Microsoft is (Probably) Killing Timeline Now Too (UPDATED)

Posted on April 14, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 54 Comments

UPDATE: In the wake of yet another disastrous miscommunication from the Windows Insider team that I reference below, Microsoft has added the following “clarification” to yesterday’s blog post:

Note: Timeline and all your local activity history still remain on Windows 10.

So it appears that Timeline is not being removed but is instead being made to only work with data on that PC.

–Paul

In the release notes to the latest Windows 10 Insider Preview build, Microsoft reveals that it could be killing its Timeline feature. Granted, this is a Windows Insider blog post, so it’s not at all clear.

“If you have your activity history synced across your devices through your Microsoft account (MSA), you’ll no longer have the option to upload new activity in Timeline,” a note under “Changes and Improvements” in the blog post describing the new build reads. “[Azure Active Directory-] AAD-connected accounts won’t be impacted. To view web history, Edge and other browsers have the option to look back at recent web activities. You can also view recently used files using OneDrive and Office.”

So, um. Hm.

I read that to mean that Microsoft is taking the next logical step away from Timeline, it’s “pick up where you left off” technology, which once spanned both Windows 10 PCs and Android devices using the Microsoft Launcher. But Timeline was exorcised from the Microsoft Launcher in late 2020. So it’s been a Windows 10-only feature since then.

With this change, however, Timeline is now only available to those with work- and education-based AAD accounts, severely limiting its impact. And it’s probably fair to assume that’s temporary, and that AAD support will be on the cutting board next.

If only there was a way to communicate this properly.

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Comments (58)

58 responses to “Microsoft is (Probably) Killing Timeline Now Too (UPDATED)”

  1. Avatar

    Chris_Kez

    Good feature, I think, that didn't get enough time or enough of a push.

  2. Avatar

    ronv42

    I am sure there are many companies that don't want this feature due to the exposure it creates for regulated applications and data.

  3. Avatar

    coeus89

    I always thought the UI was pretty bad. If it had been a list with less translucency I think I would have used it more. It is actually kind of hard to find something you are looking for in it. I hope they play with the UI and don't just kill it.

  4. Avatar

    red.radar

    Personally the feature brought me a lot of anxiety. It highlighted all the data collection and metrics that windows collects on every interaction. I sort of knew this but was ok because it was just a theory or idea. Timeline made it real and what concerned me was it offered little value. But they’re was every interaction I had done with my PC for Microsoft to refactor into the next feature or “experience”. Or worse yet sell to the highest bidder if they get into financial trouble.


    Then I learned that my company uses these and other features to tract every interaction I make with the Microsoft cloud (MyAnalytics) so they can measure and offer suggestions to improve my productivity.


    it’s not sitting well with me.




  5. Avatar

    cmdrkeene

    There are a few things to observe here that don't seem to be being reported.


    A) timeline is staying as an operating system feature. It will continue to show you the documents and sites you visited, in chronological order. Just like your most recently used list of documents. Which the operating system still tracks. And will continue to still do so.


    B) The only actual change in this announcement, is that this history will no longer synchronize to your Microsoft account. So you can't go to some other laptop and see the files you were working on from your other computer.


    C) EXCEPT THEY SPECIFICALLY SAID THAT AAD CONNECTED ACCOUNTS ARE NOT AFFECTED. So your activity history on a company computer, will continue to synchronize to the Microsoft graph, and continue to synchronize with your company account.


    So really the only change here, is that the free Microsoft accounts for consumers (aka hotmail/live/outlook/etc accounts) won't be synchronizing that information anymore.


    And considering they pulled synchronization of other preferences already (they stopped syncing things like wallpaper and themes to MSA accounts several insider builds ago), this seems to be much more focused on Microsoft accounts than operating system features.


    Now all of the above being said, I always found a timeline to be slow, janky, and generally a poor experience.

  6. Avatar

    kjb434

    Good riddance. Another feature no one asked for dies.



  7. Avatar

    cnc123

    First thing I turned off, as intrusive and unnecessary. I don't need Microsoft data mining my web history. Same reason I don't use Chrome or Google Assistant. I get that no one cares about this, but that doesn't invalidate those of us who do.

    • Avatar

      Paul Thurrott

      Mining? Have you actually looked at the privacy policy?
      • Avatar

        tarnishedtinman

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        Have you? Which was your favorite part?


        Was it this?


        "Microsoft uses the data we collect to provide you with rich, interactive experiences. In particular, we use data to:

        • Provide our products, which includes updating, securing, and troubleshooting, as well as providing support. It also includes sharing data, when it is required to provide the service or carry out the transactions you request.
        • Improve and develop our products.
        • Personalize our products and make recommendations.
        • Advertise and market to you, which includes sending promotional communications, targeting advertising, and presenting you with relevant offers.

