Microsoft shows off Windows ‘Sets,’ a tabbed app interface that puts a web browser everywhere

Just a few weeks after the major launch of Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, Microsoft is already looking toward what’s next as the company tests features that could fundamentally shape how you use web browsers.

Today, Microsoft announced a new feature tentatively called “Sets,” a fairly significant retooling of how web browsers and apps operate philosophically in Windows 10. Rather than having Edge users manage a set of browser windows filled with relevant tabs to a particular task, Microsoft wants to build those tabs directly into apps. Let’s say you’re writing up a Word document and you’re needing to research topics online to integrate into it; rather than venturing to a new browser window, you’ll be able to open Edge inside the app with a new tab thanks to “Sets” and get to surfing. You’ll also be able to pull up file windows so you truly won’t have to venture too far from the task at hand.

This all saves you a click or two in the short term, but where it grows more useful is in bundling your documents and web research into single files that you can pull up from any device so you can jump back into your document and everything you were looking at.

It’s all a very interesting way of looking at projects, though I wonder whether this is just bringing the web browser’s clutter everywhere for users who aren’t organizational superstars. This is going to be an opt-in feature, so if you hate the idea of more complexity in your app toolbars this won’t screw up your life.

“Sets” will be further strengthened by Timeline, a feature announced this year at Build, which lets users surface past activities and apps inside the Task View in a more chronological manner. Timeline is rolling out in the next Windows Insider build to the Fast Ring.

“Sets” is going to have a somewhat more nuanced launch to WIP than past beta feature releases. Given the evolving nature of Sets, Microsoft has decided to deliver the update just to a select number of those in WIP so the company can get a better handle on how or if the feature is being used so more significant changes can be made to boost its utility.

Terry Myerson, EVP of Microsoft Windows and Devices Group, detailed some of these changes in a blog post:

With Sets specifically, we’ll introduce a controlled study into WIP so that we can more accurately assess what’s working and what’s not. That means a smaller percentage of you will initially get Sets in a build. It also means that some of you won’t get it at all for a while, as we compare the usage and satisfaction of task switching in Windows for people who have sets versus people who don’t. Eventually everyone will get Sets—but it could be awhile.

It’s all a bit more of an experimental feeling than launches to WIP have felt in the past. Sets may be marking a moment where Microsoft opens itself up to taking more chances rather than using WIP simply to squash bugs. UWP apps like Mail and Calendar will be first to receive the feature, but the Office suite is working on bringing it as well and, over time, Microsoft plans to bring support to Win32 apps that don’t modify the task bar.

“Sets,” which again Microsoft has not set as the final name for the feature, will start rolling out in “the coming weeks,” but a full rollout to the public may take months — possibly years — the company says.