Windows Threshold: Here come the virtual desktops

Ubuntu Virtual desktop feature shown above, Windows Threshold will act in a similar manner

Over the past few weeks, the details surrounding Threshold have slowly been surfacing and the picture is becoming a little bit clearer today.

In the past, we had talked about how the UI for Threshold will be easily recognizable from other versions of Windows, but at the same time, will feel familiar to those who will likely be transitioning from Windows 7 or even Windows XP.

Before we go any further, know that the Windows Threshold is still early in development and features that we talk about may not make it into the final version but could arrive in later updates or be cut right before launch to never been seen again. While we wouldn’t call these features experimental, they are still early on in development and have lots of bugs that must be squashed before they would be considered for the final RTM build.

Microsoft is considering bringing virtual desktops to Windows Threshold. The feature, which is already on other platforms like Ubuntu and OS X is currently being tested and is said to have similar functionality to that of Ubuntu. You can activate the desktops with a button on the taskbar (subject to change) and there are keyboard shortcuts that let you jump between active desktops.

For those of you who have never used virtual desktops, they are a simple way to help stay organized and focused. The feature works by creating multiple “desktops” where you can keep open applications and then switch between the desktops to view other applications. For example, you can create a virtual desktop that has Outlook open and then other desktop with your web browser, both apps are running on their own desktop to allow you to focus on either web browsing, or email.

This feature is great for devices with smaller screens or desktops with only one monitor where having two desktop layouts (or more) can be beneficial to productivity. This feature will be another addition that Microsoft will use to convince those on Windows 7 and XP that Windows Threshold is worth upgrading too as it allows for increased productivity.

If this feature makes it to the production version of Windows Threshold, it will be one of the more visible features and likely heavily used by power users too.

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Absolutely splendid. This should give users the feature (idea) that I posted almost a year ago. I can picture snapping two or more applications on one or multiple desktops.

"An option to create a symbolic relationship between Windows 8 applications. Currently, if snapped applications are present, any newly opened application is forced to occupy a previous application's portion of the screen. Allow previously snapped applications to retain their relationship while allowing newly opened applications to create their own."

http://www.neowin.net/forum/to...ws-82/page-7#entry596044841

The screenshot (Ubuntu) demonstrates a scaled overview of multi-desktops (using Compiz?), conceptually similar to but presented differently to Apple's 'Mission Control'.

Does anyone know if MS are likely to incorporate this level of functionality? That would be very welcome!

While others have mentioned that Windows XP already has this feature by means of a PowerToy, it was to be included natively in Windows "Longhorn". I don't know why it took Microsoft so long to add this. "Longhorn" after all, was back in 2003...

Max Norris said,
Guess you missed the gazillion comments where Windows had many options for this since forever.

But those options were very bad.

ffMathy said,
But those options were very bad.

In your opinion. I haven't used one myself in years (prefer multiple displays instead, much more useful) but they worked just fine.

Microsoft had working non buggy virtual desktops in Windows Vista BETA but took them out. They did this so they could sell this feature in another version of windows and now we are finally getting it. Funny thing is people are cheering like its so new and everything when we could of had this for years and MS had it but took it out.

When will we ever get the option to natively skin our systems without having to replace dll files? (free and safe native support) Just thinking about the days of Aston Shell, which was a lot of fun but not as convenient as other solutions that weren't free (WinBlinds). I always remembered that Win98 and XP had this button that said "search for themes" and the page never ever worked.

Ooooooh what about active desktop? :D Dash funneh!

To heck with virtual desktops. If Microsoft really wants to enable us to increase our productivity, it needs to readjust the graphics display system to allow for the same sort of "pan-and-scan virtual desktops" that were possible in Windows XP and earlier versions of Windows. The pan-and-scan virtual desktop gives you a desktop that is much larger than your screen -- so that when you move your cursor to the edge of the screen the screen moves to reveal more real estate. This enables you to open applications full size -- so that you don't have to scroll through a word processing or desktop publishing document -- and the open applications and sit next to each other. The software for ATI (now AMD) graphics cards supported a pan and scan virtual desktop (although ATI wouldn't officially acknowledge it). Generally speaking, it eliminates the need for a second monitor. As I understand it, Microsoft changed the default graphics subsystem to the Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) beginning with VISTA and WDDM does not allow graphics card vendors' software to enable a pan and scan virtual desktop. The closest thing to it is the excellent GiMe Space Desktop Extender available at http://gimespace.com/ (beware of fake versions of this at other websites). I discuss this at some length at http://www.planningcommunications.com/virtual_desktop.htm.

