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The Curtain Falls On Windows Vista's "SideShow"

Windows Vista hasn't exactly vaulted its way to the top of the personal-computing business -- it only secured a 30 percent share of the market last week, as measured by one Web-statistics firm -- but one of that operating system's more-hyped components already looks close to dead.

That would be the "SideShow" feature Microsoft that allows Vista Home Premium and other, more expensive editions of the operating system to display a subset of relevant information on a small, secondary screen. For instance, a laptop's lid could embed a compact SideShow monitor listing new e-mail messages or upcoming appointments.

In the run-up to Vista's launch, industry observers and journalists expressed a great deal of interest and even excitement about the concept. But then a funny thing happened: Manufacturers didn't add SideShow displays to their products. With rare exceptions (such as one Dell XPS desktop), they ignored it outright.

Today, a search for "vista sideshow" on Amazon yields 60 books that mention this feature in some way but only one hardware item: a not-yet-shipped, $349 remote control with a SideShow display. A site tracking this technology's advances, SideShowDevices, hasn't been updated since last August.

It may be too soon to shovel dirt on SideShow's coffin -- this technology may yet find a useful role in such computing peripherals as digital picture frames. But when you look at Microsoft's prior attempts to promote new hardware designs or features, the odds don't look good. Consider the past failures of such high-profile initiatives as Portable Media Centers, Windows Powered Smart Displays and Ultra Mobile PCs... this company seems snakebit when it ventures too far beyond software.

It's not that the PC industry is resistant to change; it just doesn't appear to want to follow Microsoft's lead. The most significant change in the shape or function of personal computers in recent years -- cheap, ultra-light "netbook" laptops -- not only didn't happen on Microsoft's watch, it outright threatens Microsoft, since so many of these machines run the open-source Linux operating system.

If you've got a computer or other device with a SideShow display, I'd like to hear about it: Did you buy that gadget with that feature in mind? Do you get a lot out of it? And if you'd never heard of SideShow until reading this post, I'd like to hear about that too.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 24, 2009; 1:15 PM ET
Categories:  Windows  
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Linux isn't threatening Microsoft in netbooks. An exec with MSI said that the return rate for Linux netbooks was significantly higher than they're other computers as average people just aren't interested in learning something different from what they're accustomed to.

I've been hearing about the Linux threat for years and it gets fanboys giddy with excitement but it's not going to happen anytime soon on consumer desktops. If you looked at the numbers you'd realize that too.

Posted by: scarper86 | March 24, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

I assume that I read about SideShow in some review of Vista back when it came out. But if I did, I don't remember it. So, effectively, this Faster Forward post is the first I've heard of it.

Posted by: Ghak | March 24, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like another one of those neat sounding features where it turns out that hardly anyone ever uses it. Like rear-window wipers or PiP for TVs.

Posted by: koalatek | March 24, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

I have a Dell XPS 420 which has a small LCD display on the case. The XPS User's Manual refers to it as a "now playing" screen for audio and video applications, which allows you to navigate, select, and launch devices available on your system. No reference to Sideshow and no entry in the User's Manual's index for the display or Sideshow.
However, after sitting down on the floor in front of the computer I pushed one of several buttons next to the LCD display and up popped a welcome to Microsoft Sideshow entry, and with another button push found a description of Sideshow in microscopic-sized text. It references a Sideshow entry within the Control Panel but I could not find it. Very strange, very useless.

Posted by: RDO42 | March 24, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Sideshow? Bob?

Yep, two failed Microsuck products.

And the irony is just freakin' delicious.

Posted by: bs2004 | March 24, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Way to hijack the point of the blog, scarper. But, since you're such a snotty know-it-all, we'll stick with your 'argument' for a moment before returning to the subject at hand (SideShow, remember?)

What you fail to realize is that our poorly educated subset of humanity is NOT the end-all-be-all of the computer-buying world. Yes, the gOS machine did poorly at Wal-Mart and yes, according to the MSI guy, linux machines get returned at a higher rate, but I'd imagine that in each case, the returnees are people suckered in by the low price who failed to really pay attention to the linuxness. Anything new is not going to excite in that crowd.

Around the globe, however, linux IS making massive strides, as corporate servers and in government offices. As more and more M$ products continue to disappoint (ever try opening a powerpoint made on a mac on a win machine? transparencies don't work, drag-and-dropped images don't appear, etc) and as more and more people look to open source to solve their problems (I've had OpenOffice and Zoho open .doc files Word2004, 2007 AND 2008 could not), M$ will continue to see market share erode.

As to the topic at hand: I actually tried to find a slideshow equipped lappie for someone interested in an instant-on-ish machine and could not. While no MS-based machine is going to be quick-to-start, slideshow promised quick access to enough features that I thought it'd meet my friend's needs. They ended up buying a macbook (lovely unibody lozenge) because it comes back from sleep quickly enough to count as "instant on" in her book.

