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Windows 7 Mobility Features : Other Mobile Features

5/14/2013 6:01:17 PM

In addition to the major new mobility-related features mentioned previously, Windows 7 ships with a host of other technologies that benefit mobile workers. This section highlights some of these features and explains how you can take advantage of them.

1. Offline Files and Folders

In Windows XP, Microsoft introduced a feature called Offline Files and Folders that enables mobile users to mark network-based files and folders so that they will be cached (stored) locally, using space on the mobile computer's hard drive. When the mobile PC is connected to the network, the local and remote versions of the files and folders are synchronized so that they are always current. When users work away from the network—which can be a corporate network based on Active Directory or just a simple wireless home network—they can access these remote resources even when in a disconnected state, just as if they were connected.

Offline Files and Folders is a wonderful idea, and it's been made even better in Windows 7. It works almost exactly like it does in Windows Vista, as you'll see here, using Delta Sync technology, first developed by Microsoft's Windows Server team, to speed synchronization. Delta Sync works on the subfile level: if a user changes part of a document, for example, only the changed parts of the document need to be synced to the server. Previously, the entire document would need to be synchronized. This bit of software wizardry is far more efficient than bulk file copies, although we can't really understand how it works under the hood.

To set up Offline Files and Folders for the first time, use the Network Explorer to navigate to a location on your network that contains files or folders you'd like to cache locally. Then, right-click the items you'd like to cache and choose Always available offline. When you do so, the Always Available Offline dialog is displayed (shown in Figure 1) and you can synchronize the content to your hard drive.

Figure 1. You can configure network-based data to be available even when you're not connected to the network.

When the synchronization is complete, you'll see a small sync icon overlay appear on top of the lower-left corner of the folder or file you just synced. This icon overlay indicates that the item is available offline.

To remove this association, right-click again and uncheck Always Available Offline.

In Windows XP, Offline Files and Folders were managed via the Folder Options window. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, you manage these relationships in the Sync Center, which is shown in Figure 2. The Sync Center is used to manage relationships between Windows and portable devices (such as PDAs and smartphones), as well as offline files and folders. It does not, however, manage relationships with network-based media devices, such as other PCs, Xbox 360s, and Media Center Extenders. No, we don't know why.

Regardless of how many network-based files and folders you make available offline, you will see only one item, Offline Files, in the main Sync Center display. If you double-click this item, you can dive into the partnership detail and see separate items for each network share that contains shared files and folders. You can also click the Sync button to manually synchronize with the server, or click Schedule to view and manage the sync schedule. The schedule is managed via a simple wizard-based application that enables you to schedule synchronization at specific times or in response to certain events, such as when you log on or lock Windows, or when your computer is idle.

If you take your system on the road and modify network-based files and folders, they will be synchronized with the server when you return. Should there be any conflicts—such as what can occur when a file is edited both on the server and in your local cache—you are given the opportunity to rectify the conflict in a variety of ways, most of which are nondestructive.

Figure 2. Sync Center is an almost one-stop shop for Windows 7's relationships with other devices and network-based files and folders.

2. Windows SideShow

A new generation of Tablet PCs and notebook computers—and, Microsoft says, even other devices such as TV sets and remote controls—includes a new kind of auxiliary display that enables you to access certain information on the computer even when it's asleep. These auxiliary displays are initially most interesting on mobile computers, and they are available in color and black-and-white versions.

Here's how they work: auxiliary displays access a feature in Windows 7 called SideShow to display small gadgets, similar to Windows Gadgets , that provide limited access to various applications and services in Windows. You'll see a Windows Media Player gadget that enables you to play music in your Windows Media Player media library, and an e-mail gadget that helps you read e-mail. All of these gadgets work when the laptop's lid is closed, they require very little power, and they come on instantly. Although Microsoft ships a number of gadgets of its own, you can expect third parties to come up with their own gadgets as well, especially those companies that make and sell SideShow-equipped devices.

The bad news about Windows SideShow is that you need very specific hardware to access this feature. You can't add on an auxiliary display, at least not elegantly, to a mobile PC. Therefore, you need to get a brand-new mobile device with an integrated auxiliary display in order to experience it for yourself. At the time of this writing, years after the feature first shipped in Windows Vista, auxiliary displays are still very rare.

3. Improved Support for Tablet PC Hardware

If you're using a Tablet PC computer (a notebook computer that typically comes in one of two form factors: a convertible laptop or a true slate-type tablet) or a notebook computer with Tablet PC–like hardware (such as a touch screen, digitizer screen with stylus, or a compatible external writing pad), Windows 7 includes a wide range of functionality related to handwriting recognition, pen-based input, and the like.


SyncToy is another other mobility-related Microsoft tool that you may be interested in. According to Microsoft, this fascinating little application helps you quickly and easily copy, move, rename, and delete files between folders and computers. And while that's a very generic description, the beauty of this tool is that it enables you to synchronize the contents of a folder on one computer with the contents of a folder on another computer, so it's a great synchronization tool for people who usually use a desktop PC at home or the office but have to frequently travel with a portable PC as well. You can find out more at www.microsoft.com/downloads/. Just search for SyncToy.


Windows Vista included a peer-to-peer (P2P) collaborative application called Windows Meeting Space that has since been discontinued in Windows 7. Apparently, hardly anyone knew it existed, and those that did know about it had no idea what it was for.

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