By John Swenson
You don’t have to be a gadget geek to know that it can be hard to get a mobile phone, music player, or other device to work smoothly with your computer. How do you sync contacts and appointments to your mobile phone? How do you get music onto your portable music player? Where do you find the manual for your device, software updates, and help? The list can go on and on, depending on the device.
Enter Device Stage. This new feature in Windows 7 solves these problems by gathering everything you can do with your device into a single window, making tasks easier to find and complete.
Device Stage is like a home page for select compatible devices and printers. It’s a simpler and faster way of finding and using your devices with Windows.
When you connect a compatible device to your computer, Device Stage automatically opens, with a big picture of your device at the top of the window. It’s obvious right away that Device Stage has been customized for your device.
You can see the status of your device at a glance, with information such as your battery life, number of photos ready to be downloaded to your PC, number of text messages, sync status, amount of space available, and other key indicators for your device.
Just below the status information is a list of available tasks for your device. First are primary tasks you’ll use frequently, such as syncing information to a mobile phone, downloading photos from a digital camera, or checking a print job. Hardware manufacturers can also list extra tasks here, such as ordering more ink and paper for a printer, downloading drivers and updates for a phone or music player, or requesting customer support.
Because Device Stage is different for every device, you can have multiple occurrences of Device Stage open at once—one for each device connected to your computer. Even when you minimize Device Stage to the Windows taskbar, you can check your device status just by moving your mouse over the taskbar button. When you disconnect a device from your computer, Device Stage disappears, leaving you with a clean desktop.
Device Stage works with compatible mobile phones, digital cameras, and portable music players, plus many different ink-jet, laser, and multi-function printers. It supports network printers and printers connected by a USB cable. And it works with devices and printers connected wirelessly, such as Bluetooth enabled cell phones and printers.
There’s even a Device Stage for your computer. This displays information about your PC such as its brand name and computer name, and lists many tasks you can perform with it, such as changing your system sounds, display settings, and other PC hardware settings.
No software is required for Device Stage to work. Just plug in your devices or connect them wirelessly. (Although to sync contacts, appointments, and other information with your mobile phone, you might need to find a compatible program for your PC.)
The easiest way to find out if a device you already have works with Device Stage is to connect it to your computer and see if Device Stage opens. For devices you don't already have, check with the manufacturer or review the specifications for the device. For a mobile phone, music player, digital camera, or other mobile device to work with Device Stage, the manufacturer must add compatible software (also called firmware) to the device.
Hardware manufacturers can choose if they want to make their devices compatible with Device Stage. When you connect a device to your PC, Windows 7 will detect whether it’s compatible, and then automatically launch Device Stage. If the device isn’t compatible, Windows 7 will launch AutoPlay instead. (AutoPlay is a Windows feature that lets you choose which program to use to start different kinds of media or devices, such as music CDs or USB flash drives containing photos and other media files.)
Hardware makers that make their devices compatible can also customize Device Stage with their own tasks and graphics. This gives companies more control over how their hardware products appear in Windows, and lets them differentiate their products from those of their competitors. Manufacturers can even update Device Stage automatically, so the next time you connect a device to your PC, Device Stage might display some new tasks.
It’s clear the designers sweated the details on this feature. Device Stage doesn’t just display a straightforward picture of your device or printer, it splashes a colorful photo artistically across the top of the screen, with graphic accents. After years of seeing bland, generic icons that are supposed to represent my printer, mouse, and other devices, it’s nice to be able to see a picture that actually looks like the device I’m using. After about six months of testing Device Stage, generic hardware icons now look so 1990s to me.
Nothing shows off the capabilities of Device Stage better than a full-featured, compatible mobile phone. These so-called smartphones allow you to send and receive e‑mail and text messages, track your appointments and contacts, play music, watch movies and videos, shoot photos, and more.
If you buy a premium phone that supports Device Stage, you’ll be able to perform all sorts of tasks when you connect it to your computer. If you click Set up sync, you can set up Device Stage to transfer music, videos, contacts, and appointments from your computer to your phone and keep them in sync. (For more information, see Sync music, pictures, contacts, and calendars with a mobile device.)
Pick another task, such as Import your pictures and videos, to download photos or videos taken with a camera phone. Want to hear a snippet of your favorite heavy metal song or violin concerto when your phone rings? Click Set ringtones to create a custom ringtone and transfer it to your phone. (For more information, see Create and assign a ringtone for your mobile phone using Device Stage.)
Above all, Device Stage is designed for ease of use. Gadget fans—the kind of people always walking around with some kind of phone, music player, or other device in their hand—will appreciate how simple it makes using their devices.
But Device Stage also allows people who don’t know anything about gadgets or computers to use devices with their PC. Since Device Stage automatically opens when you connect a device, you don’t have to figure out where to go in Windows to use your device.
If you want to open Device Stage yourself, this is easy to do from the new Devices and Printers folder. This is helpful when you’re using a device such as a printer that you don’t routinely connect and disconnect to your PC. Just double-click on the picture of the device in the Devices and Printers folder to open Device Stage. If the printer or other device isn’t compatible with Device Stage, a standard Windows properties dialog box will open.
Device Stage tasks are also designed for ease of use. Even computing newbies should find them self-explanatory, with task titles such as Set up sync, Set ringtones, or Import your pictures and videos. Click the task and you’re off and running. Don’t rave about it too much to your friends, though, or they might start calling you a gadget geek.
About the author
John Swenson is a writer on the Windows team at Microsoft. In his 11 years at Microsoft, he's done everything from interviewing technical leaders around the company to helping computer novices understand Windows. He previously worked as a business and technology reporter for newspapers and magazines.
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