Windows Threshold: A distinctive new look and a home for Cortana

Over the past few weeks, we have been bringing you new details about Windows Threshold and today, we have a few more bits of information to share about the upcoming OS.

Threshold is a wave of updates across many different platforms for Microsoft and one such update is for Windows. Threshold will represent the next major update to the Windows platform that many suspect will be called Windows 9. While we don’t expect Microsoft to choose a name like Vista or XP, this is Nadella’s Microsoft after all, so anything is possible.

What we have reported so far is that the Start screen will be moved to the background for desktop users. While it is not completely going away, it will be turned off by default for desktop users. Tablet and touch enabled devices will have access to the Modern UI by default and small tablets likely won’t have access to the desktop at all once Gemini ships.

Before we dive too deep into the other new bits of info, we need to make it clear that Threshold is still in alpha and anything and everything is up for change. Microsoft, at some point, will likely chop and change features to make sure that the product stays on track for a release next year but with that being said, let’s talk about what is currently included in some alpha builds of Threshold.

First up, let's talk user interface. Threshold is getting a distinctive UI refresh; when you see it, there is no confusing it with Windows 7 or 8. The desktop on Windows 8, to the casual eye, looks nearly identical to that of Windows 7 but not so with Threshold. Our sources tell us that the UI looks much more modern and of course, a bit more flat too.

The taskbar is getting improved functionality

How is it more distinctive? The taskbar is getting improved functionality. No more is it a static location for icons, as we have been told that icons on the task bar are interactive, one person described them as ‘mini Live Tiles’. We don’t know what functionality they will all include, yet, but know that Microsoft is toying with glance-and-go style functionality for the taskbar too. Remember, Nadella is all about productivity and Microsoft wants to make minimized windows able to provide valuable information.

It makes sense too; if you have several apps open and you want to know what is going on inside that application, you have to open it up. What if you could get a flavor of that action in your taskbar without having to click anything? We know that this functionality is present, in limited capacity, with Windows 8 by hovering over an open app on the taskbar but look for further enhancements in this area.

Cortana has found a home in the taskbar

Cortana is also currently living in the taskbar as well. It is no big surprise that Microsoft is planning to extend its digital assitant from Windows Phone 8.1 to other devices, of course. We understand that Microsoft see it as important for Cortana to be easily accessible on Windows and so for now, Cortana can be launched quickly from this bar. The location could certainly move or the functionality scrapped, but given how committed Microsoft is to Cortana, we fully expect this feature to ship in some form.

Modern apps running on the desktop have just started to show their face in Threshold builds but the execution is already a bit more robust than we had initially anticipated. Many, like ourselves, expected the apps to work like they do in Modern Mix (disclaimer) in that they would be windowed inside a classic window with a title bar. Not so, they appear to run more natively in the desktop and are flat with no titlebar but minimizing and easy close access is still present. This appears to be building out upon how they work currently on Windows 8.1 where the title bar auto hides and appears more integrated into the application.

Of course, it goes without saying that in such an early build, the title bars could be added back in for consumer ease of use as they are tried and true methods for a high-quality user experience.

Are desktop gadgets making a comeback? This next bit of info is a bit less clear, but one source reported seeing widgets on the desktop as well. That’s about all we know about it but it seems that Microsoft is toying with ways to make your desktop background a bit more useful than simply being a static image.

Microsoft is keeping a lot of these features close to the chest and even the leaked builds, if they ever show up, may not include these updates.

Look for Microsoft to share more about Threshold later this year but for now, take this information with the qualifier that it is early in the development process - anything and everything is subject to change.

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The reason why the Startmenu is so popular is because it enables you to start a program with minimal mouse movements and picking from a logical order. Together with identical cross version placement it addresses the human mechanical memory.

And that is why the new Modern startmenu does not appeal to desktop users; it isn't quicker and requires a different movement to be learned. This isn't the case for tablet users. They use fingers to navigate and therefore the Modern startmenu comes natural. Point and click by eye-hand coordination and large areas to target.

So with this new approach MS will finally reach the intended mix of new and old desktop.
And my best guess is the evolution towards this was also intended. MS know they have some dominance to use (they will not loose too many users while XP and W7 are still around). So they forced the old and new upon us... creating enough experience with both to enter the new dual system.

