Windows 7 Device Stage: Ready, Set, No Go!

Judging from my exerience, one of the OS's signature features isn't done yet.

By  |  Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 3:18 am

Empty StageSo help me, I like Windows 7. Its emphasis on staying out of users faces whenever possible is a huge sea change that makes it the most pleasant version of the OS in eons. I’ve been running various pre-release iterations for a year now, and look forward to booting into the thing–a radical improvement over Vista, which usually had me gritting my teeth as I pressed the power button. Here’s a long and favorable review which I wrote for PC World.

But as Windows-reviewing pundits go, I’m relatively cautious. Windows 7 may be launching today, but there are things we won’t know about it until millions of people try to install it on millions of PCs, each of them unique. And there are other aspects of the OS whose success is contingent on work yet to be done by parties other than Microsoft. Like, for instance, Device Stage, the new feature which lets makers of cameras, printers, and other gadgets create customized user experiences within Windows 7.

When I wrote that PC World story a few weeks ago, I tried to review Device Stage and gave up: None of the gizmos I plugged in gave me the results that Microsoft was touting for Device Stage. The company told me that manufacturers were still readying their Device Stage support in preparation for Windows 7’s launch day. Well, that day is here–so I’ve been revisiting Device Stage on a couple of Windows 7 PCs. My experimentation is limited and unscientific. But so far, it’s left me completely disappointed with the feature.

Device Stage is supposed to do two primary things:

A) Give you a section in Control Panel (Devices and Printers) where all your peripherals are listed, with slick icons that depict the specific items you own;

B) Give each product a page of its own that brings together useful information and resources–for a camera, for instance, it might provide a battery gauge and links to online documentation and photo-sharing tools.

But when I connected a whole bunch of items to a Windows 7 system, here’s what I got:

Device Stage

So much for realistic icons: My HP Officejet Pro L7500 is the only item that got an icon that looked like itself. The Nikon D90 camera got a generic camera icon. So did my iPhone 3GS. A BlackBerry Curve was identified as a “RIM Composite Device” and got a mysterious slablike icon. I’m not positive what the “USB Input Device” is, but I know the system doesn’t sport anything that looks like the icon. And that refrigerator-like icon with the warning triangle near the bottom? It represents Microsoft’s own brand-new Zune HD.

When I double-clicked the D90 icon, I got its Device Stage, which looked like this:

Nikon D90

Not bad, I guess–I got a battery and a few basic photo-related tools. But back in January, Microsoft was already touting the D90 as a “a device that works great with Windows 7 today.” It published a D90 Device Stage image:

Nikon D90 Device Stage

Much nicer, and certainly more customized, with a pretty image of the D90 and links to Nikon-specific support resources and photo tools.

When I connected a Seagate FreeAgent drive to the Windows 7 machine, I got a dialog box that probably doesn’t count as a Device Stage at all. It looks like a typical device dialog box of the sort that we’re familiar with from previous versions of the OS:


Pretty darn spartan. And why is it telling me to right-click to get to tasks related to the drive, such as the ability to browse it? It’s inconsistent with what Device Stage leads you to think is Windows’ new approach to providing access to such tasks, and you can tell that Microsoft thinks people will expect to find the tasks here–that’s why it displays the odd message telling users they’re looking in the wrong place. Why couldn’t the FreeAgent get a Device Stage in the same format as the one the D90 has?

Now, it’s entirely possible that Device Stage is going to get much faster very quickly. It’s more of a service than a feature: Windows 7 can download Device Stages on the fly when you plug in a relevant device. Maybe the manufacturers of all the products I tried will finish their Device Stages in the very near future. Or maybe my choice of items–which were the ones I happened to have handy–was unlucky and unrepresentative. And to be fair, Microsoft says that it’s concentrating mostly on trying to convince vendors to make Device Stages for new products; it’s not claiming that every gadget you’ve already bought will ever get a full-blown Device Stage of its own.

