Sorry, But Sets is Dead

Posted on April 22, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 52 Comments

Citing multiple sources, Mary Jo Foley reports that Microsoft has quietly canceled plans to add Sets to Windows 10.

As you may recall, Microsoft announced Sets in late 2017, and originally planned to release this feature—which would have added a tabs-based shell around application windows—as part of a 2018 version of Windows 10. But after briefly testing Sets, Microsoft pulled it from pre-release Windows 10 builds and hasn’t since mentioned it in any official capacity. We know that it will not be included in Windows 10 version 1903, which was recently completed, because it was never tested as part of that release.

But this past week, Sets fans were given a bit of hope when a Microsoft senior program manager said on Twitter that “adding tabs is high on [Microsoft’s] to-do list” despite Sets not being included in Windows 10 version 1903. I speculated at the time that the delay had to do with Microsoft’s transitioning of its Edge web browser to the Google Chromium code base: Sets was based on the tabs functionality in classic Edge, and since Microsoft is dropping that product, it would need to start over.

That bit of speculation has been confirmed: Foley’s sources say that the Edge transition to Chromium “helped finalize the decision to [cancel] Sets.” It just would have been too time-consuming to reimplement the feature using Chromium.

As to whether Sets—or something like Sets—will ever come to Windows 10, Foley is less positive.

“Windows 10’s ‘Sets’ feature is gone and not expected to return,” she writes. As bad, “the feature generally wasn’t well received or understood” anyway, indicating that a system-wide Sets replacement is unlikely.

In the good news department, Sets-like tabbed user interfaces do appear to be coming to future versions of File Explorer, Windows 10’s file management app, and to the Windows 10 console applications. That should satisfy the most common needs for Sets-like functionality, and avoid the issues that mainstream users might have had with tabs popping up all over Windows.

RIP, Sets. Like so many Microsoft ideas, it seemed like you had a future. And then you didn’t.

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Comments (52)

52 responses to “Sorry, But Sets is Dead”

  1. mikefarinha

    My Guitar Gently Weeps...

  2. AlexKven

    Why did they ditch the shell in Edge? Couldn't they have just kept Edge mostly the same except with Chromium as the rendering engine? Why throw away essentially all of Edge's differentiating (and best) features when it shouldn't be necessary?

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to AlexKven:

      The shell in Edge probably relied on/required EdgeHTML. Being cynical, I suspect Sets was a way to make Edge more popular, but it failed to do so, and it was likely too expensive to maintain for the few users who ever used it.

  3. codymesh

    well it looks like they're still adding tabs to File Explorer, so i'm happy.

    I think users understand how tabs work within apps - be it photoshop, the browser, or even in some older control panel dialogs. A system-wide tab system would turn this paradigm on its head, which is what Sets did. It was a cool concept, but it was very Windows Phone like in the sense that it would be great if we lived in a world without existing assumptions

  4. ianhead

    Honestly, I think this is a the best outcome given the challenges faced. It was pretty clear from testing that the Windows team hadn't really figured out how to really nail down the UX or justified the use case of adding tabs to every single application. Seeing tabs on apps like Mail looked ugly and didn't really make any sense, and allowing disparate apps to mix and match, having their own tabs in the same window, would've made windows easy to lose when most users still don't even know how to use the Taskbar. The feedback hub does show that all people really want is tabs in File Explorer.

    • JerryH

      In reply to ianhead:

      Agreed! For those of us that tested it with MS Office it was a really strange feature. You'd put an Outlook inbox window and an Outlook calendar window into a set - then half the time when you opened a note it would be in the tab set and other times it would not. Then sometimes Inbox would pop out of the tab set for no reason that anyone could understand. It just didn't work well.

  5. mryves707

    Never quite understood the idea of sets. You have already something similar with the taskbar app tabs, haven't u? Why not add some grouping to it and done :)

  6. skane2600

    I'm not sure how useful Sets would have been, but I don't see why it's implementation should be dependent on Edge. I would hope that Edge is treated as just another program and that general Windows functionality isn't coupled with it.

    • nbplopes

      In reply to skane2600:

      You don’t see because the somewhat technical.explanation was just baloney.

      I read the tweet. And the mention of the to do list was referring to tabs on the console and other stuff. Not The feature Sets. So no hope was given.

  7. coeus89

    This is a bit disappointing. I would have liked it if i could "Save" each "set". Then i could basically have individual work spaces encapsulated.

