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September 1, 2009

The Device Experience in Windows 7 – UPDATED

I am posting this on behalf of Jack Tao who is a Program Manager on the Windows 7 Devices & Media Team. Jack is one of the newer members of his team and wants to introduce Windows 7’s new device experience and the Device Stage feature. He joined the Devices and Media Team first as an Intern Program Manager in 2007. While working on device connectivity features at the time, he saw a mockup of the Windows 7 device experience that was nothing more than a PowerPoint slideshow. It promised to make using devices with Windows easier than ever while providing device makers unique opportunities for differentiation. A year later, he graduated from college and came back to the same team in Microsoft full-time. He worked on integrating picture and video import with Device Stage and learned firsthand how “slide-ware” becomes software.

In this blog post, he and Robin Goldstein, Max Morris, and Marc Pottier will tell you about how Device Stage works. They will explain their motivations and design process, and also show how our partners participated.

More and more, people are relying on devices besides PCs and laptops for their information, communication, and entertainment experience. Most of these devices can connect to a PC locally or wirelessly, can join networks, and increasingly have their own rich applications, services, and data capabilities. Our goal with Windows 7 was to help customers use and manage these devices in a more enjoyable way and to help device makers provide access to their device experiences and services in a flexible but consistent manner.

What is the Windows Device Experience?

Previous versions of Windows presented a component and function-centric view of devices. Consider the experience for a customer with a multifunction printer in Windows Vista and XP.


At the high level, a Printers folder shows fax and print functions represented as separate devices, with generic icons, while the scanner function is not represented at all. At the system level, the experience challenge is further illustrated by the tree node representation of the Windows Device Manager.

For device makers, our partners, the device experience Windows has provided has also been limiting. There was no easy way to integrate services, unique features, and branding directly into Windows. As a result, there was a lack of distinction in the device experience Windows provided for different devices, even if the devices had quite different features. In addition, device makers are increasingly writing unique applications to provide access to services, offers, and support for their products. To achieve differentiation and to fully leverage the features of their devices, many device makers substitute their own device experience for the one Windows provides. 

From the user perspective, all of this leads to an incoherent experience when trying to accomplish common tasks with devices.

Creating a Better Experience

In Windows 7, we started by clearly defining the device experience that we believed our users and our partners need and want:

  • User experience features that define how people discover and use devices that are connected to their PC.
  • System and platform features that define how device makers present their devices and related services in Windows.

We wanted to enhance the installation and configuration process by improving enumeration and display of device capabilities, presentation of devices, and access to configuration settings. We also wanted to create a discoverable and enjoyable way of accessing applications and services specific to a device.

From a design perspective, we determined the user experience should support finding and recognizing devices, discovering device capabilities and common tasks, and accessing support services and accessories. Also, the user experience should be natural and have a consistent work flow with little to no learning curve.

The value for device makers would come from simplified installation and deployment, clear brand association, prominent placement in the experience, and extensibility and customizability of the experience.

The Windows 7 Device Experience

In Windows 7 we introduced several new features to address the challenges and meet the goals outlined above. These new features are supported by system and platform enhancements that define how device makers present their devices, related applications, and services within the Windows user interface. Two of the key features we developed involved new user experiences for devices.

Devices and Printers: Available from the Windows 7 Start menu, a new experience known as Devices and Printers lets users see all the devices connected to their PC. The devices represented are the ones users can actually touch and feel not abstract components or functions. A multifunction printer now shows up as a single device in Devices and Printers, not as a collection of three or four components. Devices can be connected via USB, or paired via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth wireless interfaces.  Device makers do not have to do anything for their devices to show up in Devices and Printers. But if they want to, they can customize the experience the user will have by using a new set of XML schemas supported in Windows 7. They can also develop custom context menu handlers to be shown when the user right-clicks on the device.


