Windows 10βs new browser-IZED UI - sets
Continued from last issue
Microsoft this week announced that upcoming previews of Windows 10 would include new features designed to boost productivity on a personal computer.
Dubbed "Timeline" and "Sets," the former previously trumpeted months ago, the latter a revelation, the pair will, promised Microsoft's top Windows executive, "help make the most of time, one of our most precious resources."
Refresh my memory...what's Timeline?
It's a Windows 10 productivity feature, that for a better description, returns the user to a former moment on a device for resumption of a task; that could be a return to the last-known location in a document since set aside, the place in an app where work was suspended or a browser tab that was active before the PC was shut down.
Each of those past moments would be represented in Timeline by an on-screen "card," which when clicked opens the document to the pertinent spot, fires up the app to resume work or refreshes the browser to the again-active tab.
Timeline will be integrated into Task View, the Windows 10 feature that displays thumbnails of all open windows. (On macOS, the same feature is called Mission Control.)
When it was trumpeted at Build, Timeline was slated to show in Windows 10 1709, aka the Fall Creators Update, the feature upgrade that launched Oct. 17. It didn't make the cut, however, and several months before 1709's release, was withdrawn, presumably for a latter upgrade.
It now seems probable that Timeline will appear in 1803, the next upgrade, in March or April of next year.
(One source of additional information about Timeline is this 41-minute recording of a Build session.)
What's the purpose of Sets?
Microsoft's Terry Myerson, the firm's top Windows executive, said in an email to Insiders that Sets is "a way to organize your stuff and get back to what you were doing." The goal, however, is right up the productivity alley. "With Sets, what belongs together stays together - making it easier and faster to create and be productive," Myerson said. "The concept...is to make sure that everything related to your task: relevant web pages, research documents, necessary files and applications, is connected and available to you in one click."
By gathering apps necessary for a specific task into a single frame, then remembering that collection, Microsoft believes Windows 10 - and its own apps, naturally, like Edge and Office - can boost productivity. That's the company's prime pitch to its most important customers, commercial organizations from small businesses to multi-national corporations.
Now without a mobile operating system or a smartphone business, Microsoft's financial future is tied to the older technologies of the personal computer. It must argue that the PC remains relevant, and successfully demonstrate that it is superior to other devices, notably phones and tablets, in handling, streamlining and completing in-business tasks. Sets fits that mandate.
Since Microsoft talked up both Timeline and Sets, is there a connection between the two?
Yes. The same Timeline mechanism that remembers a document's last-used status will memorize a specific Sets' composition - the apps opened as tabs, the documents or files or accounts visible in such tabs - and record it as a past moment. Searching the Timeline cards, or simply returning to the most recent, will locate the multiple-app setup. A click will return the user to that Sets' past.
Will Microsoft replace the current Windows 10 UI with Sets?
Not likely. Or maybe more accurately, not likely for the foreseeable future.
There's no evidence that Microsoft plans to abandon users' UI/UX familiarity with a multiple-windowed UI - and undo their decades of experience in operating such UIs - for a sudden swap of tabs. For instance, Sets will be optional.
There's usually at least one of those around. A single-frame, tabbed UI seems tailor-made for Windows 10 S, the 10 Pro spin-off that Microsoft boasts is more secure because it runs only UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps, the ones available only in the Windows Store.
First, that's because Sets and its tabs will only accommodate UWP apps off the bat. (Microsoft plans to open the UI to non-UWP programs, including classic Win32 applications, at a later date.) Second, the simplicity of Sets jibes with the philosophy behind 10 S.
It wouldn't be a big jump for Sets from optional on Windows 10 to still-optional-but-enabled-by-default on Windows 10 S. Microsoft has made scores of moves far more dramatic than that in the recent past.
Is there anything out of the ordinary about how Microsoft plans to preview Sets?
In fact, yes.
Not every Insider will see Sets initially, as Microsoft is running an "A/B test" - sometimes referred to as a "split-run test" - where a portion of the group gets the feature, while the rest does not.
"We'll introduce a controlled study into WIP [Windows Insider Program] so that we can more accurately assess what's working and what's not," wrote Myerson in his email. "That means a smaller percentage of you will initially get Sets in a build. It also means that some of you won't get it at all for a while, as we compare the usage and satisfaction of task switching in Windows for people who have sets versus people who don't."
Although Microsoft has used Insider for A/B testing before - rolling out a feature to a subset of the whole before letting it loose - the emphasis Myerson put on the technique here was unusual.
During Windows 10's pre-launch period, Microsoft was open about Insider's prime purpose as a bug finder, but it has shifted that messaging about the preview program, instead stressing the feedback aspect and hammering on how beta testers' responses help guide development.
The writer Gregg Keizer is senior reporter at COMPUTERWORLD