Windows 8 to have airplane mode, seamless network switching

Microsoft's upcoming flagship operating system Windows 8 may soon have an "airplane mode" that switches off all its radio devices - or stay online by seamlessly switching among Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G networks.   Billy Anders, a group program manager on Microsoft's devices and networking team, also said they want to keep Windows connected to a network even when in a low-power state.   "We looked at the fundamentals of wireless connectivity and re-engineered Windows 8 for a mobile and wireless future, going beyond incremental improvements. This is a good example of work that requires new hardware to work in concert with new software in order to realize its full potential," Anders said in a blog post.   Anders noted Wi-Fi alone would not be enough for true mobility, and integrated mobile broadband (MB) should be right alongside Wi-Fi.   In Windows 8, he said Microsoft developed an in-box mobile broadband class driver that works with all of these devices and eliminates the need for additional device driver software.   "You just plug in the device and connect. The driver stays up to date via Windows Update, ensuring you have a reliable mobile broadband experience," he said.   Managing radio connections, airplane mode   Anders said the new Windows 8 network settings allow a user to turn individual radios on and off, including Wi-Fi, mobile broadband, or Bluetooth.   But it also allows users to disable all radios at once with the new “airplane mode.”   "You can turn airplane mode on or off in one click," Anders said.   Windows 8 also provides native radio management to eliminate the conflicts and confusion, and to provide a consistent experience for controlling radios without the need to install additional software.   Yet, Anders said that while this may be a new feature for PCs, it has long been available on today’s mobile phones - "or Windows Mobile phones, going way back."   Wireless network settings   Also, the new wireless network settings in Windows 8 allow a user to see and connect to all available MB and Wi-Fi networks from one convenient user interface.   "We made sure that this interface is consistent and allows you to think less about which network you want to connect. Windows does this by starting with the right default behaviors, and then it gets smarter by learning your network preferences over time," Anders said.   He said one default behavior is to prioritize Wi-Fi networks over broadband whenever a preferred Wi-Fi networks is available.   "When you connect to a Wi-Fi network, we automatically disconnect you from your mobile broadband network and, when appropriate, power down the mobile broadband device, which also increases battery life. If no preferred Wi-Fi network is available, we automatically reconnect you to your preferred mobile broadband network," Anders said.   To make sure Windows 8 connects to the right network when multiple networks are available, Windows maintains an ordered list of preferred networks based on the user's explicit connect and disconnect actions, as well as the network type.   Reconnect after standby   Windows can reconnect faster to preferred Wi-Fi networks when the device resumes from standby.   Also, Windows can reconnect faster to preferred Wi-Fi networks by optimizing operations in the networking stack, and providing the network list, connection information, and hints to the Wi-Fi adapter.   "Now when your PC resumes from standby, your Wi-Fi adapter already has all the information it needs to connect to your preferred Wi-Fi networks. This means you can reconnect your PC to a Wi-Fi network from standby in about a second –oftentimes before your display is even ready. You do not have to do anything special for this – Windows just learns which networks you prefer and manages everything for you," Anders said.   Integrating mobile broadband   Anders said Microsoft is making things simpler and more intuitive by fully integrating mobile broadband into Windows 8.   "When you’re ready to connect to a mobile broadband network, you simply insert your mobile broadband device or SIM card into your Windows 8 PC and we take care of the setup," he said.   He said Windows 8 has native support for a carrier-unlocked mobile broadband device that supports carrier switching, including most mobile broadband users outside the US.   Such native support allows a user to select and connect to any supported carrier from within the Windows UI.   On the other hand, if a user bought and activated a data plan along with a SIM or mobile broadband device, "all you need to do is connect to the network and we get out of the way, allowing you to do what you want to do."   A user who has not done so can click the “Connect” button for the mobile operator he or she wants, "and we automatically direct you to their mobile broadband app or website, where you can select a data plan (for example, a time-based, limit-based, or subscription-based plan)."   Show usage details, costs   Anders said Windows 8 identifies the mobile broadband subscriber information, looks up the mobile operator in the new Access Point Name (APN) database, and pre-provisions the system to connect to the operator’s network.   "The operator’s mobile broadband app is available via the 'View my account' link, or from the app’s tile on the Start screen. Here, you can see how much data you’ve used, pay your bill, manage your account, and get customer support," Anders said.   Anders also said Windows 8 also takes the cost of the network into consideration.   "(W)e automatically disconnect from mobile broadband and connect you to your preferred Wi-Fi networks whenever they’re available. This reduces your data usage on mobile broadband when possible," he said.   Adjusting Windows Update download behavior   Anders said they are also optimizing bandwidth usage by changing the Windows Update download behavior.   "For a majority of users, who have turned on automatic updating, Windows Update will defer the background download of all updates until you connect to a non-metered network, such as your home broadband connection," he said.   But he said the only exception is in the case of a critical security update to fix a worm-like vulnerability (such as a Blaster worm).   In that case, Windows Update will download the update regardless of the network type. — TJD, GMA News

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