But if Microsoft had any mercy on serious computer users, it would refine its graphics subsystem to enable pan and scan virtual desktops again.

And Windows Threshold killer App is: Virtual Folders?

Are you kidding us? Hope not.

BTW. Windows Threshold better have a great name, not just Windows 9.

I bet it will be called Windows 2015, or better yet, Windows 95 20th Anniversary Director's Cut Remastered Edition.

MS first introduced virtual desktops in XP (as a power toy), it didn't do so well (primarily because most people never knew about it). Hopefully making it part of the OS will help it fair better this time!

PowerToy XP was awesome.
About time this became mainstream, though it is hardly a feature in the world of computing since Linux and OS X had this functionality baked in from the get-go (gestures to access the VDesktop in Mac OS X is pretty seamless.
I suppose Windows 8 kinda does is already via full screen metro apps, but if Threshold is bringing the desktop back in then I hope it's implemented as well as the Windows 7 Taskbar.

Vester said,
Cool i guess, but will stick with my VMware. Use it myself to test software and stuff.
Virtual Machines and Virtual Desktops are not the same thing at all. Virtual Desktops are in essence using one screen but making it think you have several, allowing you to switch between them.

"The feature, which is already on other platforms like Ubuntu and OS X is currently being tested and is said to have similar functionality to that of Ubuntu."

Already on platformS, and than you mention a rumor.....

He said it already on OTHER PLATFORMS. (It) is currently (being) tested (on Windows Threshold).

That is.... it looks like Ubuntu, but without X Windows built in capability to open applications in different "namespaces", that is, old applications are gonna have a hard time figuring where they should open dialog boxes, pop ups and alerts.

It happens to me, everytime I use double monitors. Remote Desktop ignores the place I put the dialog window and insists on opening on the laptop monitor. Same happens with IE11 and most Visual Basic (pre-.net) apps.

Over the little time I've spent with Linux I have found this feature more confusing than useful, but I'll give it another try when it ends up in Windows. Yay for options I guess.

I'm curious as to why it was taken out of Longhorn. It was there for the shortest time before it was removed.

For the people that don't get a feature like this, sure, more screens is awesome, but not always practical. In my case I use this feature on my two Mac Laptops.. It's awesome. I can easily and quickly move between any program or group of programs with ease. No minimizing these 3 programs then restoring those other two each time I want to change what I'm doing.

It's not something everyone will use, or need in every situation, but it is a very nice feature to have available for when it is of value.

I hope this leads to a unified notification centre then, seeing as how popup windows, toast notifications and taskbar icon status changes are somewhat awkward if you happen to be on the 'wrong' desktop.

... and yes, I know the full-screen modern UI makes a hash of notifications, currently.

Assuming all software vendors used the Windows API instead of implementing their own then yes but chances are very low.

Some people are suggesting this is a great alternative for people without multiple screens... I personally don't see it. The best thing about multiple monitors is the ability to have multiple things open and being able to look at them all at the same time (without resorting to tiny windows) - virtual desktops simply does not allow you to do this.

I see a better use for this is being able to set-up desktops that a customised for different tasks. For a very simple example that could be a work desktop and a home desktop. Which again is very different to multiple monitors - who wants to see all their work stuff whilst they are not working!

Not when on the go. I often do systems development on my Surface Pro 3 in the train on my way to the university (which is about one hour in each direction).

Virtual Desktops existed in XP via a tweak utility Microsoft provided. Demand was low so they stopped producing it.

Because it originally sucked. It was made from a program exposing APIs to "simulate" several desktops although the system was never meant for it.

There are no menus in windows anymore - you are thinking XP. The ribbon is there and it is more practical. If you need to search for a product feature then the product failed from a usability point of view.

"if you can't type the name of something you want to do then the whole Interface of the OS failed from a usability point of view"

FTFY.


also, the Ribbon isn't more practical because it wastes screen real estate.

I take it you don't use it because you can collapse the ribbon and only show the ribbon tabs at any given time. I just played around in libre office yesterday and I had a 90s nightmare where the toolbars took more real estate than the editable area. Not to mention that I kept going through menus to figure out how to insert a table of contents. Your case is very poor.

i use office products with the ribbon bar every day. And yes i am aware that i can collapse the Ribbon Bar. if you have to make the ribbon bar behave like menus to make them comfortable, you could as well just use menus.
And every day i am annoyed by the poor usability. Not to mention that i kept scrolling through the individual Ribbon bar pages to figure out how to insert a Table of contents

now in office for mac, or libreoffice on ubuntu, i can just open the menu bar search or the intenterface, type "table of contents", press enter, and have my table of contents. no moving the mouse needed. no point and manual search needed.

you should try an OS with a well thought out Menu concept sometime. you'll be surprised what you're missing out on.

