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Unveiling Windows SideShow

Windows SideShow, an auxiliary hardware display, gives users the ability to use PCs even when they are turned off—and developers get to provide the content.

ideShow allows users to remotely control PCs and servers. It allows PCs to create interactive output on devices other than monitors so users can view useful data stored on their PCs when they are away from it. It enables users to interact with their PCs in scenarios that would previously have been very cumbersome, and allows for the creation of secondary display and interaction devices that would previously have been cost-prohibitive. The Windows Sideshow auxiliary hardware display can display information and provide interaction even when the main PC is turned off, the laptop lid is closed, or no monitor is available.

The basic idea of Windows SideShow is straightforward: provide a way to interact with a PC when it is off, or when the user does not have access to keyboard, mouse, and monitor for some reason. Imagine a scenario where you have your notebook in a bag and want to check whether you received e-mail. You need to get your laptop out of the bag, open up the lid, wait for the device to boot, launch your e-mail application, and wait for it to download mail from the mail server. It's a cumbersome and time-consuming task, just to check for new e-mail.

With SideShow, the scenario is drastically different: Pull the computer out of the bag and glance at a display built into the outside of the lid of the notebook (see Figure 1) to see how many new e-mails you have received, and even read them right there.

Figure 1: SideShow-compatible Display: Here's a SideShow-compatible display on the lid of a notebook computer.
This auxiliary display (also known as aux display) is really a tiny computer that is always on, even when the main computer is turned off. (Don't worry: It consumes only a minute amount of precious battery power). This tiny computer can choose to periodically power up the main computer to perform tasks such as mail synchronization, and then shut it down again. These devices can also act completely autonomously. For example, the device may decide it is time to alert you about a meeting it has known about for a while. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the device may be used as a kind of remote control for applications on the main PC. For example, you can use SideShow to control Windows Media Player and play songs without having to open the laptop lid.

SideShow is not strictly a mobile technology, although it certainly plays an important role in mobility. It is also very useful in other scenarios, such as the ability for a system administrator to check the status of a server without having to hook up a monitor and a keyboard. Envision a set of rack-mounted servers that have a SideShow display built in so you can quickly check the status of all servers in a rack and even perform simple tasks, such as resetting a service or rebooting a computer.

Similarly, aux displays can be built into portable computers on places other than the lid. Currently, computers have LEDs to indicate simple status information, such as whether the device runs on a battery or is plugged into an outlet. Figure 2 shows concept art for such a configuration.

Figure 2. Goodbye LED's: This concept art shows a notebook that uses a Windows SideShow-compatible display instead of simple LEDs.
Figure 3: SideShow Remote: A Windows SideShow-compatible remote control controls a Windows Media Center PC.
Not all aux displays are built into the hardware. They can also be separate, hand-held devices that communicate with the PC through technologies such as Bluetooth or standard wireless connections. Such devices could be special- purpose-built devices, or more common devices, such as cell phones. This way, system administrators could control and monitor servers using that hand-held device (or cell phone), rather than having to walk up to each server.

In a more consumer oriented scenario, you could use a SideShow-based remote control device (see Figure 3) to control a Windows Media Center PC, without ever having to look at a conventional display device and without getting anywhere near the PC. Similarly, SideShow devices could be used as interactive picture frames in the living room, or recipe viewers in the kitchen. The low cost of SideShow devices makes such scenarios feasible; limits are set only by hardware vendor's imaginations.

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