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What's new in Vista for mobility?

Centralised control of networking features

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While Microsoft says that it took great pains to make mobile and wireless computing safer and easier with Windows Vista, its emphasis clearly was on ease-of-use more than on security or flashy new features.

"The data says we're moving toward more mobility," said Greg Amrofell, a senior product manager at Microsoft. "We've thought a lot about the rise of mobility as we pulled [Vista] together."

Window Mobility Center

Microsoft focuses its claims of improved mobility in four areas. First is Windows Mobility Center, a feature available only on laptops that places into a single interface disparate settings that road warriors must often access.

"You move from being plugged in to being unplugged, from being on the corporate network to being wireless," Amrofell said. "There are a lot of settings related to mobility we wanted to centralise."

Mobility Center is available either by right-clicking the battery icon on the system tray of laptops or from Control Panel. Users can tweak settings related to energy usage from this location, as well as a group of settings related to presentations.

In particular, you can use this grouping of settings to make the laptop more suitable for presentations, such as replacing your personalised desktop with a more neutral one so that meeting attendees don't see, for instance, wallpaper of you and your dog on holiday. In addition, Windows Vista has a new wizard for connecting to a projector, long a clumsy task for Windows users.

Sync Center

The second major change related to mobility and mobile devices is Sync Center. This is a one-stop centre for synchronising information on the PC with a variety of devices, such as smart phones, audio players or other PCs. As with Mobility Center, Sync Center is primarily about centralising functions, such as tweaking settings for, say, syncing your MP3 player with a music service.

However, there is a potential problem with Sync Center for some users: A driver must be available to make each device work. In many cases, that driver is built into Windows Vista. I was able to sync, for example, my 4-year-old Creative Labs audio player without any fuss or locating a Vista-compliant driver. However, Microsoft is not guaranteeing all devices will be supported.

Windows Mobile Device Center

The third change for mobile users is Windows Mobile Device Center. This application, which can be launched from Control Panel and Sync Center, replaces the balky ActiveSync program in Windows XP, synchronising files and Outlook data between the PC and Windows Mobile devices such as smart phones.

As with so much in Windows Vista, this centre is based in an Explorer-like Window. This centre is both simpler to use than ActiveSync and provides more options, such as the ability to select the computers and devices you want to sync with and to synchronise not just Outlook data but also digital media.

Networking and Sharing Center

Microsoft claims that a fourth area in which Windows Vista helps mobility is its Networking and Sharing Center, which is available both for desktop and laptop computers. As with Mobility Center and Sync Center, this is a centralised interface for managing, in this case, most aspects of networking.

While this interface is as useful for Ethernet users as Wi-Fi users, Amrofell said the Network and Sharing Center is particularly useful for laptops. That's because it helps manage connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, where security is an issue. In particular, the first time you connect to a specific Wi-Fi network, a set of wizards walks you through the connection process, including making security settings. In addition, you can use this part of the Vista interface for tasks such as adjusting firewall settings and setting up other security parameters. Incidentally, Windows Vista now supports WPA2 for Wi-Fi.

Microsoft is also touting changes to Vista as used for both tablet PCs and the tiny Ultra-Mobile PCs, two form factors championed by Microsoft that have yet to become popular. For instance, Tablet PCs now support input via both stylus and finger-touch and a so-called snipping tool in which you circle text or an image to either save it or automatically send it via e-mail.

The bottom line is that there isn't a lot that's new for mobile and wireless users in Vista, but it has, overall, become easier and more flexible for users of both laptops and mobile devices.


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