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

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 " 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

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  • Yes to multiple desktop

    A 4-screen pager would be really useful. Can't think why they aren't convinced - there's nothing to lose.
    No to sticky notes - there are already LOTS of ways of sensibly managing information.
    Yes to a better Search function - Windows 7 is poor in that area.
    And yes to a better File Manager. Explorer in XP was actually better than in Windows 7. But a 2-pane file manager could be better still.
    • RE: Windows 8: Multiple desktops, smart sticky notes, and more

      @peter_erskine@... Two pane file manager, please! I can't wait for that to become an integral part of the OS. I have been using Total Commander for decades and without it I am almost lost. When I am on a computer with no TC installed, I feel like both my hands are tied and mind drugged. God, just how complicated can they make the simple task of changing a file's extension, for example.
      • RE: Windows 8: Multiple desktops, smart sticky notes, and more

        @Peter.Perhac,<br> "God, just how complicated can they make the simple task of changing a file's extension, for example."<br><br>Uhhmmm...right-click->rename-<(type something)>. Is that complicated? Am I missing something?
      • RE: Windows 8: Multiple desktops, smart sticky notes, and more

        "God, just how complicated can they make the simple task of changing a file's extension, for example."
        No kidding! Pressing F2 is nearly impossible!
      • RE: Windows 8: Multiple desktops, smart sticky notes, and more


        The average user probably doesn't know what a file extension is. If you make it easy for them to accidentally change 'file.doc' to 'file2', you've created a bad UI. Advanced users can easily do all of this in PowerShell (or CMD), or can simply enable file extensions in Explorer. That's exactly the right approach.
    • I find...


      ...Win 7 search quite useful. What's your complaint with it?
    • RE: Windows 8: Multiple desktops, smart sticky notes, and more

      Microsoft still playing catch-up aren't they...
      • RE: Windows 8: Multiple desktops, smart sticky notes, and more

        @vze29knp@... To what and in what way?
      • RE: To what and in what way?


        Multiple "desktops".

        That has been available in Ubuntu since (IIRC) 7.10 (Gutsy).

        The default installation provided 4 such desktops for each user, and that number is easy to change. In fact, as I was typing this, I changed my normal 2 desktops to 15.

        So much for MS innovation...........
      • RE: Windows 8: Multiple desktops, smart sticky notes, and more

        Re:multiple desktop ... how many times have you used this? I personally think this is just a 'nice-to-have' but never used it.
      • RE: Windows 8: Multiple desktops, smart sticky notes, and more

        Multiple desktops are a very low priority for a reason - Their only really useful to a thin slice of potential users and for everyone else simply represent one more detail to remember. The one exception I can see is if new hardware makes converting devices practical. Then it would be blatantly obvious to have separate desktops with separate UI setups for Laptop Mode, vs Tablet Mode, vs Displaying on a big TV via HDMI mode.
    • RE: Windows 8: Multiple desktops, smart sticky notes, and more

      @peter_erskine@... Windows 7 is certainly NOT poor in the search area. There is NO better search functionality built in to an OS that has ever seen the light of day. Windows 7 search is nothing short of awesome.
      • RE: Windows 8: Multiple desktops, smart sticky notes, and more

        @condelirios um......
        I'm not an apple fan at all, but i used to use a mac... i'm pretty sure Spotlight search is one of the best OS-integrated search features ever.
      • &quot;Nobody has a better search functionality&quot;

        I disagree.

        There are several Linux solutions that work as well/better. I'm more of a fan of Unity, but KDE does it really well too. It also seems snappier.
        Michael Alan Goff
    • RE: Windows 8: Multiple desktops, smart sticky notes, and more


      Multiple desktops have been supported by Windows since nt4. Here's a current utility enabling up to 4:
      • Thanks

        @John.Murray Thanks for the note & link. I used multiple desktops on Mepis Linux, going back to V. 3, at least. I didn't need the feature all the time, but when you have several groups of tasks or docs going at once, it sure is handy.
        I'll try this on my Vista notebook when I get home.
      • RE: Windows 8: Multiple desktops, smart sticky notes, and more

        @John.Murray Dexpot is also another good multi desktop app for windows, great customization and navigation.
    • RE: Windows 8: Multiple desktops, smart sticky notes, and more

      @peter_erskine@... 4 screen pager is standard in nearly every gnome, fluxbox, kde, xfce environment.
      sticky notes I believe is in KDE...
      2 pane file manager... also in linux (emelfm, xfe, and even MC)...... this is very old not innovative..
  • Windows 8 needs to be revolutionary

    MS needs to demonstrate that it can be the consistent leader in the area of UX innovation. Windows 8 needs to be significantly redesigned for productivity and content consumption based touch interaction. Just about everyone is sick of MS' half measures in Windows 7 for touch. Allow Windows 8 PCs to lead computing in the touch based interaction age, with great UI / UX innovation; but at the same, allow it to still support legacy GUI (and even CLI) apps - with improvements in the GUI UI. MS can do this using multiple UIs on Windows, as well as virtualization. If MS doesn't do this, it will almost certainly be toast.
    P. Douglas
    • Touch blah blah blah

      @P. Douglas

      Touch is useful *for tablets* and phones. It's not at all useful on a desktop or even a laptop. Unless you make a multi-touch glide pad, now that might be handy--but even then touch won't be the primary interface.

      It's hard to beat a mouse for precision and fingers (lets face it) are fat compared to a mouse pointer.

      Touch is no more the killer interface than voice control was.