No thanks. I would like to think a bit more like: A table of contents is a reference so it should be under that tab. Instead of the File Edit Tools View Window Help menu

you're missing the point. it doesn't matter where it is as long as it's called "table of contents"
it doesn't matter how you navigate to the menu point because typing the name takes you there instantly.

What, are hotkeys not good enough for you? Ever tried holding down ALT and seeing those lovely underlinings happen? (Requires Windows 8 with the ribbon - and yes, it works with it hidden).

ffMathy said,
What, are hotkeys not good enough for you? Ever tried holding down ALT and seeing those lovely underlinings happen? (Requires Windows 8 with the ribbon - and yes, it works with it hidden).

i am talking about typing the name of something i want to do and then pressing enter. What is so hard to understand about that? Shortcuts have nothing to do with that

Shortcuts are even worse than clicking through menus or the ribbon bar. often, the letter you have to press are completely unrelated to the name of what you want to do.

why would you want to limit yourself to something that counterintuitive if you could just type the name of the thing you want? it baffles me how some users, when given a choice, choose the less convenient option

people, i really recommend that you use ubuntu unity hud and the menu search of OSX before talking about this feature. maybe your comments will start to make sense then.

Here's another good article with a "wish list" of things we all want to see in Windows 9:

http://www.pcworld.com/article...next-os.html#tk.twt_pcworld

To that list, and of course virtual desktops, I'd like to add "Transparent tiles with background image" (like Windows Phone), Start Screen Folder Tiles (like Windows Phone), and the ability to position tiles any way I want (like Windows Phone, instead of the weird two-column wrapping thing that happens now, which makes repositioning tiles sometimes feel like a game of whack-a-mole).

It'll be good to have it built in, but I've tried this feature many times and I never use it for long. It just doesn't fit in my workflow. I'm glad it'll be in there for those who do use it though.

I just hope to see a better UI/UX experience in general (and smooth animation). some of the features that have been shown on Yosemite is a must to implement, specially the integration between mobile and desktop.

Cortana... definitely would be there

This is a great feature.
What I'd really like to see though is the context menu streamlined completely in the UI as an option.
Who on earth tiles windows horizontally or cascades them? Might have looked snazzy on win 95 as a feature but ... get rid!

londan said,
This is a great feature.
What I'd really like to see though is the context menu streamlined completely in the UI as an option.
Who on earth tiles windows horizontally or cascades them? Might have looked snazzy on win 95 as a feature but ... get rid!

I tile windows all the time. In fact, it's my entire workflow. Tiled windows are so much more efficient, than free floaters that end up buried, and lost in everything else. Manual window management has outlived its usefulness, IMO.

Dot Matrix said,
I don't understand this feature, either. Users can barely keep one desktop in neat order, let alone multiple.

This is STRICTLY a power user thing. For example, I work on multiple projects. Each one of them requires a lot of programs (browsers, text editors and other software) open.

Having a way to "group" all of those running programs (I don't turn off my PC) is a great thing to have. I can just choose which project to work on and resume right away instead of wasting 10 minutes opening everything...

Dot Matrix said,
I don't understand this feature, either. Users can barely keep one desktop in neat order, let alone multiple.

Even the average Joe can use multiple desktops just fine. My parents have an iMac and they love spaces. They have different spaces for different tasks and it stops them getting overwhelmed with loads of Windows.

Dot Matrix said,
I don't understand this feature, either. Users can barely keep one desktop in neat order, let alone multiple.

But isn't that the point?

With more desktops, you get each one less crammed and messy? That's at least how I work with the feature on OS X. A quick swipe to switch between full screen apps or e.g a desktop with just 2-3 windows. I think it's nice. :)

Northgrove said,
With more desktops, you get each one less crammed and messy? That's at least how I work with the feature on OS X. A quick swipe to switch between full screen apps or e.g a desktop with just 2-3 windows. I think it's nice. :)

Exactly, not everyone has a multiple monitor setup, this is where a virtual desktop setup would shine. If your workflow warrants it of course, it's not for everybody.. nobody's forcing you to use it. My desktop hasn't used a virtual desktop in any OS in over a decade.. my laptops on the other hand get regular use out of it on Windows and *Nix. Screen real estate is at a premium on a single display.

VD's don't add any more space than app switching does, but creates more mental overhead. Apple uses it to address limitations of the dock that taskbar users don't have.

bithush said,

Even the average Joe can use multiple desktops just fine. My parents have an iMac and they love spaces. They have different spaces for different tasks and it stops them getting overwhelmed with loads of Windows.