        "

        The bold part is mine.


  8. Avatar

    tripleplayed

    Never once used it. Only time I see it is when creating a new virtual desktop.

  9. Avatar

    navarac

    I would hate to work for Microsoft. I'd be working on "the next big thing" and then after it is issued, I'd be worrying about the thing being cancelled along with my job :-)

  10. Avatar

    crunchyfrog

    In reading through the comments here it seems like most thought it was a good idea and either never used it or thought it was poorly implemented. Sounds like a Microsoft product...

  11. Avatar

    gregsedwards

    And yet multiple desktops is still somehow a thing.

  12. Avatar

    tripleplayed

    In reply to blue77star:

    I use virtual desktops everyday working from home with a small laptop.

  13. Avatar

    codymesh

    In reply to blue77star:

    ??? laptop users are all virtually still on 14-15" screens though?


    Also speak for yourself, maybe you'd like Windows to stagnate. I like many of the new features in Windows 10,

  14. Avatar

    Saarek

    Glad to hear the feature is remaining, it's genuinely useful and one of the things I really like about Windows 10.

  15. Avatar

    rmlounsbury

    I almost always managed to stumble into timeline completely on accident. On rare occasion I use it and find it useful.


    For the most part the combination of Edge, OneDrive, and Office related tools give me all the historical/sync information I could ever want. Timeline is neat but didn't provide enough value for me to ever really use it. It seems even less valuable if it is based only on the PC you are on and doesn't carry info from at least other Windows 10 devices.

  16. Avatar

    mixedfarmer75

    Can't say I used it a lot, but now and again it came in handy. I liked having the choice. Why not a check box. This PC only or all lin PCS on your account.

  17. Avatar

    mattbg

    It's a good idea; it's just... incomplete, and I forget that it's there a lot of the time.


    Even today, when I look at my timeline I see a tile for exactly one thing that I did on each of the last 5 days. I know I did a lot more than that. Why are those things there and why isn't the rest of it there? I guess I'm not motivated enough to answer that question.

  18. Avatar

    hrlngrv

    In reply to blue77star:

    Windows 10 itself has nothing appealing.

    Sure it does. If nothing else, Windows Services for Linux.

    Without sarcasm, there ain't much Windows 10 provides which Windows 8.x didn't other than UWP apps (which I don't use) and the Windows 10 Start menu (which I also don't use because I prefer OpenShell for a classic Start menu).

    Also without sarcasm, virtual desktops make sense for arranging different windows in particular ways for different programs. For example, fairly common for me, RStudio on one monitor, Excel on another in one workspace, Outlook, browser, Charmap, and a markdown editor arranged just so across both monitors in another workspace.

  19. Avatar

    tarnishedtinman

    I didn't see the headline of why I would care about this.


    When I want to actually save some activity I save it to OneNote.

  20. Avatar

    pachi

    Upwards of a dozen people will be saddened by this news. These half baked awkward features being cut is a good thing. Never used this once. Just got confused sometimes why things were in task view when I used a windows laptop alongside the desktop.

  21. Avatar

    StagyarZilDoggo

    Maybe if they kill enough of these features, Windows 10 will turn back into 7 at some point. ;-)

  22. Avatar

    webdev511

    Microsoft looking at telemetry as the decision point for keep or not.

  23. Avatar

    Alex Taylor

    Well, if that's what it takes to get "See more days in timeline" out of my task view, so be it.

    I would have been happy with an option to dismiss, but the big hammer is fine by me.

  24. Avatar

    JacobTheDev

    I was excited about this feature when it was announced, but in reality I've never once used it (I open Task View many times a day to manage virtual desktops, though). I'd be curious to know usage statics for the timeline stuff, just has never seemed useful to me.

    • Avatar

      bassoprofundo

      In reply to Jacob-Bearce:

      I totally identify with this... I love it in concept, but I've never been able to truly integrate it into my workflow, which to be fair, hasn't really changed drastically since the XP days. Maybe it's just age-induced inertia, but I'm finding very few innovations in desktop or mobile computing that are game-changing enough to force a shift in the way that I do things. (As I say this, I feel like my next comments should be about "kids these days" or the benefits of a high fiber diet...)

    • Avatar

      PhilipVasta

      In reply to Jacob-Bearce:

      I agree as well - I didn't end up using it as much as I thought I would. But although Timeline itself didn't make it, I really hope the Windows team continues to develop workflow enhancements. There are still so many ways Windows could be improved and expanded.

    • Avatar

      jgraebner

      In reply to Jacob-Bearce:

      Yep, same here. This sounded incredibly useful when it was announced, but in actuality I've pretty much completely ignored it.

    • Avatar

      j5

      In reply to Jacob-Bearce:

      I was excited too when I heard about it. But once it became available I NEVER used, not once. Only too look at everyone now and then and sometimes by accident I'd pull it up.

