Windows 8: Multiple desktops, smart sticky notes, and more

Summary:New Windows 8 UI concepts have now come to light. Will Microsoft actually implement these or will they fall by the wayside?

As many of you are aware, Windows 8 is a hot topic right now. Rumors abound and walk circles around what little factual data we have about Microsoft's next OS, but there are perpetual truths to be found in the aspects of how Microsoft develops each new version of Windows.

For instance, we know that Microsoft gives the UI a face-lift in each new major release. In knowing that, we can only wait and see what's to come down the pike... or, we can be proactive and seek out information for ourselves to help us glean what little insight we can! With that said, it's no secret that Microsoft goes through some pretty drastic user interface ideas in the early stages of planning. For instance, have a look at the following video to see what Microsoft's early ideas were for what ultimately ended up becoming Windows Vista:

Bearing that in mind, to say that Microsoft has most certainly been at work on user interface ideas for Windows 8 is to state the obvious. However, recent Google research of mine has revealed specific insights into some of this planning. In particular, Microsoft R&D India was tasked last year with overseeing an "...academic – industry collaborative project..." consisting of the creation of "...new and innovative interfaces and user experiences for the next generation Operating system Windows 8 for information workers." To further quote the portfolio of Manoj Manduva(one of the individuals directly involved with the project):

Problem: Windows is the most used operating system around the world and majority of them are information workers who have very unique work profiles and need unique interfaces to be designed as part of OS. This project was a combination of both User centered and Activity Centered design approach with focus on design research. There are three types of Information workers – Structured Task Workers – Business worker and Data Entry worker. We have interviewed all the three type of audience and observed usage patterns and the way they interact with the operating system in everyday environment. After identifying the pain areas and design opportunities, design concepts have been generated. Some of the concepts are Skew Plane visualization of the desktop which would enhance the space utilization by accommodating more data in the available desktop real estate. The others are in the areas of folder management and touch screen interactions. Outcome: Design document submitted to Microsoft Corporation.

Accompanied along with his portfolio are images from what appear to be excerpts from the design document submitted to Microsoft. Though not revealing from a UI perspective, it's worth noting these simply for the chance that we may end up seeing one or more of these changes appear in Windows 8.

Concept: Multiple Desktops / Flip

Windows 8 Multiple Desktops and Flip
As you can see, the document suggests not only the usage of multiple desktops, but a "flip" feature with a fancy animation that changes from advanced to classic UI mode. Though interesting, neither of these suggestions are new. Windows NT had an application that allowed for multiple desktops way back when. Likewise, Microsoft has made it readily apparent time-and-time again that the request for baked-in multiple desktop functionality is amongst the lowest of end-user priorities. And as for the "flip" animation, this shoddy image of an internal 2004 pre-Windows Vista prototype has Manoj and company bested by ~6 years:
Windows Longhorn Flip

Concept: Smart Sticky Notes

Windows 8 Smart Sticky Notes
In theory, the idea of sticky notes on your desktop is pretty cool. However, my personal experience with using the sticky notes gadget is severely limited due to not finding much real-world use for them. Manoj's suggestion of smartsticky notes adds two abilities to sticky notes that I think sticky note users would love: Reminders and the ability to create hyperlinks. I assume the reminders feature would either create a pop-up, play a sound, or some other type of attention-getting feature. I'm sure more was slated for smart sticky notes in the document submitted to Microsoft, but the aforementioned is all we've been shown.

Concept: Skew Window Management with Flip and Leap

Windows 8 Skew Windows Management
Windows 8 Leap Animation
Since what we are shown here of skew window management looks a bit too similar to Windows 7's Flip 3D, I'm under the impression that we're seeing a recommendation for Windows 8's touch-based UI. The leap animation doesn't seem like a naturally-flowing mouse gesture so much as it does a rather peachy implementation to quickly look through windows with the flick of a finger. After all, imagine the nightmare of trying to "leap" your way through multiple windows using your mouse while trying to click on the top of a window, flick it up, bring your mouse pointer back down and click in just the right spot again, flick it up, etc. Yikes.

Outside of that, I'm not quite sure how their proposal aims to stand alone from what we already see in Windows 7. Then again, I'm under the impression we only have a mere piece to the puzzle that is the whole design document these images come from. So, all-in-all, I'm not amazingly impressed by what we see here, but it's at least a glimpse into some of the ideas that have been submitted to Microsoft for Windows 8 via Microsoft R&D. Here again, I am basing the aforementioned solely on the data provided by Manoj. Perhaps the entirety of the document and hi-fi prototypes would lend more to the distinction between what they created and what either already exists or has already been prototyped in years past.

In conclusion, I'd like to ask you what you think about these proposed ideas. Would you make use of multiple desktops, smart sticky notes, and/or skewed window management as shown in these concepts? Personally, I think multiple desktops would be a disaster for me since I tend to fill mine up frequently with files. The last thing I need is to end up with 4 desktops chock-full of files. Likewise, I don't use sticky notes (this, I do not foresee myself using smart sticky notes), and I'm still a bit up-in-the-air as to exactly how they proposed skew window management as a viable option that differentiates itself enough from Flip 3D.

Now, what about you? If not the features mentioned here, what other implementations would you like to see Windows 8's user interface contain? And for your enjoyment, here is a video containing some internal animations proposed for Windows 7 during its early planning phase. As you can see, most of these failed to make it into the OS, but there are certainly some awesome ideas here that I would still love to see implemented (such as the slider to dim or brighten your desktop wallpaper):

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Microsoft, Software, Windows

About

Stephen is a freelance writer and blogger based in Charlotte, NC. His contributions to ZDNet cover topics related to security, gaming, Microsoft, Apple, and other topics of interest with a tech/SMB skew.

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