Besides the late non-lamented flipstart, did anyone produce something with this feature?

Posted by: Bush--notrelated | March 24, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

I have one of those XPS desktops. It sits on the floor next to my desk and I hardly ever look at it. Truth is, I'd mostly forgotten it even had a sideshow display.

I can certainly see where I might have more use for that feature on a notebook, but it had absolutely nothing to do with my buying decision.

Posted by: dactyl | March 24, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Rob - I follow your columns - great stuff! But I'm going off topic to ask you if WP is aware the Adam Pash, PCworld entries in the WP Technology electronic newsletter makes no sense? I follow the links to the online WP. His articles refer to useful applications but do not actually name them or provide a link to them. Typical Pash postings are: 'This service provides really good features.' But the service is not named. It's like incomplete sentences. I get the impression that there is some failed interface that is expected to fill in a link and provide the name, or a graphic like word text is missing. This would then make sense of the posting. I'd love to go visit some of these wonderful web sites, but don't have a clue what he's reporting about.

Since this happens in every posting I've read from Pash, I figure WP doesn't realize their interface with PCWorld is broken.

Why am I bothering YOU with this feedback? The "Feedback" link also is broken in the newsletters. There's no commenting available in the Pash postings, so I can't provide feedback there.

I hope you don't mind.

Thanks for your great articles - THAT'S working real well.

Posted by: Alexandria-va1 | March 24, 2009 10:10 PM | Report abuse

The title of your piece is quite alarming and absolute, but luckily we find that SideShow lives on, and is part of Windows 7.

My interest here is based on my running a small software firm that provides the mini-applications (or "gadgets") as free downloads, as well as the embedded software clients to various device makers.

The brief history of SideShow has been ... interesting. But it ain't over yet. We have hopes and plans, as do many other industry entities.

Posted by: MCal | March 25, 2009 3:48 AM | Report abuse

I've never heard of "SideShow" although I own two computers that came, regrettably, with the Vista OS. It would be just one more useless and obnoxious feature that I don't use, so I'm sure I'm not missing anything!

Posted by: canyon2912 | March 25, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

I repair and upgrade computers for a living. I see more Mac problems than I see people who bought Vista because they wanted it. People buy Vista because:
* they had no choice
* they didn't know they had a choice

That's just a poll of my customers, not very scientific, but I'll stand by it.

In spite of several years of working on computers (hardware and software) this is the first I heard of sideshow. I may have seen it as a feature when Vista was announced, but I wouldn't swear to it.

Posted by: filfeit | March 25, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

That's too bad, as an auxiliary display has a lot of potential. I loved my first clamshell phone with an LCD on the outside. I'm usually the last person to say anything positive about Micro$oft, but this idea may have been ahead of its time. Auxiliary displays on smart refrigerators, by the door (weather, traffic), in your steering wheel (compass, traffic) would be cool, but that still hasn't trickled down to the average consumer product yet. Once the average consumer gets more into home automation, an aux display might be more useful. But to display media player info? I've got a few media players, and they're all smaller than an UMPC, so why would I bother with something heavy enough to run Vista?

Posted by: MaxH | March 25, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

I just bought a Dell laptop and "downgraded" to Windows XP. You could not pay me to use Vista, so I do not know about Sideshow. I would have gone to Mac or Linux before Vista. Sideshow might be a nice feature if MS would stop messing with their OS and let well-enough alone.

Posted by: shadowshopper1981 | March 25, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

As the old joke goes, the day Microsoft makes a product that doesn't suck is the day they make a vacuum cleaner.

Posted by: edlharris | March 25, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

I have an Acer laptop with Vista (not my choice, but the price was right), and this is the first time I've heard of Sideshow.

Posted by: Kellygirl | March 25, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

I just checked files for Vista reviews by Mossberg and Pogue and find no mention of SideShow. I had never heard of it. When it didn't ring a bell, I thought it might have something to do with the Gadget gizzmos. Duhh! Erick the Red

Posted by: lienkirk | March 25, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I use Sideshow with my i-Mate Momento picture frame device in the kitchen connected via wireless to my PC. As it displays my pictures from the PC upstairs, it also displays information from the various Sideshow gadgets I have downloaded. I use the stock market gadget, e-mail notification gadget, and weather gadget. You might need to be a bit geeky to get the wireless picture frame recognized(requires UPnP enabled on both the PC and your router), but I like it. Could be a cool (no pun intended) app for the web-enabled refrigerator.

Also,there seems to be some confusion between the Windows Sideshow gadgets and the Windows Sidebar gadgets as you usually find some Sidebar gadgets in the Sideshow download area. Not a lot of choices, either.

Posted by: rjerden | March 25, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Hadn't seen anything on SideShow before. Seems about as useful as the Aero desktop to me. I don't have a problem with these technologies being developed, but when will Microsoft start delivering a core OS along with a "supplemental" CD (or DVD at the rate of bloat included with each new release). Guess OEMs are partially to blame since they too stack on extra software (both part of the OS and 3rd party) too.

