Microsoft’s Sets interface appears dead for now

Windows Sets
Image: IDGNS

Redmond refuses to throw in the towel on UI experiment

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23 April 2019 | 0

Microsoft appears to have put Microsoft Sets, the tabbed redesign of Windows, on hold, though it’s uncertain whether it’s been killed outright.

Rich Turner, a senior product manager at Microsoft responsible for the Windows Console, tweeted on Saturday that “the Shell-provided tab experience is no more, but adding tabs is high on our to do list.” After this story was published, Turner later clarified that he was speaking about Windows Console, not the Windows Shell team in general.

Turner’s tweet was in response to a user’s query as to why Sets hasn’t been built into the Windows 10 May 2019 Update (also known as version 1903), and whether it would appear within the autumn update (version 1909) or later. Microsoft issued a statement that confirmed Sets is indeed on hold: “We’ve taken Sets offline from [work in progress] to continue to evaluate long term while also needing to prioritise other work tied to Microsoft Edge,” the company said, via a representative.

Microsoft first launched Sets in 2017 as a simple, though profound reimagining of Windows: not as resizable windows, but as browser-like tabs. Initially, the tabbed experienced applied only to a few basic Windows Shell apps, such as Mail, Calendar, File Explorer, and some others. You could open a new version of Mail in its own separate window, but by dragging it to a Sets window, you could attach it much like an Edge browser tab.

Sets was seen then as a response to various browsers, including Microsoft Edge, that allowed users to open new instances of the browser either as a tab or a separate window. The upshot? A nice, compact grouping of common tasks, especially useful for single-display laptops.

Microsoft tested Sets across several iterations of Windows, later adding tabbed support for the Office apps. But Sets never made it beyond the testing stage. The only users who actually experienced it were Windows Insider beta testers, and then only in the early stages of the development cycle. At some point in each Windows release cycle, Microsoft would announce that it had finished testing Sets, and withdraw it for further testing in a subsequent version.

While it might appear that cycle is finished for good, Turner’s comment implies that Microsoft still has tabbed Windows on its to-do list. It’s just not clear what the next steps are. Will a tabbed interface appear within Windows 10? Will it be an optional interface within another operating system, such as Windows Server? Or will Microsoft hold it back as a feature of a new OS experience, such as the future of Microsoft’s Surface Hub? Time will tell, apparently.

IDG News Service

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