Microsoft's Windows 'Threshold' expected to add virtual desktops, drop charms

Microsoft's Windows 'Threshold' expected to add virtual desktops, drop charms

Summary: Microsoft is going to do more than reintroduce a Start menu as part of its plan to make Windows 9, a k a 'Threshold,' more appealing to Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 users.


The next version of Windows, codenamed "Threshold," is going to include some fairly major user interface changes beyond the inclusion of the new Start menu and "Modern" app windowing.


A couple of reports from earlier this week cited some other interface changes coming to Threshold. My sources are corroborating those reports.

First up, as reported by Brad Sams at, Microsoft is moving toward adding virtual desktops to Threshold, the Windows release expected in the spring of 2015. As Sams noted, other operating systems, including Apple's OS X and Ubuntu, already support virtual desktops, which allow users to run and switch more easily between apps and groups of apps.

Virtual desktops will allow users to run their apps in different spaces which they will be able to view one at a time. I'm not clear whether the virtual desktops functionality will be clearly and readily available to all Threshold users or if Microsoft will make it more of a hidden feature discoverable by power users.

The other UI change coming to Threshold is the elimination of the Charms Bar, as first reported by

The Charms Bar — an overlay that provided access to search, sharing, the Start screen, hardware devices and settings — has been a controversial feature since it debuted in Windows 8.

Winbeta suggested that Microsoft might eliminate the Charms Bar for desktop users, not tablet users. But my sources say the Charms Bar will be going away completely for all desktop, laptop and tablet users with Threshold.

Existing "modern" Windows 8 apps will get title bars that include menus that have the charms components listed. Settings already has its own tile (it's part of the default Start screen since Windows 8.1 Update). The concept of "contracts" — or agreements between apps — will continue to exist, even once Charms are gone, my sources say. But apps will need to include a share button to provide the same functionality as the share charm, if developers want to add that feature.

I've heard from my sources that Microsoft is hoping to deliver a public preview of Threshold some time in the fall of 2014. The goal with Threshold is to make Windows 9 more palatable for those still using Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7, especially business users and those who aren't relying solely on touch for input.

Topics: Mobile OS, Microsoft, Tablets, PCs, Windows, Windows 8


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Terrible

    System-wide functions should go to a system-wide location. It just makes far more sense that way. I mean, I totally get it. Microsoft did a poor (non-existent) job of educating people how this stuff worked, and so everyone got confused and instantly hated it. (And of course, power users were never going to like it, but I'd argue that they're less of a problem than the millions and millions of 'regular' users who were just completely confused by this entirely new environment they didn't immediately know how to use.)

    I’d actually like to see the opposite – more functionality needs to go in the charms. The example I’ve always used is why the hell do we have to go into Control Panel>Audio and then right click and set as default for audio devices? Wouldn’t it make sense to have an Audio device section in the devices charm? And don’t get me started on how much of a pain it is to connect and disconnect a Bluetooth device once it is paired.

    Oh well, that's Microsoft I guess. One step forward, and two steps back at all times.
    • Hrmm

      JHoff80: Your audio example already has a shortcut. Right click on the speaker icon in the task tray (the one for adjusting volume) and pick "Playback Devices". I use that one constantly to switch from headphones to speakers. Not disputing your point, just thought you'd like to know that one!

      Confused 'regular' users and angry power users are a bad sign. That left very few happy people with Windows 8.

      There are things I like about Windows 8+ but as a desktop user I almost never use any of the "metro" apps.

      I do agree with you that some things belong in a central location like the charms bar, but to me the charms bar is a wonky implementation of that idea. The context changes in the charms bar based on which apps I'm in are occasionally a bit confusing. Search rarely seems helpful. I don't think it should be scrapped, just improved.

      The "waffle effect" is in full play here. 1) Windows 7 is the WAY! 2) Forget that, Windows 8 is the WAY! Windows 7 was wrong! 3) Sorry, Windows 9 will be like Windows 7, ignore 8. Mostly.

      Not inspirational.

      I totally get the metro (for lack of a better name) concept for tablets and phones. I don't get it for desktops.

      To me the annoyance (and it really is no more than an annoyance) is that the blending of old and new was so damned ham-fisted.

      I can't think of any worse way to put tablet and desktop interfaces together. Each is fine, but together they look like a particularly poorly constructed Frankenstein's monster. They just do not feel like they go together. At all.

      Kind of like driving through a picturesque little fishing village full of bed-and-breakfasts and ONE giant sky scraper.

      You are in the familiar desktop doing familiar desktopy things, then hit the familiar Windows key and WHAM! You are using someone's tablet.

      If the transition had been handled more gracefully, I think it would be a non-issue. Windows 8 is a great upgrade from 7. Strictly based on the desktop side. I don't even object to the metro side being there, I just wish it was more seamlessly integrated.

      I really, really want an 8" Windows 8.1 tablet with active stylus. It has to work well and retail around the same price as an iPad mini. Dell *almost* got it right. I was really excited by the idea of a Surface Mini. Hopefully it will happen. Please?
      • Audio devices shortcut

        Yeah, there of course is the Volume icon, but that requires almost as many clicks as the Control Panel method I mentioned, and is absolutely horrid for touch. It's something that gets changed far too frequently to be so buried in menus.
      • Get over Metro...