About the only situation where I could see a small display being of use would be a system monitoring tool on headless servers or for over clockers on home systems where people want to closely monitor system operation.

Posted by: jim_maryland | March 25, 2009 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Never heard of SideShow. I have an older Lenovo laptop and kind of follow that brand. I read about the ThinkPad W700ds about 6 months or so ago that features a second slide out 10.6" screen, but I do not know if it uses SideShow technology. Details on

Posted by: BaracksTeleprompter | March 25, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

I have a Dell XPS 425 with the SideShow display. When I was using it, the photo section didn't display alot of the different photo types so I stopped using it. Who really wants to check emails onthat small display screen? I don't even use it anymore. It is nothing more than a gimmick. It's death is apparent. What was the benefit of that thing other than someone thinking they were getting a super cool computer? Blah...good riddance if it never shows up on another Dell unit ever!

Posted by: cbmuzik | March 25, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

After 2 years my Dell xps runs xp with virtual leopard. I call it a Wapple ;)

Posted by: MissHorngold | March 25, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

I have two XP machines, first heard of SideShow via your column today. Wouldn't have mattered. I've become a Linux user via Asus 701 with Xandros, liked it muchly, sold it to a student who uses it as his primary computer. I purchased the Asus 901, learned how to load Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron and used it muchly until just recently, when I obtained the HP Mini 1000 Mi. I wiped the HD and installed Hardy Heron Ubuntu. Looking back, I wish I'd ventured into Linux land long ago, but I waited until there were netbooks preloaded with Linux. Now I'm very happy with a Ubuntu netbook.

Posted by: TeresaBinstock | March 25, 2009 8:27 PM | Report abuse

In the past windows -does anyone remember their early 16bit versions?- has been a small operating system with lots to envy from their much bigger counterparts like unix or vms. Easy to use was the name of the game, certainly power was not. With each new version Microsoft kept adopting technologies originally developed by others and engulf them deeply inside windows. Tcp, dhcp, dns, ntp, ldap are just some of those fundamental technologies microsoft has adopted sometimes at the expense of microsoft-native ones, like netbeui, wins, the sam-database etc. Even the windows graphic environment, the very cornerstone of their success was pioneered by others, today microsoft still keeps paying royalties to Xerox and Apple for their use.

Through the times windows evolved as powerful as any of their rivals, with few if anything left to be borrowed anymore. This means that ms has to produce innovation of their own. Yet seldom can big companies be innovators, most prefer to buy of-the-self innovations by others. However ms has effectively killed competition and of course there is no innovation coming out of a dead competitor.

With windows v3.0 we had a mac like interface on our pc hardware. With Windows 95, part of the operating system became 32-bit. With NTs we had an alternative robust 32-bit business platform. With XPs, microsoft effectively managed to merge those two rival platforms which ought not to exist in the first place, into one common environment that is good both for business as well as pleasure.

With Vista it became obvious that microsoft has been past their prime time. Enter the financial meltdown, which has made consumers more cost-conscious than ever. Microsoft is unfortunately extremely expensive, while some of their surviving competitors are not only cheaper but free. Is there future for microsoft? Only time will tell. In the mean time I am writing this using open office running on top of an Ubuntu machine. For once I do not have to worry for the conficker virus expected to strike some 11 million windows installations on April 1st. And I do not even have to use an anti-virus.

Posted by: skata3 | March 25, 2009 11:13 PM | Report abuse

Never heard of it but would like to use it...

Posted by: edmundsingleton1 | March 26, 2009 4:58 AM | Report abuse

I don't recall 'Sideshow.' But, I doubt most people recall 'Origami' either.

Isn't what Sideshow does just as easily accessed by one's smartphone or another ancillary device? I'm not sure I understood rjerden's post, but it seemed like he was talking about widgets on his computer, not some separate feature, at one point. And, in regard to picture frames, why not just use one with Wi-Fi that loads autonomously?

Posted by: query0 | March 26, 2009 5:29 AM | Report abuse

I just bought a Dell mini 9 with Ubuntu -- it is the best $200 I have spent recently. The device is just what I wanted -- a portable web machine with enough keyboard to type on.

(PS -- All the trolling about return rates is B.S. -- according to Dell the rates for XP/Linux are the same... avoid the noid! )

Posted by: jabailo | March 26, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

At first, I liked the sideshow. I loaded it up with cool stuff. Then I eliminated one item after another. Sure, it was cool, but even with just a few items, I realized it was simply distracting. I keep the sideshow off now. Seemed like a good idea at the time, I guess.

Posted by: px3123 | March 27, 2009 6:53 AM | Report abuse

It sounds like another technology put out there because they can, not because there is a need or want for it.

Posted by: gordz01 | March 31, 2009 8:21 AM | Report abuse

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