Windows 7 for Notebooks and Netbooks

GPS, Ambient-Light Sensors and More

Some notebooks already have ambient-light sensors that adjust the display’s backlight automatically. You typically want the display to be brighter when used outdoors (or to turn the backlighting off completely with a transflective screen, such as with the Portege R500 and R600), and dim when you’re in a dark room (which saves power and makes the screen more comfortable to look at). At the moment, there’s no standard way of doing this in Windows.

Windows 7 will support light sensors through a sensor framework that also includes GPS, accelerometers, cameras and anything else that provides ”senses” to the PC. Having this level of support in the operating system means that there’s less work for the PC manufacturers to do to make the components work. Microsoft is in discussions with what it refers to as a “major laptop supplier” to put ambient-light sensors into notebooks next year. As well as saving power, this means that software could adjust to match lighting conditions as well; Microsoft has developed a version of the MSDN Reader software that increases the point size of text, makes thin lines thicker and changes color charts to black and white so they’re easier to read.

As well as increasing display brightness using an ambient light sensor, Windows 7 can tell an application to automatically adjust settings, such as contrast or zoom.

Similar to the accelerometer in the iPhone, many business laptops also have accelerometers that detect when the systems are dropped so that they can park the hard drives’ heads to protect the data on the drives. Supporting accelerometers in the sensor framework will also make it easier to use them to control games, set off an alarm if anyone picks up your laptop while you’re away from it, increase the accuracy of GPS by detecting how fast the laptop is moving, rotate the screen when you turn a tablet PC around, or anything else that you could think of controlling with a motion detector. Sony and Lenovo already have notebooks that use spectrophotometers that color calibrate the display; the Windows 7 sensor platform should make it easier to build that kind of calibration into cheaper laptops.

Few notebooks have built-in GPS (although some UMPCs do). If you use a navigation application, such as Microsoft Streets & Trips that comes with a USB-based GPS device, only one application can access the GPS device at a time because USB is a serial connection. Accessing GPS through the sensor framework, however, means that several applications can get location information from the GPS at the same time, and you can set privacy controls as to which applications get access. If you’re indoors, the sensor platform could use a Wi-Fi triangulation such as Loopt (which Google Maps uses for cell-tower location on Windows Mobile devices and on the iPhone). Applications can get your location from Windows (along with an indication of how accurate the location data is), rather than needing to be aware of multiple devices and services. You can also set a default location for where you’re most likely to be.

As well as using GPS and Wi-Fi location services, Windows 7 lets you choose a default location.

Combining ambient-light sensors and GPS in the sensor platform means Windows 7 navigation applications could adjust the display for bright sunlight or driving in the dark.