Mobility and Tablet PC: A User Perspective

Like security improvements, improved support for mobile computers and applications is woven throughout the Windows Vista® operating system. However, it is most noticeable to users in several areas, including enhanced network support, enhanced power management, enhanced hardware support, improved data management support, and new pen and speech support.

Mobility support is now available in all standard versions of Windows Vista, whereas previously it was available in the special Tablet Edition of the operating system. Now, many of the common mobility settings can quickly be accessed through the new Mobility Center applet in the Control Panel, which is shown in the following screenshot:

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Enhanced Network Support

Realizing that mobile computing has greatly complicated networking, Windows Vista has significantly increased its support in this area. Although most of this support is hidden to the average user, much effort has gone into improving the networking user functionality and interface (UI). Some of these improvements have already been discussed in "Network Infrastructure: A User's Perspective" in this document, including the Network Explorer, the Network Map, and Network Center control panel applet. These applications make use of Windows Vista's new Network Awareness feature.

Windows Vista also improves the wireless network experience in a number of ways. The new Network Awareness feature in Windows Vista keeps applications aware of and optimized for the network's changing capabilities. Data is also more secure with enhanced support for the latest wireless security protocols, including Wi-Fi Protected Access Version 2 (WPA2). Windows Vista also provides an easy way to connect to existing networks and create ad-hoc networks through network notifications and the Network Connection Wizard. Whenever Windows Vista detects a network change, it displays a network notification. For example, the following screenshot shows the discovery of a new wireless network:

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When the user clicks the notification, the Network Connection Wizard is displayed to guide the user in making the connection. This wizard is built on top of Windows Connect Now - Configure (WCN-Config) technologies. Windows Vista adds flexible methods to configuring secure wireless network or add wireless client to the network, including out-of-band methods (USBA and Ethernet) and in-band (secured channel transfer). This solution is mainly targeted for home and small business networks. (The preferred solution for enterprise networks is supported by 802.1X with RADIUS authentication server.) The following screenshot shows this wizard displaying four potential networks to connect to.

Particularly important for the mobile user, frequent network connections can be stored as network profiles so that they can be efficiently reused.

Enhanced Power Management

As people and organizations rely more heavily on mobile PCs, increasing importance is being placed on power management in these devices. In addition to hardware improvements — including more energy efficient processors and components (such as hybrid hard drives) and steadily improving energy densities in batteries — Windows Vista adds operating system power management functionality and support for power-aware applications.

From the user's perspective, several changes to the functionality and UI have been made to the power management features of Windows Vista. Foremost, the Power Options Control Panel applet has been unified and redesigned and its interface simplified. For example, the opening panel, Select a Power Plan, displays the following options. Although each plan can be customized, the default options provide for common power management schemes.

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Windows Vista introduces a new power state called Sleep, which combines two power states of Windows XP: the speed of Standby with the data protection features and low power consumption of Hibernate. Sleep can be induced with a single click (or the press of a power button or closing a laptop lid) and takes just 2-3 seconds to transition on or off. Not only does Sleep reduce power consumption, it protects data. Sleep operates differently on desktop and mobile PCs. On a desktop PC, it saves the current state in two places: to RAM and to hard disk. This allows fast wakeup while protecting against data loss. In contrast, on a mobile PC, it initially saves the current state to RAM and will only move it to the hard disk if power falls below a safe level.

Enhanced Hardware Support

Windows Vista increases support for hardware associated with mobile PCs, including higher resolution displays, multiple monitor detection and configuration, touch-screen displays, network projector connection (via the Connect to a Network Projector Wizard), and so on. Much of this enhanced functionality works without direct user interaction.

Microsoft SideShow

One of the most exciting additions to Windows Vista hardware support is Microsoft SideShow, which supports a secondary, semi-autonomous auxiliary display. This platform enables several scenarios that increase the usefulness of a mobile device by enabling access to computer resources without reinitiating a full Windows session:

  • Instant information on the status of the computer (Windows power state, current battery charge, etc.).

  • Viewing important alerts from programs, for example, upcoming calendar appointments, high-importance email messages, and so on.

  • Access to and control of certain subsystems, for example, the ability to control Windows Media Player or the DVD player via the SideShow interface.

  • More intelligent remote controls by integrating the SideShow platform into remotes and employing a wireless connection to the host computer.

The SideShow platform enables communication with Windows Vista independent of the primary I/O devices (primary display, keyboard, mouse, pen, etc.) when the machine is in Sleep power mode. Even if the computer is in soft power off mode, the auxiliary display can still show cached information, for example, upcoming appointments, and may be able to control individual hardware subsystems, such as the DVD player. The following illustrates a prototype of a SideShow display for a laptop PC (it's actually is the UI for the Virtual SideShow tool).

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The Control Panel contains a Windows SideShow applet that displays information about currently connected SideShow-compatible devices and enables the user to manage the applications that communicate to each device. The following diagram shows a prerelease example of this applet.