    However, i would prefer that they do something simple very well rather than something complex badly. Maybe they'll add the workspace idea to the multiple desktops or something in the future. A mixed blessing for sure since we get chromium edge :)

  8. eric_rasmussen

    I use ConEmu as my console emulator specifically because it has tabs. If File Explorer could also have tabs it would be wonderful. I guess if I really want it, I can just buy Stardock's solution.

  9. hrlngrv

    Well, then, Windows needs a tabbed file manager and a tabbed console for character mode software. How long will that take, or will those who'd find those useful need to rely on 3rd party software?

    I suspect Sets wasn't much used while it was available, and I figure MSFT may have found out Groupy isn't either.

  10. Daekar

    If the PWA Renaissance happens this will be a moot point regardless.

  11. roykirk

    And somewhere Brad Wardell breathes a sigh of relief: Groupy still has a future.

    Kidding aside, I've been using Groupy for a while now, so the loss of Sets doesn't bother me.

  12. Lordbaal

    I hated it. I always ended up closing the app, instead of the window.

  13. IanYates82

    As a dev, window management is a tricky thing. Grafting sets onto misbehaving apps, some not updated in 15 years, would be fully of ugly corner cases.

    Bringing tabs to explorer, and to the console, makes sense. Microsoft owns both and they're the likely apps to have multiple instances running for power users.

    They even had Raymond Chen working on it and, I assume, even he couldn't work it all out!! :)

  14. blackcomb

    LMFAO!!! Accept the truth. Windows 10 failed.

  15. wright_is

    I hazard a guess and say this is also like virtual desktops, a great boon for the 1% of users who actually know they are there and use them, but ignored by 99%. I prefer adding an extra display to my PC than setting up a virtual desktop.

    I think tabs will be the same issue. Tabs are useful in a browser, but "tabbing" unrelated applications? It just isn't anything I've ever felt the need to do. If I do have releated windows, they are usually things I want to see at the same time on the screen (E.g. source material and the document I am working on).

  16. rkpatrick

    There's an elegant solution out there that combines tabs and virtual desktops as an OS-wide service, but MS gave up on being the one who tries to find that solution several years ago.

  17. sandeepm

    Glad it is gone. If they want to improve the taskbar so that it works on small form factor, then they need to improve the taskbar, not make a mess with multiple desktops and sets. Does someone at Microsoft wireframe these user experiences prior to spending millions? It is shameful, this money could have been diverted to keeping the phone formfactor alive.

    As for sets, they need to go back to thinking of such things in terms of reusable foundational / framework components that app developers can leverage when they need/desire, rather than imposing UI controls at OS level. Xaml based UI development is like going back to stone age. Why do developers have to waste their time in writing markup for buttons and labels and textboxes and grids and charts when they could instead be concentrating on building business logic? They need to acquire the likes of Telerik and Devexpress and fire their inhouse UI team.

  18. glenn8878

    Better to kill it when it never was than later when it was badly implemented.

  19. mattbg

    It was an interesting idea, but to be honest I don't know what I would have done with it.

    If we've avoided yet another mistake of embedding the browser into the main operating system UI then that might be a good thing.

  20. Alex Taylor

    Sad, as this would have been genuinely useful.

    I'm a big fan of window tabs in KDE, which Sets looked like a more elaborate version of. In KDE the tabs are part of the window manager code, not part of the browser (I mean why would they be part of the browser?).

    That said, the repeated coverage/excitement about tabs in File Explorer always perplexed me as File Explorer needs a dual pane view much more.

    But system wide tabs with no setup by the app required (as is the case in KDE) would have been great for office applications, terminals and pretty much everything else.


    • darkgrayknight

      In reply to agt4:

      Stardock still has Groupy -- so you could just use that:

    • Steven Lendowski

      In reply to agt4:

      KDE in many ways is designed as a more powerful DE for Windows power users.

      Sadly i moved back to GNOME now that they fixed the most performance problems with V 3.32, because KDE 5 still lacks polish IMHO and while i dig the more powerful options compared to GNOME, i will wait till the UX is more polished and glitches ironed out.

      And with Windows lacking Sets, i have my Tilix Terminal emulator with Quake mode, Tabs, Tiling, etc..

      Cant even image having to work without this..

