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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