designers of Windows Vista. They've incorporated many new notebook PC features into the operating system, including improved power management, the Mobility Center, Presentation Settings, and Windows SideShow. Vista supports Tablet PCs in a big way with many more options and settings, a revamped Input Panel, new gestures, and extensive tools for improving handwriting recognition.

The Mobile PC Control Panel

Most Windows Vista mobility enhancements are designed with a single purpose in mind: to give you easier access to the notebook-related features that you use most. That makes sense because when you're using a notebook on the go, you might have only a limited amount of battery power, and you don't want to waste it trying to locate some obscure configuration option.

And it's still true that most notebook keyboards and pointing devices are harder to use than their full-size desktop counterparts, so the fewer keystrokes and mouse clicks required to perform Windows tasks, the better. Your first indication that Vista wants to make your mobile computing life easier is the new Mobile PC Control Panel page (in the Control Panel, select the Mobile PC link).

The idea behind the Mobile PC page is to consolidate in a single spot all the Vista configuration options that are directly or indirectly related to notebooks. Whether you want to change the screen orientation on your Tablet PC, adjust settings before a presentation, or change power options, it's all just a mouse click or two away.

The Windows Mobility Center

The Mobile PC Control Panel offers links to a fairly broad range of notebook features. A more targeted approach is found in the new Vista Windows Mobility Center, which you start by clicking the Mobility Center link in the Mobile PC Control Panel.

The Mobility Center offers information on eight key notebook areas, as well as controls to adjust these features:

  • Brightness - The current brightness setting of your notebook screen (if your machine supports this features). Use the slider to adjust the brightness.
  • Volume - The current notebook speaker volume. Use the slider to adjust the volume, or click Mute to toggle sound off and on.
  • Battery Status - The current charge level of the notebook battery. Use the drop-down list to select one of three power plans: Balanced, Power Saver, or High Performance or.
  • Wireless Network - The wireless connection status (Connected or Disconnected), and the signal strength, if connected.
  • Screen Orientation - The current orientation of the Tablet PC screen. Click Rotate Screen to rotate the screen by 90° counterclockwise.
  • External Display - The current status of the external monitor connected to your notebook or docking station.
  • Sync Center - The current synchronization status of your offline files. Click the Sync button to synchronization your notebook's offline files.
  • Presentation Settings - The current status of your presentation settings. Click Turn On to activate you presentation settings.

Note, too, that Microsoft is giving PC manufacturers access to the Mobility Center, so we'll likely see the Mobility Center window customized with features that are specific to particular notebooks.