Just do a search for comments on the Win95 start menu.
You had the same backlash because people didn't like the new environment. ;-)

EddieZe said,
The reason why the Startmenu is so popular is because it enables you to start a program with minimal mouse movements and picking from a logical order. Together with identical cross version placement it addresses the human mechanical memory

These are urban mysteries. Microsoft has seen lot less use of the Start Menu since users can pin programs easier to the Taskbar. And while the mouse movement on the smaller menu is lower, the size of the icons is also smaller. That means you can move the mouse on the Start Screen faster because the hit targets are much larger.

Also: programs on the old Start Menu were organized inside folders while on the Start Screen you can organize them by groups that you don't have to open = less clicks and a power user can move the mouse and at the same time move the Start Screen by scrolling the mouse wheel = shorter distances.

The real problem with the Start Screen is:
1. marketing (or lack of communicating the benefits)
2. slow adoption rate (a lot of Windows 8 users still haven't updated to 8.1!)
3. lack of some features like a list of recent apps or JumpLists on Start Screen
4. ignorance

Microsoft,

Please eliminate Modern UI (Touch friendly UI which is not easier to use on mouse and keyboard devices) on Windows 9 (Desktop) as soon as possible?

Hope you understand

justsilly said,
Microsoft,

Please eliminate Modern UI (Touch friendly UI which is not easier to use on mouse and keyboard devices) on Windows 9 (Desktop) as soon as possible?

Hope you understand


No offense, but did you even read this article?

justsilly said,
Microsoft,

Please eliminate Modern UI (Touch friendly UI which is not easier to use on mouse and keyboard devices) on Windows 9 (Desktop) as soon as possible?

Hope you understand


Metro lives on!

Dot Matrix said,

No.


Don't worry, Dot. I was not serious. The word canine is one of my favorite words, and I saw the opportunity to post . . .

Not wanting to toot my own horn (ok I do) :p I said in 2012 in an Editorial that it was a mistake to drop "Gadgets" it seemed like a step backwards to have to open or switch to the weather app, let it refresh to see the current weather when you already had that functionality with Desktop Gadgets (which I still use today! (hacked to be able to run on Win8.1) :/

Seems like a lot of what was pointed out in 2012 will be back in 2015 with steps in between with 8.1 and Update 1, 2 etc lol

Well it cheers me up anyway.

I found it fairly interesting to see Widgets / Gadgets never took off for the long run on either OS X or Windows. On both systems they were a hype for about a year, two tops, and then both first and third-party interest pretty much died.

I like how widgets are (sort of) making a come back in OS X Yosemite's Notification Center so I can have a quick glance at the weather forecast. Beyond that I don't find them all that useful.

.Neo said,
I found it fairly interesting to see Widgets / Gadgets never took off for the long run on either OS X or Windows. On both systems they were a hype for about a year, two tops, and then both first and third-party interest pretty much died.

I like how widgets are (sort of) making a come back in OS X Yosemite's Notification Center so I can have a quick glance at the weather forecast. Beyond that I don't find them all that useful.

I found them "neat" in Vista, and I used the Notes and Weather gadgets quite frequently, but in the long run, I lost interest in them. I really didn't have much of a use for 1239423952093523958203 system monitors running. I just wasn't on my desktop enough to sit there and constantly stare at them.

It's nice to have a dashboard in Windows 8 for the Live Tiles though, they're providing more functionality than the gadgets ever did.

The other thing that I would add here is the integration with Skype. It would be great that if your paired your phone with your computer it would re-direct any calls made to your phone, to your Skype account allowing you to take your call from your computer and saving your minutes. If you lock your computer or remove the pair connection your calls will come back into your phone like they always did.

The taskbar makes sense. I imagine it like Windows Phone. If you think of the standard size of the task bar today it is very akin to the smallest live tile that you have on your phone. If you expand the current task bar to double its size it could easily accommodate the larger mid-size and the largest wider tiles.

If it does work like this then I could see having metro apps in your task bar constantly updating like on your start screen. This would be really useful as you could have applications open and at a glance see headlines changing in the news app, Cortana icon giving you updates about your commute time, weather popping up on the weather app, open table reservations appearing, the possibilities are really endless and it would be really useful.

I definitely would like to see more functionality with the task bar icons. Maybe provide a small "functional" widget pop-up to show a brief bit of information? For example, Windows Media Player has the ability to display the currently playing song, and a couple buttons for pausing, skipping to the next song and going back to the previous song in a currently playing playlist. I don't think any other application out there has done anything fancy like that, other than implement jump-lists.

Some sort of tickeror popup tile would seem to be all that's viable. I both recall the Longhorn beta taskbar that could be a horizontal sidebar (major screen waste) and Mr Sinofsky saying that the Windows 7 taskbar icons would never be live previews (way too small to make sense).

