Given the huge growth in notebook use since the launch of XP, it’s hardly surprising that Microsoft designed whole portions of Vista with mobile workers firmly in mind.

The Mobility Center lay at the heart of all the marketing towards laptop owners, but in truth it’s little more than a useful conglomeration of previously scattered options – brightness, power options, wireless, external displays – in one menu. It’s deeper within these options that Vista really improves over XP, most notably in ways to extend battery life (although some claim Vista is inherently more power-consuming than XP).

Admittedly, the advanced power setting’s interface is far too fiddly, and allowing you to fiddle with PCI Express power controls is over the top for most users. But the control you have over critical battery levels and actions, maximum CPU clock speeds and the addition of a reliable sleep mode leaves XP looking distinctly desktop orientated. We’re particularly impressed by how quick Vista returns to life from sleep mode.

Vista also makes improvements for connecting with external devices. XP offered a basic add-on for this purpose called SyncToy, but Vista’s SyncCenter is integrated into the OS and is a more polished offering. As with the Mobility Center, it draws together the synching of data between computers, network servers and devices into one place, making it a simpler task to keep devices up to date – the Sync All button really does make it a one-click job to set running while you make the tea.

While tablet PCs haven’t really taken off, Vista still has a whole section dedicated to its unique features, and you can make use of them on any normal laptop if you have a graphics tablet and stylus. Its handwriting- recognition software is surprisingly accurate, with thorough training modules for initial calibration, and the array of customisable flicks and gestures are wonderful for rapid navigation after a bit of practice.

Finally, Vista opens a door to future developments that could – and we’re sitting on the fence for this one – be extremely exciting. The SideShow technology allows laptops to support a secondary screen for all sorts of extensions, from built-in LCDs on the lid to remote controls that can browse your music collection. It’s still in its embryonic stage, but it’s just one more reason for mobile users to keep faith with Vista.

XP – 7
Did what was expected of it back then, but in an increasingly mobile market it looks flimsy when you compare it to Vista.

Vista – 9
Built with the mobile user in mind, it brings together existing notebook features and adds innovative ones itself.

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