Mar 23 2010

Mobility Meets Microsoft

Windows 7 provides an easy operating experience for mobile workers.

With each passing year, technology and mobility continue to shape our everyday lives, blurring the line that separates the consumer from the business user. Never before has there been so much information, computing power and connectivity within our grasp. Last year saw the introduction of new smartphone options, smoother overseas connections and the emergence of cloud computing. The release of Microsoft Windows 7, coupled with increasing demand for small and inexpensive mobile devices such as netbooks, brings the mobility trend full circle.

Windows 7 was created with portability in mind, from its fast standby resumes and perfected tablet PC features to its seamless compatibility with netbooks and other mobile technology. No previous release of Windows has focused as intently on the mobile space, making the new operating system a worthy companion for the traveling business professional.

Windows 7's extended battery life and power management features let untethered users spend more time beyond the confines of the office, increasing productivity and creativity. Most notable is the improved Idle Resource Utilization, which dynamically adjusts everything from the CPU core to the audio chipset on an idle netbook, putting the device into sleep mode until it's needed again. An OS with such a command of power management can extend roaming time, especially when using a netbook with a six-cell (or sometimes four-cell) battery.

Tied to this is Microsoft's improved ability to resume from standby and hibernate modes. Under Windows 7, most mobile devices will resume from standby instantly and from hibernate within seconds. This lets a user apply precious battery power to use of the device instead of simply waking it from sleep. With limited battery life on a mobile device, every minute of power is extremely valuable.

In addition to Windows 7's improved hardware management, it's important to point out the smaller footprint and lower resource usage of the overall computing ecosystem. A clean install of Windows 7 takes significantly less hard-drive space (11gigabytes versus Vista's 35), leaving more room for documents and applications that a user may need while away. Also, Microsoft has made it clear that they have mobile users in mind by eliminating unused system services while the computer is running. Previous Windows systems would run an untold number of services while the user performed mundane tasks such as typing an Excel spreadsheet. This waste of power drained the battery quickly. Windows 7 has far fewer services running, all in an effort to reduce CPU cycles and allow the computer to idle as many components as possible.

In Touch with Tablets

Tablet PCs, while not as popular as netbooks, have a fierce following among loyal users, and for very good reason. The combination of a touch screen and Windows 7's handwriting recognition with the small form factor creates a marriage of efficient horsepower and unprecedented functionality.

First, the ability of Windows 7 to decipher the handwriting of most users enables anyone to hold their tablet PC in slate mode and, on the fly, jot down meeting notes and convert them to text for easy retrieval later on. Over time, Windows 7's handwriting engine will actually learn your handwriting and continually improve its ability to recognize your exact writing style.  Windows Vista includes this feature, but it is cumbersome and inaccurate, while Windows 7's refinements are immediately apparent. Another forward-looking feature is the support for onscreen multitouch keyboards, provided your hardware supports it. This allows anyone with a touch screen to hold the SHIFT key, for example, and press the letter of your choosing. No other operating system supports multitouch out of the box.

Sense of Security

For years, IT administrators have known about Windows BitLocker but have struggled to use it.  Vista's version of BitLocker is excellent in theory but lacks a smooth implementation. The menus are difficult to navigate, the connection to a Microsoft Server allows only minimal control, and adding BitLocker to an installed system requires an extraordinary amount of time and hard-drive space. By contrast, Windows 7 automatically creates the necessary space and resources during the initial install, thereby removing many of the concerns IT managers have about using BitLocker.

With technologies of every type moving swiftly toward mobility, a revamp of BitLocker could not have come at a more opportune time. With Windows 7 BitLocker, IT administrators are able to access protected data, even if a user forgets his or her password. This allows users on the go to secure their data without fear that a memory lapse will block their access.

Another addition to the BitLocker system is the introduction of BitLocker To Go, which lends the same controls and security that BitLocker provides for your primary data to USB thumb drives and other removable media. With the prevalence of easy-to-lose USB drives, this is a useful inclusion by Microsoft.

Looking for Trouble

Something often overlooked in Windows 7 (and for good reason, given previous versions of Windows) is the Windows troubleshooter. In years past, it would give wrong steps or completely fail at troubleshooting. But now this feature is a fully capable and very quick way for a user who is unable to contact headquarters to fix their mobile device while away.

For most IT departments, the Windows troubleshooter has always been a completely useless feature, inept at solving anything and generally causing more headaches than it was worth. This was true until now. But today's troubleshooter is like having a built-in IT admin who can fix simple problems that might be daunting for the typical user. Such capability allows users to continue with their work while giving them the confidence needed to solve small issues on their own. It might even increase their overall trust in the Windows 7 operating system.

Mobility in Mind

From a mobile user's standpoint, Windows 7 is a step above previous Windows iterations when it comes to polished presentations. For example, many mobile users who take their devices to meetings need to display information on projectors or large LCDs. Previously, users had to be certain their video drivers were installed and use the manufacturer's software to enable the external display. Windows 7 allows users to simply press the Windows key and the letter P and an easy-to-use onscreen menu displays a graphical set of options to output to the display.

Many business professionals also use cellular data cards to connect to the company network while abroad; Windows 7 includes an incredible number of data card drivers right out of the box, therefore reducing the time needed to prepare a user to leave headquarters. Last, with the introduction of HomeGroup, Microsoft has finally simplified file sharing among users – no more setup aggravation and folder sharing – which is paramount when a group of users wants to quickly collaborate on a project.