This could go well, tiles and apps on the desktop would be interesting but imagine having apps that done more than a basic task or at least had more than stop start on them.

What a bunch of garbage. I don't use the Task Bar. I've removed everything from it and I do not want to be forced to use the desktop other than for legacy programs that still have to run there.

Robert Wade said,
What a bunch of garbage. I don't use the Task Bar. I've removed everything from it and I do not want to be forced to use the desktop other than for legacy programs that still have to run there.

Yeah. I noticed since the advent of Windows 8, I don't really use my taskbar either. Hadn't really thought about it until now. It's unnecessary for me, personally.

Hopefully, they'll give you an option as to which you use, desktop or modern/metro. I launch all programs from the Start Screen regardless of where they run and only use the desktop for legacy apps.

I assume you're talking about tablets? I never understood all the hate for the start screen and modern apps, the desktop functionality was there for desktop computers. The only modern apps I ever use on my desktop are Netflix and Bing Weather. I might start using them more once they're window-able.

Robert Wade said,
What a bunch of garbage. I don't use the Task Bar. I've removed everything from it and I do not want to be forced to use the desktop other than for legacy programs that still have to run there.

Then don't. No one is forcing you to. If you want to enable Modern UI and use it you can.

Wow this sounds awesome!!!! A 'modern' desktop is what I've always wanted!!!! (and I'm glad the Start screen will still be there in the background for those that still want it - like me!)

I've send quite a few times that they need to update the taskbar, sounds like that's what the plan is, good stuff. If this turns out well and if it's a good upgrade price for older Windows users maybe I'll upgrade my old Vista work machine as well as my personal one that's on 8.1U1 atm.

While I am a "Pro" Start Screen, this is what I wanted MS to do even before they've announced Windows 8; desktop is default for PC, and Start screen or sometime time of mobile interface for mobile devices based on the popularity of the iPad when it came out. And ...they are finally heading that way now.

calimike said,

What about deaf and hearing impair for Cortana?

As long as you aren't deaf and blind, you can use Cortana in Windows Phone just fine... you can type in questions and read them out visually yourself.

MINI LIVE TILES!!!!!!!!!!!!! These tidbits make me excited to see what's next, hopefully, the interactive Start tiles make it to this release, as well.

Live Tiles on the desktop would be a nice sort of gadget replacement (especially if they're the interactive live tiles that were shown off in another video).

Cortana integration into the search charm and search pane (Windows-S) makes tons of sense too. Universal search as well as command integrated into one location. Just start typing. Speech not required.

And I'm very much looking forward to a unified notification center for Windows ... desktop apps included. And "unified" across devices too, so if I dismiss a notification on my desktop, I don't have to ALSO dismiss it on my laptop or tablet.

Our sources tell us that the UI looks much more modern and of course, a bit more flat too.

I guess you can never be too flat these days... :D

Mugwump00 said,
None, preferably. I've never wondered where the edge of the window is on OSX.

Seriously? That would most certainly make it difficult for users to resize a window.

Mugwump00 said,
Ask a Mac user?

Yeah you can still resize because the moving the moues to the edge of the window allows you to resize it. But come on, we're talking about people who flipped their ###### because the start menu became full screen. You think they'd be OK with no window borders? Even if the edges of the windows still work the same they'd go nuts. Just as how you could still click in the bottom left corner for the start screen in Windows 8.0 but people went nuts because the icon saying that you could was gone.

No no. The desktop can NEVER change in any significant way. NEVER or else we'll have a repeat of Windows 8 hate.

mrp04 said,

Yeah you can still resize because the moving the moues to the edge of the window allows you to resize it. But come on, we're talking about people who flipped their ###### because the start menu became full screen. You think they'd be OK with no window borders? Even if the edges of the windows still work the same they'd go nuts. Just as how you could still click in the bottom left corner for the start screen in Windows 8.0 but people went nuts because the icon saying that you could was gone.

No no. The desktop can NEVER change in any significant way. NEVER or else we'll have a repeat of Windows 8 hate.


Provocative.

There is nothing significant about removing the window borders. However, it would be an unnecessary change. The transition would be difficult for Windows mouse and touch users alike.

If someone wants to remove the borders, he or she can just decrease the border padding . . .

Ian William said,
If someone wants to remove the borders, he or she can just decrease the border padding . . .

the problem with that is that it reduces both the thickness of the *visible* border as well as the thickness of the *functional* border (which, albeit invisible, is actually around 10px on OS X).