Devices and Printers with custom device data

Device Stage: Device Stage provides a new way for users to interact with devices. It includes a visual interface that makes it easy for customers to find and use applications and services for their devices. Device makers that develop device experiences for Device Stage use a new set of XML schemas to specify rich branding and customization of the interface, including defining custom tasks to install software and links to services. Device makers can update their custom Device Stage experiences by submitting updated XML to Microsoft for distribution to Windows 7 PCs across the Internet.

Device Stage can be accessed by double-clicking a supported device from within Devices and Printers. 


The Device Stage user interface follows the model of any Shell view in Windows, and Device Stage devices appear on the Windows taskbar whenever Device Stage is open. In this way, users can interact with devices in the same manner as they would an application, with access to the enhanced taskbar functionality, including jump lists.

For portable devices, Device Stage also provides a multifunction version of AutoPlay, so the device icon will appear on the taskbar whenever the device is connected to the PC. If the device maker does not develop a Device Stage experience for a portable device, the Windows 7 AutoPlay experience is maintained.

Device Stage Design Principles

As we set out to design Device Stage, we established some guiding principles early in the project to help us focus the design and development process. These principles were gleaned from our partners, from extensive customer feedback, from focus groups around the world, and from our own vision for how devices should work with Windows.

Here’s a look at how some of the high-level ideals that guided our design.

Use your device in seconds: Plug in your device to your PC and use it right away.

As we explored device scenarios, we came to realize that just connecting a device to a PC can sometimes be intimidating. You often need to find & download custom drivers and install software supplied by the device maker to use your device, sometimes even in just the right order. With Device Stage our goal was to reduce, and in some cases eliminate, the need to install additional software on the PC. We wanted people to literally just plug in their devices and start using them.

What we did: The first thing we did was work to improve the reliability of the experience. To qualify for a fully branded Device Stage experience, devices must be certified to meet our minimum requirements. This usually means devices need to earn the Compatible with Windows Logo certification and that their drivers ship in box with Windows or are available from Windows Update. This quality check makes sure that the device is compatible with Windows and that it will have a good experience when connecting to Windows. In the document device case, an in box driver distribution program for printers, scanners, and multifunction printers provides a similar quality check, so it’s also a basis for certification.

The next step was to provide a device experience on connect. To do this, we added a “baseline” feature to Device Stage. When connected for the first time, a device that has opted to use the baseline feature has immediate support in Device Stage. The baseline device experience provides quick access to the core features of the device. 

Finally, we needed to support an upgrade mechanism from the baseline to the custom device experience. As users work with the baseline experience, Windows 7 also checks online to see if the device maker has provided a custom device experience for the device. If available, Windows 7 downloads and installs it, and then offers the user the opportunity to upgrade. The result is an effortless first-connect experience-you plug in your device, and moments later you are interacting with a fully branded experience designed explicitly for you device.


Example of an upgrade from a baseline experience to a fully branded Device Stage experience

Everything you need for your device in one place: Windows 7 makes the device the center of your experience.

In earlier versions of Windows, users needed to know ahead of time which applications to use with their devices. AutoPlay sometimes helped users discover applications for portable devices, but the model didn’t scale well to services or web-hosted content. As devices have become increasingly sophisticated and varied in their functions, this problem has become more acute-leading people to hunt and peck through the Start menu or control panel for applications or configuration options, or to navigate complex websites to find product information. We wanted to make it easier for people to find compatible programs and access content and services for their devices-from their device itself.

What we did: In Windows 7, we flipped the device experience model on its head.  Instead of making applications the focus of the device experience, we chose to make the device the center of attention. To improve discoverability, we created Devices and Printers within which every device connected to a PC appears. We also enabled device makers to provide photorealistic icons of their device to help customers recognize their device in Windows. If the device maker has opted-in to Device Stage, double-clicking on the device icon navigates to the device’s Device Stage window.


Devices and Printers is easily discoverable and available from the Start menu

Improving device discoverability was just the first step. We still needed to provide an easy way to access the applications, content, and services for a device. This requirement led us to the model for making device tasks available from within the shell, along with partner customized services and links in a single Window.

