One interesting feature of Microsoft’s new Vista OS called SideShow, allows a remote screen to be utilized as a second notifications-oriented display (e.g., small LCD embedded in the laptop case and viewable when the top is closed). One envisioned use is a way to enable calendar and/or push email alerts to be received by the end user even with the lid closed and the machine in standby. This is accomplished through the use of a WWAN-enabled intelligent controller card installed in the machine (developed with Novatel, a WWAN manufacturer, who worked with MSFT to define this capability). Using this card with MSFT Exchange and AirSync, an event is pushed to the card, which then wakes the machine, synchs with Outlook, puts the machine back into standby mode, and displays the information on the SideShow screen. While this is an interesting technology, is it technology users really need or want?
SideShow requires additional HW be installed in the machine (an additional ARM processor, associated memory, display and wireless connection capability, all linked to the internal machine bus and constantly drawing power). This will add significant cost (we estimate $100-$200) and complexity, not to mention reduced battery life. Further, it also requires a WWAN connection (e.g., Verizon, AT&T, Sprint). And, for this use, it requires that users have deployed the latest MSFT Exchange, which is required to make SideShow work (the card firmware interacts directly with the Exchange server via AirSync).
We do not expect SideShow, in its current form, to be all that attractive to most users, particularly business users who are primarily targeted for SideShow functionality. Nearly all business users who so desire already have the ability to receive alerts and emails on a mobile device (e.g., BlackBerry, Treo, etc.), which are carried by the user. Further, the level of convenience associated with looking at a screen on a closed laptop is not all that compelling (why not just leave the device open, and a user can’t view the screen while the notebook is in a briefcase). It would be more compelling if the display could be “remoted” from the laptop allowing the user to carry it around (perhaps via Bluetooth), but this capability is not currently available (although the SideShow spec does make provision for this). Even if it were, a smart phone would still allow more functionality and a wider range of operation by not needing to be tethered to a notebook, and adding web browsing and voice calling for an equivalent or lower cost.
We do believe that SideShow capability has a future – just not this one. The ability to utilize SideShow capability as a secondary display for desktops and servers would allow a number of interesting options (e.g., monitoring health of the machine, remote gaming information, diagnostics, instant messaging, etc.). And, SideShow technology has some ability to work on a machine in standby mode, so allowing a remote management suite (perhaps via AMT) to interact with the machine over a WWAN, or providing a “LoJack” like capability for machine security, would be an interesting derivative (however, this would require a re-architecting, as the interface to Exchange over AirSync, and the need to interact with Outlook on the machine, would both have to be modified to work with other products – not a trivial task).
Bottom Line: SideShow is currently a No-Show, as no first-tier notebook manufacturer we surveyed, except for Toshiba, has provided this capability nor intends to do so in the near term (Toshiba only provides its Active Notifications on a high end tablet unit at a premium price). We believe that SideShow in its current form is technology implemented too late, since smart phone devices currently provide this function very well, and are already available to the majority of enterprise class users who would want SideShow functionality. However, we do believe that MSFT (and potentially Intel and HW vendors) will take the SideShow concept further and make it much more meaningful in the next few years by evolving it to a remote management, security and diagnostics capability.