So MACs need "loads of 'Windows'" to do anything? Sorry I could not resist...

VHMP01 said,

So MACs need "loads of 'Windows'" to do anything? Sorry I could not resist...

MACs don't but Macs do, sorry couldn't resist...

Dot Matrix said,
I don't understand this feature, either. Users can barely keep one desktop in neat order, let alone multiple.
I think they're doing enough for "users" by creating a My First Sony consumer experience. If they start offering true updates to power users that's a plus in my book.

Agreed! Microsoft really needs to fix the single desktop milieu for traditional laptop and desktop users. Possibly in Windows-9?

Dot Matrix said,

Even as a power user, I've never fully understood this feature.

I think it's useful, especially how Full Screen apps are handled as a space on OSX. You have to agree, having youtube open full screen then quickly swiping to check on email than swiping back without exiting full screen is useful.

ians18 said,

I think it's useful, especially how Full Screen apps are handled as a space on OSX. You have to agree, having youtube open full screen then quickly swiping to check on email than swiping back without exiting full screen is useful.

It's hard to agree when I've never used the feature on OSX. I tried it once or twice on Ubuntu, and quickly abandoned it.

Dot Matrix said,

It's hard to agree when I've never used the feature on OSX. I tried it once or twice on Ubuntu, and quickly abandoned it.


I never had a use for it when using a mouse (on Elementary), but it works best with a trackpad. Besides, linux does not let you open a video in full screen as a space like OSX does.

ians18 said,

MACs don't but Macs do, sorry couldn't resist...
lol reminds me one time I get my friend to shop for PC and we went to MAC cos he likes Mac a lot... Got close and we learn that it's where you get money out of not PCs lol. Money Access Center :p

Wonder how many people are going to forget Microsoft offered this wayyyyyyy back around the turn of the century. (Never mind a gazillion alternatives.) Nice they're finally incorporating it in for those who use it though.. prefer multiple monitors myself but *shrug* options are good.

It was an XP PowerToy, IIRC. Other ones included better Alt+Tab functionality (essentially the app previews you get now with Aero), TweakXP and various other things.

Max Norris said,
Wonder how many people are going to forget Microsoft offered this wayyyyyyy back around the turn of the century. (Never mind a gazillion alternatives.) Nice they're finally incorporating it in for those who use it though.. prefer multiple monitors myself but *shrug* options are good.

I prefer multiple desktops as well, Outlook always maximized on the left one and the desktop/start screen on the center one, but for people with smaller desks this could be a useful option.

Quillz said,
It was an XP PowerToy, IIRC. Other ones included better Alt+Tab functionality (essentially the app previews you get now with Aero), TweakXP and various other things.

Yep, it was a power toy.. but *shrug* this was what, 2002? Don't expect a ton of bling ;D The feature was available though.
Cosmocronos said,
I prefer multiple desktops as well, Outlook always maximized on the left one and the desktop/start screen on the center one, but for people with smaller desks this could be a useful option.

I hear that, went with three monitors some years ago and never looked back, absurdly useful.. but yea I agree, if you just have the one then the virtual desktops make a lot more sense if you do a lot of things at once. Better than nothing.

Max Norris said,
Wonder how many people are going to forget Microsoft offered this wayyyyyyy back around the turn of the century. (Never mind a gazillion alternatives.) Nice they're finally incorporating it in for those who use it though.. prefer multiple monitors myself but *shrug* options are good.

I used Shock 4 Way 3D, did the same but it had a cool 3D cube effect!

I recall it as well. Didn't find it very useful at all. Even on OS X now I find it annoying. I would prefer if the virtual desktop was a new virtual machine instead.

Yep, I installed, played with it for a few weeks and removed it. The implementation I ever saw was on LiteStep Explorer shell replacement prior to XP. It was fast and never lost windows.

Aokromes said,

Yes, it existed:

Virtual Desktop Manager

Manage up to four desktops from the Windows taskbar.

http://windows.microsoft.com/e.../xp-downloads#2TC=powertoys

Microsoft has one that works on all modern Windows desktop platforms: http://technet.microsoft.com/e.../sysinternals/cc817881.aspx

The only thing is the snipping tool doesn't work with it and the taskbar is generally different on each desktop (including the system tray).

Also note that Microsoft has a BSOD screensaver lolol: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb897558

pmbAustin said,
No one remembers "TopDesk" from the Windows 98 days?

Was this the same as the multiple desktops feature that I remember being included in the NT4 Resource Kit?

I just don't get the fascination with virtual desktops, nor do I see how that fits with the already chrome-lite Metro.