Different devices have different usage patterns: A single interaction model doesn’t work for all devices.

Device interaction models vary greatly based on the type of device and the capabilities it supports. For example, printers are always connected, and most people usually access printer functions through the Print dialog from an application. Portable devices (mobile phones, portable media players, and digital still cameras) are different. Many portable devices are multifunction and can be used to perform a wide range of tasks. They are also only occasionally connected to the PC, but they are typically heavily used when they are connected.  As we worked across device-classes, we realized that the device experience needed to fit within the user’s usage patterns.

What we did: One example of a device-specific behavior is the behavior of Windows when a portable device connects to and disconnects from a PC. When you connect a portable device to the PC, you’ll notice that its icon automatically appears in the taskbar. Since the device is likely the focus of the user’s attention, this provides quick access to the device while it’s connected. Hovering over the device taskbar icon will show you its status, and right-clicking will display a jump list of its frequently-used tasks.

Placing the device icon on the taskbar helps discoverability and access to tasks while the device is connected – but what happens when it disconnects?  Because portable devices come and go, we also wanted to make sure it was easy to remove a device from Windows.  Disconnecting a portable device removes it from the taskbar and automatically closes all Device Stage windows, ensuring that the desktop remains clean and uncluttered. 


Disconnecting a portable device automatically closes all Device Stage windows to reduce desktop clutter

It’s our partner’s device experience: Windows device experiences are the embodiment of our partner’s brand & unique device capabilities.

We partnered closely with many device makers and were careful to listen to their requirements, analyzing these for common needs and scenarios. We found that many partners didn’t especially enjoy developing desktop software, but found it a necessary investment in order to deliver features for their devices.

Some people buy devices based solely on the technical specs and hardware capabilities of the device, but for many consumers, buying a new device is also an emotional decision. Millions of dollars are spent on marketing the latest devices in an attempt to form a connection with people and build desire for the product. This customer relationship is critical to our partners, and we decided early on that Windows should reinforce this connection. 

What we did: We provided a platform to enable the look and feel as well as the contents of the experience to be almost entirely up to the device maker. Device makers can develop custom tasks so that device experiences are specifically tailored to particular devices. Custom tasks could include links to product manuals, shopping sites for compatible accessories, and sites for getting technical support, or even online services that interact directly with the connected device.

Anatomy of a Device Stage Experience

The Device Stage experience is presented through the Device Stage window and the device icon on the taskbar. Working together with Devices and Printers, these interfaces provide a coherent device experience, enabling users to quickly find and access the features for their device.

Why are the devices on the Taskbar? Devices appear on the taskbar whenever a Device Stage window is open. With portable devices, the taskbar icons appear when the device is connected, regardless of whether the Device Stage window is currently open or not. This makes it easy to access and recognize when a device is connected. Interacting with the device from the taskbar is as easy as managing windows and documents in an application.


Getting storage status from the Taskbar Preview.


Launching tasks from the device Jump List.


Mouseover for Aero Peek when the Device Stage window is also open.

What’s in the Device Stage Windows? The Device Stage window contains a branding header along the top of the window, with a space for tasks and task categories in the area below.

The Branding Bar: The branding bar is made up of a handful of graphics: a background image, an overlay image, a device hero image, and primary and secondary logo images. These images are specified by the device maker and presented by Device Stage when the device experience is displayed. Device makers can experiment with a different look and feel by creating custom graphics and referencing them in the Device Stage XML.


The XML sample below shows how graphical elements are expressed in the branding bar.