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Sideshow is designed to provide the user with a more convenient interface to the mobile computer, and also to save time and reduce power demands. The user experience using the most capable SideShow-enabled devices is similar to using a Web browser: pages are presented to the user and input buttons enable the user to navigate to different pages and make simple selections. A full user session generally includes the following actions:

  1. The user selects the SideShow application from the list of available applications. At this stage, each application is identified by information provided by its glance page, which is actually a short, plain text description.

  2. The user is taken to the home page of the application, which usually includes an icon for that application as well as some high-level text and perhaps some navigation choices.

  3. Optionally additional pages that fall into three categories: layout pages that contain text and images arranged in a flow layout, menu page for displaying navigational or user input choices, and dialog pages that may contain a title, message, icon, and virtual buttons.

New Data Management Support

In addition to the Data Organization and Communication technologies described in other sections of this document, which also assist the mobile worker in accessing, managing, and sharing information with their coworkers, Windows Vista introduces the new Sync Center in the Control Panel. This application helps mobile workers work offline with folders, documents, and Web pages, and then synchronize these objects when the mobile PC is reconnected with the original online or networked source. The Sync Center replaces and greatly improves on the functionality of the Synchronize utility in Windows XP. The following screen shot shows the initial panel of the Sync Center:

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The Sync Center is built upon the Synchronization Manager API, which has been enhanced in Windows Vista. For more information, see Data Sharing and Publication Roadmap in this document.

Alternate Natural Interfaces

Microsoft has integrated ink and speech technologies into all versions of Windows Vista as these I/O technologies have moved into mainstream use. Both technologies have also been considerably improved in improved and better integrated into the user experience.

Ink and Touch Support

Vista integrates the following pen and ink support features formerly only found in Windows XP Tablet PC Edition: pen and ink runtime support, ink controls, handwriting recognition engines, the Tablet PC Input Panel, Windows Journal, Microsoft Sticky Notes, and the Microsoft InkBall game. Additionally, Windows Vista enhances ink support in several areas that are immediately apparent to the user, including:

  • A redesigned Tablet PC Input Panel with default left screen docking, for entering handwriting and individual characters. Alternately a new On-Screen Keyboard that mimics a full keyboard can be used for character input with the mouse, pen, or touch.

  • Support for a new class of simple pen gestures, called flicks, which can be assigned to key commands or special operations. Windows Vista comes with a predefined set of pen flicks, but these can be customized on a per-user basis. When pen flicks are enabled, a Pen Flicks Icon should appear in the notification area of the Windows taskbar.

  • Support has also been added to support touch screens. An example of this is the new Touch Pointer — a special tool for accessing right-click menus and targeting small pieces of the UI through one's finger. Also when in touch mode, the cursor is offset from the point of contact so that it is not obscured by the user's finger.

  • Tablet PC Pen Training and Touch Training applications that interactively teach the basics of pen and touch input, respectively. The following screenshot show the opening panel of the Handwriting Personalization Tool.

  • An enhanced multi-language handwriting recognition engine that enables more natural pen input of text. This engine can be trained to recognize each user's writing style through the Handwriting Personalization Tool, the opening panel of which is shown below. This tool improves handwriting recognition in a number of ways, including correcting specific systematic errors, familiarizing the pen recognizer with the user's writing style, and allowing the recognizer to access personal documents so that it can learn which words you use frequently.

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Speech Support

Speech support is now completely integrated within Windows Vista both as an input (speech recognition) and output (speech synthesis) mechanism. Speech recognition is integrated into the Windows shell so that it can be used in two modes: dictation mode is used to interpret free-form speech into text, while command mode matches a more limited vocabulary in order to operate applications. The speech recognition user experience in Windows Vista follows five tenets:

  • Hands-free operation — speech recognition can completely replace other modes of input, including the keyboard and mouse (although speech recognition can be used in conjunction with other input mechanisms).

  • Start-and-stop verbal actuation — speech recognition can be started and stopped through verbal commands so that other input mechanisms are not required during a Windows session.

  • Seamless transition between command modes — the Windows shell uses the context of the current application and operation to determine whether speech should be interpreted as commands or as text input. Command vocabularies are also dynamically changed to match the current context.

  • User has complete control — the speech subsystem does not unnaturally constrain the user by forcing unnatural choices. Indeed, the user can even verbally control the keyboard and mouse.

  • Intuitive and easy to learn — the Windows shell and applications behave normally when controlled by speech. And although its use is very intuitive, a speech recognition tutorial is included to help the beginner get up to speed.

The user can access many speech functions and options through the Speech Recognition applet of the Control Panel, pictured below:

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For more information, visit the Windows Vista Speech Recognition (http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?linkid=54062&clcid=0x409) site, and Developing for Speech.

Although speech synthesis technology, also referred to as text-to-speech (TTS), is a part of the Windows Vista operating system, its functionality has not been integrated within the shell as speech recognition has. However, this technology is readily available to individual applications to incorporate.

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