Anyone who doesn't get what I'm saying (because they don't have a Mac to hand) can launch any Office 2013 app and see what I mean - ?

Clean, elegant, functional and entirely do-able. Are Office users up-in-arms (I honestly don't know?).

The Office team did a better job of 'windows' than the Windows team. (ALL CAPS aren't a good design decision, but other than that...)

The only reason Office isn't an issue is due to the snapping feature, which OS X doesn't have. For general, system wide window management - no thanks.

I've no idea why snapping makes a difference, please explain? Office 2013 apps are bright, bold and clean - and have no visible chrome/borders. Are they a challenge to manipulate - I don't think they are?

It seems that Office 2013 is working to a window-rendering API of it's own (I've not seen other apps like them) - I'll have to do some research as to how 'open' that is, but it certainly is attractive.

Mugwump00 said,
Mac

Touch it.
How well can your fingers resize the windows on a mac

oh wait

Now I have a problem with the window chrome being too small on my Win8 touch systems in that it takes repeated effort to grab the window chrome to resize. I usually wind up just snapping and being done with it.

If Modern apps are flat-looking, as windowed on a desktop, does this mean they'll be un-resizable and un-maximizable? Does this suggest frameless (as per OSX)? Cool, but then what about standard windowed app and the awful default fat-frames?

Mugwump00 said,
If Modern apps are flat-looking, as windowed on a desktop, does this mean they'll be un-resizable and un-maximizable? Does this suggest frameless (as per OSX)? Cool, but then what about standard windowed app and the awful default fat-frames?

I don't know how you draw the conclusion that flatter windows means they're un-resizable. Modern apps by their nature can scale without issue compared to the legacy GDI and WPF apps on the desktop. There should be no issue when it comes to resizing them afaik.

I didn't draw any conclusion. "flat with no titlebar" - does this mean flat with no window-chrome? I'm struggling to imagine what this looks like, that is all. Windows' window 'chrome' has always included a title-bar, buttons, action menu, edges and corners. If no title-bar, then what?

It just sounds to me like the buttons you need are there but you don't see a distinctive title bar. Look at the Zune player software for example, or MS's mouse and kb control app as an example. The minimize/close buttons etc are there but part of the overall UI and not in a "bar" it sounds like to me.

Mugwump00 said,
I didn't draw any conclusion. "flat with no titlebar" - does this mean flat with no window-chrome? I'm struggling to imagine what this looks like, that is all. Windows' window 'chrome' has always included a title-bar, buttons, action menu, edges and corners. If no title-bar, then what?

They could go the Zune route. Like how the Zune desktop client has (or...had) only a couple of buttons but it wasn't really a title bar, just a little more integrated into the app.

Sszecret said,

They could go the Zune route...

Or they could go with the 8.1 update 1 route and only show a Modern version of titlebar when the window gets keyboard/mouse focus.

They should make the bing search box and image the active background.
I remember using the Win98 style update via IE 4 (or 3) on win 95 and the background was actually useful - the websites around that time though just weren't nice to look at.

Desktop widgets coming back? Why? Because they were a big hit on Vista and 7? Live tiles can take their place.

I really can't wait 'til we start seeing the new look of the desktop in Threshold!!

A340600 said,
Desktop widgets coming back? Why? Because they were a big hit on Vista and 7? Live tiles can take their place.

I really can't wait 'til we start seeing the new look of the desktop in Threshold!!

Please no widgets!! Just use (improved) live tiles. Done. Ans for the taskbar: Use a new live tile size. Please make it easy for developers!

Widgets never went away on Windows 8. Although they are not default, I have at least one application that has a widget on the desktop on my Surface Pro.

Yea Live Tiles are basically widgets without the need to minimize all your apps or momentarily Peek to Desktop. That was annoying, and most people didn't use it. It's one of the reasons Ms thought the Start Screen was a good idea for the Desktop, because it functioned a lot like Dashboard on MacOS.

(It wasn't just for touch).

Brandon Live said,
Yeah, I'm hoping for the ability to pin live tiles on the desktop.

It is a strong possibility indeed. The clip that was shown a while ago showed, among many other interesting things, these"live tiles" available on the desktop.

Good to hear they are adding new functionality, rather than a revolving-door if old bits and newer, as has been the buzz so-far. It's worth the time spent on Neowin to read this kind of thing. Would still like 'Mission Control' style virtual-desktop manager to separate our workspaces.

Ship it when it's ready!