      And when i boot my Windows 10 SSD, all the crapware, the update BS (even Linux is a breeze compared to that mess), and bugs reminded my why i switched to Linux last year.

      Though after Windows 8 i was hyped about Windows 10 and its potential. Sadly most of it was vaporware, Sets is just another page in this never ending story of WAAS.

      Arch Linux as rolling release was not so painful. ;)

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to agt4:

      . . . I mean why would they be part of the browser? . . .

      Because the Great Gates said the browser (Internet Explorer at the time) was an integral part of the OS, so it just couldn't be removed from Windows, and MSFT has done its damnedest ever since to make sure Bill Gates can never be accused of lying.

      Less sarcastically, it's an immutable part of MSFT corporate culture to stick with certain design decisions for good & all. Thus all networking subcomponents, including HTTP and HTML rendering, are built into Windows.

      • skane2600

        In reply to hrlngrv:

        It depends on how you look at it. Certain dll's that were part of the IE install were necessary for some applications (I know because we used them). The government's demo of "removing" IE was complete BS. One could argue that perhaps those dlls should have been delivered separately, but Gates claim was essentially true.

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to skane2600:

          Agreed the government deleting IEXPLORE.EXE was silly and meaningless.

          However, other OSes seem to be able to use modular networking subsystems. Yes, if TCP/IP is needed, the necessary DLLs should be installed, but under C:\Windows or C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer? OTOH, if one has no networking connections at all, does one need the TCP/IP subsystem? Disconnected Windows PCs couldn't run without that subsystem?

          • skane2600

            In reply to hrlngrv:

            Pretty similar to how Unix and Linux have networking functionality embedded in X Windows although a disconnected computer has no need for it. Anything is possible, but design decisions are made under the conditions and the environment that they are developed under and if the software persists those basic design decisions persist.

            • hrlngrv

              In reply to skane2600:

              X is an optional component in Linux. Since X is client-server, not surprising networking support is required.

              If Windows 95 had Windows 10's option to disable Internet Explorer (which does remove the IEXPLORE.EXE file), MSFT would have had fewer troubles back in the late 1990s.

              • skane2600

                In reply to hrlngrv:

                Sure, and the C standard library is an optional component of C, but in both cases they are always included in typical use.

                But X's main purpose isn't as a client-server, that's just an implementation choice. Better to have built the windowing system independently and then provide a client-server capability it could optionally use. It was designed the way it was because networked terminals were the most common way to run Unix at the time. Since there was little or no need for local use, it was convenient to couple both functionalities into one, although separating them would still have been a better design.

                • hrlngrv

                  In reply to skane2600:

                  Too glib. The C Standard Library is standard. Show me any Linux package manager which installs gcc but not the C Standard Library.

                  X's implementation choice is what requires the networking subsystems. I believe X always runs a server daemon which isn't optional. OTOH, Linux also has character mode browsing which doesn't use X but does need TCP/IP and HTTP.

                • skane2600

                  In reply to hrlngrv:

                  Perhaps in ANSI C the standard library is required, but originally as described in the first edition of "The C Programming Language" it was optional and not part of C. That allowed C to be used with very limited resources if the functionality didn't require library functions. This was particularly true for embedded systems where in many cases, text, sorting and other functions were never needed.

  21. madthinus

    Seemed like a solution to a problem that did not exist

  22. wbhite

    I was really looking forward to this, if I understood it correctly. I'm constantly working on a handful of separate projects which requires different apps each and it would have been nice to have a single window with those apps grouped into one.

  23. dxtremebob

    I only wanted sets for File Explorer anyway. So that's good.

  24. anderb

    Well, that was a waste of time and money. Makes you wonder how this sort of nonsense gets approved over fixing their browser so it remains a viable option.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to anderb:

      . . . remains a viable option . . .

      Has Edge ever been a viable option? Well, it's been part of Windows 10 since 1507, so it's been around since Windows 10 was originally released to everyone, but Netmarketshare shows Firefox and Internet Explorer with substantially more users. Even restricting to just Windows 10, Netmarketshare puts Edge usage at just over 10% of Windows 10 PCs. For whatever reason, it's never been popular. I suspect MSFT screwed up making Edge's icon look too much like Internet Explorer's.

  25. bbold

    No surprise here, folks. Just move along until the next consumer facing thing gets axed. Not a good sign for us consumers, for sure.

  26. dontbe evil

    Will paul and mary jo will be once again wrong? will see next year

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