      I think it sounded like a great feature. But how they did it was bad. It was like showing thumbnails of your web browsing history. I think if the UI for it was presented differently vs everything just showing on the screen like that maybe it would've caught on, I don't know. It just need a more creative way of showing your past history than thumbnails all thrown up on the screen.

  25. Avatar

    hrlngrv

    Gotta ask: does MSFT believe clear communication is in its own best interests?

    There are a lot of smart people working for MSFT. MSFT's continuing lack of clear communication can't be serial screw ups with no accountability. It's got to be intentional, no? Even if there are lots of individuals at MSFT who communicate clearly with Paul Thurrott, Mary Jo Foley, Brad Sams, other tech journalists, it seems MSFT as a corporation prefers a dense fog of obfuscation and confusion.

    In charity, maybe MSFT doesn't actually care whether it communicates clearly or not, IOW, indifference rather than malice. It's just that incompetence isn't a plausible excuse, and all other explanations paint a worse picture of MSFT's corporate communications culture.

  26. Avatar

    jupast

    Well this is typical Microsoft isn't it. They're 'excited' to release something, probably look at the usage stats after a week and go 'oh well, no one's using it, just let it die a slow death'.


    Timeline had potential, but not in the form they left it in. Just look at the screenshot, what a disorganized mess. That's how it started, and that's how it stayed. I tried Timeline a few times, and never came back to it because they never bothered to improve it.

    • Avatar

      F4IL

      In reply to jupast: Timeline had potential, but not in the form they left it in. Just look at the screenshot, what a disorganized mess.


      This is a poignant observation. They went through the trouble of the initial implementation, subsequently incorporating the feature into the OS, but lacked follow-through. How is anyone supposed to make sense of this byzantine wallpaper of tasks is beyond me.


      Although initially enticing, features eventually turn into technical debt requiring improvements and maintenance. Personally, I view this deprecation good news. They could easily have left "timeline" to rot alongside other legacy features present on windows.

    • Avatar

      cmdrkeene

      In reply to jupast:

      It's a disorganized mess for sure. And I never particularly liked the UI, but it is chronological. And you can still open up your quick access to see a chronological view of files you've opened. Just in explorer instead of this particular UI.


      And the search on the timeline was kind of neat, because as you typed into the search box the activity tiles below would filter to only show the things that you typed. So if you knew you worked on some proposal, you could start typing in PRO and find the tile from two weeks ago when you were working on it last.


      Of course it was slow, janky, and stutterred to render as you typed, nearly freezing any computer.

  27. Avatar

    winner

    Your timeline is up!

  28. Avatar

    Daekar

    I thought Timeline was a neat feature, but I never ended up using it. For the sake of simplicity, I don't mind them cutting out features that aren't used.

  29. Avatar

    bsobotta

    I lost so much interest in Microsoft after they killed windows phone., I dont even blink when they kill services anymore.


    Stupid thing is, I am more invested and trust in samsungs ecosystem than any of the American ones. Or I have been using 3rd party ones.

    • Avatar

      navarac

      In reply to Bsobotta:

      Timeline just gave someone who had access to the computer a way to see what you had been doing.

      I also lost a lot of interest in Microsoft after the demise of Windows Phone. What with stupid stuff like 3D etc and the killing off of nearly everything, I only keep 1 Windows PC now. The rest are now Linux. Even the Insiders Program has suffered, especially with A/B testing. I gave that up after getting 5 builds in a row which seemed to have nothing new, in other words Z/Z testing! Waste of time.

  30. Avatar

    samp

    It was a good idea that nobody used. It's not Microsoft fault (although they might have done better research).

    I switched mine off after a bit of being confused by it and not using it often. However, the rare occasions I did use it, it was very helpful.

  31. Avatar

    will

    Good feature until it pops up and shows the bad sites you visited earlier :-)


    Actually I liked the idea, but I think the point was more of if you were using a computer and then went into a room with a Surface Hub you could just pull up your items. But since Hub devices are not the focus like Teams and Team Room systems are now I think this will just be merged into something else.

  32. Avatar

    rob_segal

    This was a feature I thought I would use a lot more than I actually did. Maybe, there was too much history. It could have been information overload. Recently opened documents and projects were the most important things to me and individual apps kept track of that.

  33. Avatar

    IanYates82

    And very plain azure AAD didn't have sync in the first place. That always required a higher level account for edge to enable sync stuff.


    For how well their posts are written they could've added that extra phrasing about AAD because it never worked there anyway?!

  34. Avatar

    scovious

    I always thought sharing history should be an explicit choice rather than automatic. People are already afraid of their computers tracking them. Choosing to share something like with AirDrop or AirPlay is a controlled experience but having their timeline in the cloud is a red flag for sensitive people.

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