In any case, my experience with Device Stage on Windows’ official launch day has me more convinced than ever that judging Windows 7 is an experience that’s going to take a few weeks, at least–and which will benefit hugely from the input of lots of real people rather than just the guys who write formal reviews.

If you have Windows 7, let us know what your Device Stage experience is. Better yet, tell us your impressions of Win 7 in general…


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9 Comments For This Post

  1. Bouke timbermont Says:

    I am currently using the RC (and will switch to the retail version soon) and for me, device stage works fine. For example, My microsoft SideWinder x3 mouse, logitech illuminated keyboard, xbox360 controller, Sandisk Cruzer Contour USB drive all have photo-realistic matching icons. The features of device sage however, are somewhat disappointing. The only real feature I get comes with my Coolpix S210, and it let’s me see the free memory (not battery state however…) and gives a shortcut to make picasa import the pics.

    however something I’d like is to use my webcam through device stage: device stage recognizes my webcam as a… well, a webcam, but why can’t I just have a peak through it from within device stage? Currently I have to open up the creative tools that come with it (which, to be honnest, I don’t like for a bit). If device stage sees the webcam and knows it’s a webcam, why can’t it USE it as a webcam?

  2. Mike Cerm Says:

    My Sansa Clip works with Device Stage, and that’s the only device I’ve tried.

    I think that Device Stage is one those new features which demos nicely, but ultimately is only as useful as third-parties are willing to make it. WPF was supposed to revolutionize the look and feel of applications. It never happened, because developers didn’t care enough to rewrite their software, or just didn’t want to break compatibility with older Windows versions.

    There are lots of devices that are already supported, at least in some generic way. The picture will improve over time, but it unclear whether hardware manufacturers will really jump on board and push Device Stage beyond it’s current state.

  3. Backlin Says:

    I’m agreeing with Bouke on the webcam portion of his post. I have to get some third party program to test out my webcam, I didn’t feel like video chatting.

  4. AJ Says:

    @Mike Cern,

    I have the Sansa Clip as well and I can back your claim that it does get recognized in Device Stage.

  5. David Says:

    Hi all, I have had similar disappointment with the device stage. I have an iPhone 3GS, a Shuffle G3, a HP 7280 All in One printer, a Nikon D90, a Logitech Bluetooth Mouse and even a Microsoft Mobile Mouse 6000 which did not work (as expected) with device stage (I am running RTM Windows 7 Ultimate). All of the devices were detected however none worked as per the Windows 7 advertising with nice glossy icons etc. The exceptions as follows:

    1. With the Microsoft mouse the device DID show up with the fancy pictures etc in Device Stage AFTER I installed the Microsoft driver (Intellipoint software). Prior to the software install it displayed an HID
    2. The Nikon D90 does have a taskbar (generic) icon (the same as the picture in the original post, with battery and remaining memory information, but nothing like the glossy pictures which Microsoft themselves demonstrated with this very camera.

    I am very dissapointed with the way this Device Stage was incorrectly touted as a feature of Windows 7, I hope they get this sorted SOON!!! I have been running Windows 7 since the Beta, through the RC and now the official version of Ultimate. I find the software quite good and have been generally happy with it. I really hope they have not taken too many more shorcuts to get this OS launched on time.

  6. AaronM Says:

    I have three printers, and they all have the same Icon as that above.

  7. Ambious Says:

    Sadly, I predicted this early on. My MS contacs said it was OEM’s fault, I say it’s MS’. If they can scare OEMs into making drivers in time, they can get them to make Device Stage XMLs.

  8. Eric Says:

    So far, the only devices I have showing an icon of their own are my G15 keyboard, clearchat headset and G5 laser mouse. I’m not actually surprised, though, as most of my hardware is older. None of them have a “stage,” either.

    I do, however, look forward to seeing this used more – at least, I hope it will be.

  9. Gavin Says:

    Hooked up my LG quatum windows phone and it did nothing. WTF!