<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>

<deviceBehavior experienceId=”{11874871-83cc-4f8a-af63-0535325ec131}” xmlns=””>

  <header watermarkAlign=”left” textColor=”#FF000000″ backgroundImage=”Light_Sky_Left.png” watermarkImage=”Light_Bubbles_left.png” sheen=”false”>

    <modelInfo image=”sample_device.png” launcherThumbnail=”sample_launcher.png” />

    <logos split=”horizontal” scalingBehavior=”maximizeLogoSize”>

      <logo image=”sample_logo1.png” valign=”center” halign=”right” />

      <logo image=”sample_logo2.png” valign=”center” halign=”right” />



  <appearance textColor=”#FF000000″ descriptionColor=”#FF808080″ frameColor=”#FF666666″ backgroundColor=”#FFffffff” />

Tasks and Categories: The tasks and categories area enables users to launch applications and browse to websites from Device Stage. To help ensure core device functions are always available to users, Windows 7 includes a number of built-in tasks such as picture and video import, contacts and calendar sync, a ringtone editor, printer queues, hardware control panels, and more.


For example, a picture and video import program is included in Windows 7 and it’s available in Device Stage through a built-in task. Without requiring additional software to be installed, a user can connect their camera or mobile phone and use the task to import photos and videos right from Device Stage. Also, the user can set this task as the default action for Device Stage to take whenever the device is connected.  If a user prefers to use a different, compatible program-such as Windows Live Photo Gallery, or other software from a third-party-the user can easily change the task to use the preferred program instead at any time.

The Device Stage Metadata Package: To deliver the experience to the user, the graphics and XML defined by the device maker must be assembled together into a file known as a device metadata package. The package is associated with a given device or device family and is what Windows 7 uses to create the experience whenever a device connects. Packaging files together makes it easy to distribute the device experience as described in the next section.

Device Stage End-to-End System

To make Device Stage work as easily as we wanted it to, we needed to invest in more than just the Windows 7 experience. We developed and deployed a set of Internet services with to support the development and validation of custom Device Stage experiences by device makers, as well as to support the distribution of these custom device experiences to Windows 7 PCs. The following diagram illustrates the end-to-end steps in this system.


The system is managed by Microsoft to support the global scale of use expected by Windows 7 device maker partners and users. Here’s how the system works to deliver on our design principles.

Family Programming Model

The programming model for customizing a Device Stage experience leverages familiar design, development, testing, and verification processes. XML is the language used for expressing customization, letting the device maker benefit from existing investments in the development tools of its choice. Customization can be done in a language-neutral way, with text resources encoded directly within separate XML files. This makes it more efficient and less error-prone to localize a device experience.

The overall development process is simply a matter of design, editing, and refining XML template documents provided by Microsoft for each device class. The XML templates encode the basic experience for a particular device class.  Syntactic accuracy for any changes made can be verified by comparing a custom experience’s XML files against XML schema description (XSD) files. Windows 7 can also be configured to support rapid testing to verify the device experience works as expected in Device Stage. 

Low-cost Validation and Management

The validation and management process leverages and extends existing business processes supported by Windows Quality Online Services (Winqual) around the Windows Logo Program for Devices. It is through this process that the device maker and Microsoft agree to customize the device experience for a particular device. 

Device makers first design, develop, test, package, and verify their custom device experience offline. The resulting metadata packages can then be submitted for validation via the Web. Winqual’s process makes sure the device maker identity and its submissions are validated and secured using VeriSign IDs. 

The validation process involves checking the XML files for correct syntax, and verifying that graphics files meet the visual layout guidelines, and submissions are checked using anti-virus and other security filters. 

The validation process is designed to be automatic, lightweight, and efficient with a rapid turnaround to address any errors that may exist. 

Finally, Microsoft signs device metadata packages it validates to guard against tampering, giving the device maker and users confidence in the integrity of the system. This also provides for flexible distribution by the device maker. The device maker can update, replace, and remove validated device metadata packages through Winqual at any time. If any issues with a device experience arise, Microsoft and the device maker can work together to update the device experience.

Support device maker control

The end-to-end system was designed to put the device maker in control of the device experience. Only the device maker who certifies a device is able to customize the corresponding device experience.  The system supports automated schemes to avoid most conflicts in device identifiers. When conflicts do occur, they are efficiently resolved by Winqual with interested device makers before having any impact on the user. 

