Windows on the go

Windows Vista improves productivity, power management for mobile PC users

By Jerri L. Ledford

About six months ago, tired of being tied to a desk, I finally gave up on using my desktop PC. Now I have a laptop that goes everywhere I go—on business trips, on vacation, even on that cruise that I'm planning to take in the fall. The only time I work from the same place twice is when I'm sitting on the couch.

The problem with all this mobility is that it comes with complications, such as frequently moving between wireless networks and keeping track of battery life. I've been using Windows Vista on my laptop for a few months now, and I find that it eases some of the frustrations of being mobile. In this column, I'll highlight some of my favorite new features of the operating system that are designed especially for mobile PC users.

Productivity anywhere

When I travel, I want to travel as light as possible. It isn't always convenient to have both my laptop and my Smartphone with me at all times. That's why I like the capabilities of Sync Center in Windows Vista. If I've left my laptop in the car when I meet with a client, I can take notes on my Smartphone (running Windows Mobile 5.0) and then later sync that information with my laptop. If I use my laptop to schedule appointments, they automatically sync to my Smartphone later on. In short, I can work on whatever device is most convenient for me at the time, and Windows Vista ensures that the same information appears on both devices. For more information, see Sync Center: frequently asked questions.

Windows SideShow is another feature getting attention from mobile PC users. It's a new technology that allows you to view important information from your computer on a secondary display, such as a small screen on the outside of a laptop's case. So, you can quickly scan your e‑mail messages, check your laptop's battery level, or even determine whether you're connected to a network—all without opening your laptop.

Picture of a laptop with a Windows SideShow-compatible secondary display
With a Windows SideShow-compatible laptop, you can access key information without having to open the lid

Staying connected

Because I'm a frequent traveler and connect to different wireless networks at different times, I need easy access to wireless network settings. Windows Vista improves the wireless networking experience by consolidating key information in the Network and Sharing Center. From there, I can check my connection status, signal strength, and other properties.

  • Open Network and Sharing Center by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Network and Internet, and then clicking Network and Sharing Center.

When I want to manage the settings for wireless networks I've previously connected to, I go to Manage Wireless Networks in Control Panel. Here, I can change the order in which Windows tries to connect to wireless networks, disable automatic connection to a network, delete a network from the list, and change security settings.

  • Open Manage Wireless Networks by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Network and Internet, clicking Network and Sharing Center, and then, in the left pane, clicking Manage wireless networks.

Picture of Manage Wireless Networks in Control Panel
In Windows Vista, you can see a list of all of the wireless networks you've connected to and manage their settings

Intelligent power management

When I'm on the go, I'm always worried about how much battery life my laptop has left. I hate having to buy extra batteries or extended batteries just to make sure I have enough juice to get from one location to another. It's much easier for me if my computer can manage its power supply more efficiently. Fortunately, Windows Vista makes it easy to maximize my laptop's battery life.

Picture of the battery meter in Windows Vista
Hover over the battery icon in the taskbar to view the active power plan and how much charge is left on your battery

How quickly your battery drains depends, in part, on which power plan you select. When I'm home, I use the Balanced power plan, with a few extra settings tweaked. When I'm on the road, I use the Power saver power plan to extend my battery life. For more information, see Conserving battery power.

One of the power management settings I've tweaked is what happens when I close my laptop's lid. By default, my computer was set to go to sleep when I closed the lid. That meant that when I reopened it, I had to wait for my computer to reconnect to my network and for programs like e‑mail to come back online. I prefer to save a few seconds, so I've changed the setting so that nothing happens when I close the lid. That way, my e‑mail continues to download and is instantly available when I reopen the lid. To customize this setting, see Change what happens when you close your mobile PC lid.

Picture of the Start menu showing the Power button and the Lock button menu
Click the Power button on the Start menu to instantly put your computer to sleep, or click the arrow next to the Lock button to access more power options

When I do want to put my laptop to sleep to save power, I just click the Power button in the Start menu, and the computer turns off instantly. Once I'm ready to resume work, the laptop wakes within a few seconds and the screen looks just as it did before the computer went to sleep. For more information on sleep and other power-saving states in Windows Vista, see Turn off a computer: frequently asked questions.

Tablet and touch technology

One of the major purchases I plan to make within the next year is a Tablet PC—a mobile PC that allows interaction via a tablet pen or, if the computer has a touch-enabled screen, a fingertip. I've held off from purchasing a Tablet PC because I wasn't entirely sure how different it would be from a normal laptop. However, Windows Vista includes a number of touch and tablet capabilities that make Tablet PCs a much more attractive option.

For example, in Windows Vista, you can perform specific actions with pen flicks or touch flicks on supported hardware. So instead of having to press CTRL+C on your keyboard to copy a selection (defeating the purpose of a Tablet PC), you can flick your pen in a certain direction and the selection is copied to the Clipboard. What's more, you can customize the pen flicks to perform the actions you choose.

Picture of navigational and editing pen flicks
You can set your Tablet PC to accept navigational pen flicks (left) or both navigational and editing flicks (right)

Another aspect of Windows Vista on a Tablet PC that I'm excited about is handwriting recognition. Although accuracy was good before, it's been improved in Windows Vista. In addition, you can now teach the recognizer your personal handwriting style. I'm looking forward to sending handwritten e‑mail and taking notes by writing directly on the computer screen. For more information, see the Tablet PC Support page on the Windows Vista website.

Easier presentations

I have to make a presentation in front of an audience several times a year. In the past, there wasn't a quick way to make all of the adjustments I needed at once—such as turning off my screen saver and pop-up notifications. One thing I love about Windows Vista is its ability to jump quickly into presentation mode.

I turn on presentation settings from Windows Mobility Center, a dashboard of sorts for common mobile PC settings. Windows turns off the screen saver, turns off system notifications, and prevents the computer from going to sleep. I can also customize the presentation settings to change the desktop background and adjust the volume level. And once I set it up the first time, I don't have to change it every time I make a presentation. With one less thing to worry about, I can focus on actually giving the presentation.

Picture of Windows Mobility Center
Using Windows Mobility Center, you can quickly turn on presentation settings (lower right)

More information

If you're a user on the go, traveling from one appointment or meeting to the next, you'll appreciate all of the new features that Windows Vista offers for users of mobile PCs. For more information, visit the Windows Vista Mobility page on the Microsoft website.

About the author

Picture of columnist Jerri Ledford

Jerri Ledford is a freelance business technology writer who has written more than 750 articles for electronic and print publications. She is the author or coauthor of eight books, including PC Magazine Office 2007 Solutions and 25 Home Automation Projects for the Evil Genius.

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