Microsoft said Tuesday that it plans to overhaul Windows 10 with a browser-like, tabbed application view dubbed “Sets” that groups apps and files by project. The changes will roll out over a period of months, if not years—but an upstart competitor already has a similar idea.
Think of Sets as a mashup of existing and emerging Windows 10 technologies. Take Windows Explorer and the little-used Task View within Windows 10, mix in the newer “Pick up where you left off” and “Timeline” features, and wrap it all into a single-window experience.
The idea is that every task requires a set of apps—Mail, a browser, PowerPoint, even Win32 apps like Photoshop—and those apps will be optionally organized as tabs along a single window.
But that’s not all. Microsoft knows that one of the most difficult things to remember isn’t what you were working on a week or so ago—browser histories help with that. It’s remembering all of the associated apps and documents that went with it: a particular PowerPoint document, that budget spreadsheet, the context an Edge tab provided. The idea is that the delayed Timeline feature will eventually group and associate all of these into a Set, so that when you open one, Windows will suggest the others, too.
It’s a complex concept, with a complex tag line: Sets is a way to “organize and resume multi-faceted tasks,” according to Microsoft..
Sets will first make its way to Windows Insiders for feedback on the new UI. Microsoft will also seek out support for the Sets concept from developers across the board, from Adobe to Salesforce.
Meanwhile, Stardock, which has provided its own UI tweaks to Windows for years, has struck first, releasing a product, Groupy, that reproduces some of the basic changes Sets provides.
What the future holds: This new look and feel for Windows is being rolled out for Insider beta testers first, and then later to standard Windows users. The question is when: Microsoft releases major updates to Windows in the spring and fall, but with the timeline Microsoft is talking, it could be literally years before Sets reaches your desktop. (Microsoft might not keep the “Sets” name, either.)
Microsoft is making clear that this is an optional feature, so if you prefer to work within a traditional Windows environment, rearranging windows and using features like Snap, you’ll still be able to.