A device maker can produce a device experience for a family of devices, and then create an experience for a specific device from that family. This is useful for lowering upfront investment costs and for providing the same experience to a family of devices that have common functionality and appearance. Depending on the device identifiers used, a device maker can customize an experience directly on behalf of its business partners. 

Flexible distribution and installation

Once signed, device metadata packages can be distributed to Windows 7 PCs through many paths.  The distribution and installation process is separated from the validation and management processes in order to provide maximum flexibility to the device maker and a high-quality experience for the user. 

Microsoft distributes all signed device metadata packages to Windows 7 PCs via the Windows Metadata Information Service (WMIS). After it installs device drivers for the device, Windows 7 queries WMIS for a matching device metadata package. After the initial query and in the background, Windows 7 will periodically check for updates to the device experience.

Device makers can install device metadata packages directly during setup, either from the device or from a setup application (depending on the device class).  Device makers can also distribute packages via their own websites, or make packages available to enterprise customers for installation to administratively-managed Windows 7 PCs.

Match what the user sees

The device experience the user sees in Device Stage needs to correspond to the device the user perceives as the integrated, physical device, and the device experience has to be in the language the user is currently using in Windows. So, when Windows 7 looks for a device metadata package, it uses identifying information about the device and the current user’s language settings. Device metadata packages are matched based on the physical device the user sees. To help with this matching, new investments in Windows associate the logical functions for a physical device automatically and seamlessly. This is an addition to the previous device model in Windows, which was organized around logical functions and buses VS organized around the physically integrated “piece of plastic” that the user actually perceives.

Device Stage Adoption

Unlike Devices and Printers, Device Stage requires the device maker to invest in developing a custom experience, and the device has to be certified to work well with Windows.  Also, because the platform is new, Microsoft only supports a limited number of device classes in Device Stage at this time. Together, these limitations help make sure the Device Stage experience will work correctly on Windows for a device. However, this also means adoption of Device Stage by the industry can take time.

Windows 7 initially only supported portable and document devices, including mobile phones, portable media players, digital still cameras, printers, scanners, and multifunction printers. Based on industry feedback, Device Stage now supports the PC itself as well as HID-based devices such as keyboards and mice. Further device class support will be added after Windows 7 ships, because the end-to-end system supports extensibility without changes to the Windows 7 PC. Participation from PC and device makers in the supported device classes is ramping up, and we should see more custom experiences emerge as new Windows 7 PCs are launched.

For the portable and document device classes, to help minimize their upfront investment and improve initial adoption, Windows supports device makers with compatible devices who do not offer a custom Device Stage experience to target Device Stage anyway, using the baseline Device Stage experience. With the baseline experience, there is no partner branding or tasks, but all of the built-in Windows tasks are enabled, as well as integration with the Windows 7 taskbar, jump lists, Devices and Printers, and AutoPlay as applicable.  For the Windows 7 launch, we expect partners to take advantage of this option as they work to develop their custom Device Stage experiences.  Over 5000 devices already support the baseline Device Stage experience.


Device Stage for mobile phone using the baseline Device Stage experience

Yes, you can try this at home!

If you want to see Device Stage in action for yourself, Devices and Printers is a good place to start. Available from the Start menu, it provides one easy place for you to manage printers and USB, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi devices. From here, change your default printer, open a link to browse files on your portable media player, or launch Device Stage for a compatible digital camera.

In addition to trying out Devices and Printers, chances are you’ll also have a Device Stage compatible device. Many popular cameras, media players, mobile phones, printers, scanners, and multifunction printers support at least the baseline Device Stage experience. And many device makers are busy adding support for a custom Device Stage experience, in these device categories and others.  Don’t be surprised if one day Windows 7 automatically offers a custom Device Stage experience for your device.

We hope this post has given you some insights into how Device Stage works and how we built it. We’re always looking to improve Windows, so we welcome your feedback!

– Jack, Robin, Max, & Marc