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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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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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 . . .

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!

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

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