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Windows Vista SideShow Gadgets: Little Apps, Big Impact

Vista's SideShow feature supports auxiliary screen devices that can run applications even when the main computer is turned off, letting users read news, play games, or check their email without powering up the main computer.

indows SideShow is a new feature in Windows Vista that supports secondary display(s) on your PC. While the "buzz" about this feature primarily discusses notebook computers, Vista supports SideShow secondary displays on desktop computers as well, and SideShow devices are beginning to appear in remote controls. Using Windows SideShow, you can view or control information (such as emails, media player, weather updates, etc) without having to power up your computer. Because SideShow requires hardware support, there aren't many SideShow devices on the market yet, but many device manufacturers have committed to building such devices. One such already-available product is the Asus W5Fe notebook (see Figure 1), which has a built-in SideShow device .

Figure 1. Asus W5Fe Notebook: The figure shows the Asus W5Fe notebook with the SideShow display visible on the cover.
This article provides a short tour of Windows SideShow and then discusses how to develop your own SideShow applications using the Windows Vista SDK and Visual Studio 2005.

Testing SideShow on Windows Vista
To test SideShow, you need to have Windows Vista installed. And unless you have a SideShow-compatible device running, you won't be able to experience SideShow fully. Fortunately however, Microsoft has provided a SideShow simulator that mimics a SideShow device, so you can develop SideShow applications even if you don't yet have the hardware.

To use the SideShow simulator, you need to download the Microsoft Windows Software Development Kit for Windows Vista and .NET Framework 3.0 Runtime Components.

After downloading and installing the SDK, launch a command prompt using the "Run as Administrator" option. Click Start | Programs | Accessories | Command Prompt, and then right-click and select "Run as Administrator".

Register the simulator by navigating to the C:\Program Files\Microsoft SDKs\Windows\v6.0\Bin folder and then issuing the following command:

   WindowsSideShowVirtualDevice.exe /regserver
You need to execute this command only once. After that, to launch the simulator, use the following command:

Figure 2 shows the steps outlined above.

Figure 2. Registering and Launching the Simulator: Follow the command sequence shown in the image to register and launch the simulator.
Figure 3. SideShow Simulator: Here's the simulator launch screen.
When the simulator launches, it looks like Figure 3.

A typical SideShow device has several controls, as shown on the right in Figure 3:

  • Back button—Takes you back to the previous screen
  • MENU button—Displays contextual menus
  • Arrow keys—Navigate between selections/menus
  • OK button—Selects the currently selected item
The applications (known as SideShow gadgets) that run in SideShow devices are controlled by the Windows SideShow applet located in Control Panel (see Figure 4), which lets you enable or disable gadgets for SideShow devices.

Figure 4. Windows SideShow in Control Panel: In Vista, Control Panel contains a management applet for SideShow gadgets.
Figure 5. Windows SideShow Control Panel Applet: The Windows SideShow applet shows all installed SideShow gadgets and devices.
If you launch the Windows SideShow Control Panel applet, you will see the window similar to Figure 5.

The window shows a list of SideShow gadgets and SideShow devices installed on your system. Checking the checkbox for a particular gadget under a particular device causes the output of the gadget to go to that device. In Figure 5, the default gadgets installed on my system are:

  • Inbox
  • Office Outlook 2007 Calendar
  • Windows Media Player
The gadget(s) will appear in the single installed SideShow device (or simulator in this case) only when the checkbox(s) are checked.

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