I never used virtual desktops, partly because I always use 2 or 3 monitors, but they can help a lot if you use the same machine for work and other uses... need to work, switch to the desktop with your work stuff open. Game? Switch back, and have all the icons and layouts move to be more useful. Super helpful on one monitor.

Dashel said,
I just don't get the fascination with virtual desktops, nor do I see how that fits with the already chrome-lite Metro.

I've never used them with any Linux distro I've tried, but then I don't really keep many apps open (expanded/visible) on my desktop. I'm fine with alt+tab'ing between minimized apps that I need and so on.

Having said that though, I could see how this ties into metro apps, though we're going to get them windowed in the end, but when it comes to snapping them, say 2 snapped half and half or even 3-4 then switching between virtual desktops that have them snapped and maybe even expanding that type of feature through touch for the tablet could be very interesting.

It wouldn't really have much to do with Metro apps on tablets. But if you're on a desktop, and you run Metro/Modern apps in windows on the desktop, they'll function just like any other Windows app. Each "desktop" will have its own collection of Windows/apps running on it. And as someone else already said, in the full screen world, each app is practically its own desktop already (and the "desktop" is seen as just "one apps" in the switcher UI... so presumably you'd see multiple "desktops" in that UI after this enhancement).

I don't see how this doesn't find a way on tablets if done right, and if it's in the switcher UI which is for touch first then that basically means it'll work on tablets as well. It shouldn't be hard to picture people switching between a pair of snapped metro apps on a tablet. This could be a good way to expand things on the metro side as well, why limit it to two 50/50 snapped apps or 3 snapped apps when you can have x number of virtual desktops each with different snapped apps and switch between them?

I agree. Way overrated. I guess I can see a use with many full screen modern apps, but task switching is clumsy enough. Oh well, features are nice, it's not like you "have" to use it. Just as long as it can be disabled with a GPO I'm good.

Imagine being able to snap two different desktops side-by-side on one monitor.

I do wonder how it will treat multi-monitor set-ups though. Are all monitors ALWAYS 'one desktop', or can you flip desktops by monitor, or what? Because the way I use things I can see wanting one monitor to stay exactly as it is (its own desktop) and the other two being another desktop together that I could flip through other virtual two-monitor desktops with. That would be very useful... but i'm not going to get my hopes up about something that complicated :-)

Different approach to managing windows/apps for different people. I have never gotten into using it either (even though there are many 3rd party ways to do this on Windows even before/if MS releases the feature as a native function).

I guess if I liked to have two windows side by side all the time, and then another 2 windows side by side, but not all 4 windows on the screen at the same time (only one pair or the other, and be able to quickly switch between the two pairs). In that case though, minimize the first two, and restore the other two. Then switch to the other two by minimizing/restoring again. Would be more of a pint as you hit a higher number of window count per group of windows I guess. Makes a bit more sense as we get to higher and higher resolution screens that can realistically fit that many windows side by side.

I see why someone would want to use them now.
Thanks :)

Maybe the time for having a "clean" desktop is over and it's more about functionality... Never really thought of having a "work" desktop or a "game" desktop. But then it would be annoying switching desktops all the time.

MorganX said,
I agree. Way overrated. I guess I can see a use with many full screen modern apps, but task switching is clumsy enough. Oh well, features are nice, it's not like you "have" to use it. Just as long as it can be disabled with a GPO I'm good.

Exactly!!

If its pairing of 'snapped' Modern apps, that could have merit. There is no point to adding VDs though. If you are going to treat the Desktop as an app, then there is no reason to subdivide it.

Dashel said,
I just don't get the fascination with virtual desktops, nor do I see how that fits with the already chrome-lite Metro.

Don't use it then. Choice... Isn't that a wonderful thing?

Microsoft already stated that desktop development will continue, and the desktop will remain there for more hardcore users such as system developers, who often have a lot of screens open. There is no "transitioning" into Modern/Metro.

Struggling to understand innovation here.

Its either like "Virtual PC" or VMware, or "gasp" like err... "Windows" ...

dvb2000 said,
Struggling to understand innovation here.

Its either like "Virtual PC" or VMware, or "gasp" like err... "Windows" ...


Virtual pc is not same as a virtual desktop. With virtual desktop, you are enjoying maximum performance, and it's just a convenient way to to launch apps into different desktop. If you are launching a ton of apps at the same time, it might help to juggle with different desktop. It's basically just an ui change, but I think a useful one.

dvb2000 said,
Struggling to understand innovation here.

Its either like "Virtual PC" or VMware, or "gasp" like err... "Windows" ...

Completely different thing all together.