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Windows Vista Feature Focus: Windows Mobility Center

The worst part of buying a new PC is the so-called crapware that PC makers litter all over Windows, ruining the user experience in order to pad their bottom line. Running a close second, however, are the terrible little utilities that these PC makers supply for their own hardware, especially for mobile computers. It seems that every networking device in your PC is accompanied by a third-rate, barely functional software application that pops up at alarming intervals.

Microsoft feels your pain. And while it hasn't yet solved the crapware issue--though, believe me, they are working on it--they have implemented a new feature in Windows Vista that they hope will inspire PC makers to calm down a bit on their homebrew mobile utilities. It's called Windows Mobility Center. And like the other activity centers in Windows, it's designed as a one-stop-shop, this time for all your mobile computing needs.

Windows Mobility Center is a dashboard that contains all of the utilities a mobile user could want. And Mobility Center can also be extended by PC makers and others. So companies like Dell, HP, Lenovo and others are free to extend Mobility Center with their own machine-specific mobile utilities. By providing a centralized management console in Windows Vista, however, and by stacking Vista with a complete set of networking and mobility tools, Microsoft hopes these companies won't have to do their own thing. The results, as is so often the case, are somewhat mixed.

Tip: Windows Mobility Center is available only on mobile computers. You won't see it on desktop PCs.

Secret: You can, however, enable Windows Mobility Center on desktop PCs. Here's how. Open the Registry Editor (regedit.exe) and navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER, Software, Microsoft, and then MobilePC. Then, add a new key called MobilityCenter. Inside this key, add a new DWORD (32-bit) Value with the name RunOnDesktop and a value of 1 (00000001). Then reboot and you will find that Mobility Center is available, albeit without some of the mobile PC-oriented tiles that are normally available.

You can start Mobility Center by finding it in the Start Menu or by typing mobility into Start Menu Search. Or, use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key + X.

As is the case with all other Vista activity centers, Windows Mobility Center is a unique-looking application that in no way resembles any of the other applications that Microsoft bundled with Windows Vista. Instead, you'll see a set of mobile-related options arrayed in tiles across an unadorned window that cannot be resized or formatted in any way. On a default install of Windows Vista, these options can include the following, depending on the capabilities of your PC:

Brightness. On mobile PCs with compatible displays, you can change the screen brightness on the fly.

Volume. Duplicates the functionality of the tray-based volume control, which is generally available at all times, making this addition somewhat superfluous.

Battery Status. View the charge status of the battery and change the current power management plan.

Wireless Network. View the connection status of your wireless networking adapter and toggle the device's availability.

Screen Rotation. On Tablet PCs and Ultra-Mobile PCs (UMPCs), change the orientation between portrait and landscape orientations.

External Display. Provides a wizard for connecting to an external display and configuring its use.

Sync Center. View the progress of a device or file sync or launch Sync Center.

Presentation Settings. Change several system settings so that the PC works properly while giving presentations. Presentation Settings lets you temporarily disable your normal power management settings and ensures that your system stays awake, with no screen dimming, no hard drive disabling, no screensaver activation, and no system notifications to interrupt you.

Secret: Presentation Settings is the only option in Mobility Center that is not available elsewhere in the Windows Vista user interface.

Tip: You may see additional tiles in Mobility Center that were installed by your PC maker.

I noted earlier that Windows Mobility Center has proven only somewhat successful. That's because PC makers continue to bloat Windows with unnecessary, hardware-specific mobile utilities that usurp such things as the power management and networking functionality in Windows. These utilities rarely improve on what's available in Windows Vista, in my opinion, and only increase the complexity of the overall system by providing yet another place in the UI to get the same things done. In fact, in many cases, PC makers are even usurping Mobility Center by making such things as wireless connection widgets for Windows Sidebar.

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