        People need to get over the Metro on the desktop argument. It's a non-issue. Download Classic Shell, re-associate files with desktop apps only. Metro will never be seen again! Dirt simple and really stupid that this argument continues. Seriously!
        • Re "Get over Metro"

          It's not that easy. I use Stardock's Start8 on some PCs. The problem is that i) the vast majority of consumers if not 90% either don't know about these options or would be scared to use and ii) most businesses don't want to be bothered with having to install an add on just to have a sensible start menu when you can use Windows 7 without an add on and apart from improved security there's a not a lot that's better in W8(.1) than W7, so why bother! We know from the figures, businesses are NOT bothering.

          Not only were MS told not to be so stupid as to ram the start screen down desktop users' throats but if you remember, the previews actually had the start menu fully available via a very minor registry hack! MS removed the functionality only at the last minute and almost certainly only in a fit of pique! I hope their utter stupidity and childish behaviour cost them billions and maybe the new boss, with his enterprise background has at last "got it" and won't make another mistake that opens up people to thinking "Oh well, let's try Apple"
          • Spot on

            Regular users do not know about Classic Shell and are left to sink or swim with the UI. And why should they have to know how to unf__k their operating system? Isn't it Microsoft's job to deliver a well designed, user friendly UI?

            I'm glad Microsoft is now "listening to their users". Too bad they didn't listen before they launched Win 8 because plenty of people sounded the alarm.
          • Spot off...

            I agree with "narg" above"! Seriously!!!...enough is enough! So many of you remind me so much of those who cried for years when Microsoft went from DOS to Windows 3.1. and again form 3.1 to XP! Does Windows 8 need some improvement? Sure it does, just like all the competitive OS's in the market. Get over it; there are many more things that are better in Windows 8.1 than not. It is extremely easy to learn and to navigate. A halfwit can learn it and enjoy it in a couple of hours.
          • Spot way the heck in left field..

            Lets face it MS took the 4 C's and pitched them in the recycle bin with 8.

            4 C's = control, conveyance, continuity & context over previous versions of a given OS. Development should be an evolution, not a spontaneous mutation. As it's far more likely for any spontaneous mutation to fail as opposed to a gradual evolutionary change regardless whether its in nature, or operating system software development.

            That being said I'm not surprised in the least that MS is backpedaling for Windows 9.
          • Not for the majority of users


            When MSFT initially released 8, it was a complete mess for the users who didn't want to have figure out a new UI. Yes, power users and advance users could find out how to do things. For most of the rest, they didn't even know how to frame a search.

            Too much changed from 20 years of experience, with no help from the OS on how to use the new "features". People had problem with the changes in Vista and you want them to cope with the sea level changes in 8?

            You site the change from DOS to Windows to Windows XP. But Windows made it easier for people who couldn't manage the arcane knowledge required for a command line UI. That's when PCs truly started to become mainstream. XP was not that much of a leap from 95 (which I think is a more accurate analogy than XP). And that made things still easier.

            Sure, there was a learning curve. But don't forget that the first thing you saw when you opened 95 was a help screen that would start with it *every* time, until you told it not to. Where was that in 8?

            The reality is that nearly every one who says that 8 is "easy to learn" quickly is not allowing for the majority of people who aren't computer gurus. They don't want to have learn the UI to do what they want to do. How many people didn't realize that you had to swipe to the right to get to see more tiles? And that's if you had a touch screen, quite uncommon at the time of the launch of 8.

            Is 8 a bad OS? No. MSFT simply botched the release by forcing people to adopt it the new UI, when it was designed for touch, with the desktop as an afterthought. With no guidance for anyone and locking out most users, who didn't have tablets.

            That they seem to be finally listening to their customers shows how badly flawed their approach was. Because it's not just the superior product that gets purchased. It's the one that people consider to be superior for their needs. Whatever improvements MSFT make with 8 (and yes, there are a number), they didn't matter to the people spending the money. And that's what counts.
          • Huh?

            "For most of the rest, they didn't even know how to frame a search." Excuse me? The search functionality in the Charms bar actually worked differently than the search on the desktop. Win8 is a hybrid OS. The 2 OS's work independently of each other. This goes beyond simply educating the user on how to use Win8.

            Win8 is a complete mindf_ck of an OS. There's a reason MS keeps making their OS look more and more like Win7. So now they are getting rid of the Charms bar. Why was it installed to begin with? What was the plan for it? And why isn't MS doing more for the installed base of traditional desktop users who are still using keyboard and mouse? Just go back to Win7 for crying out loud and be done with it. That's obviously where they are going.
          • Must be Youngsters...

            Seems those with little real experience or history with real computers are the only ones who like Win 8. They just don't get it (yet) and users should understand and be able to modify their computers if they want to. Don't depend on Big Business like drones to tell you what to use and how to use it. Microsoft often messes up their OS's with updates that aren't always compatible or have glitches, and usually it is the users who find ways to fix it before Microsoft does. They crashed my XP and 7 several times over the years with faulty updates.
          • I have to disagree

            Only newbies like Windows 8? That is flat out wrong. I've worked in IT for over 15 years now and have been using computers for much longer than that (remember the Vic 20? Yeah... Probably not. :)

            When I first saw Windows 8, it was still in beta. When I installed Office 2013 I hated it so much I uninstalled it and went back to Office 2010. Eventually I took Windows 8 off my laptop and went back to Windows 7.

            A few months after release I decided to give Windows 8 another try so I installed it, along with Office 2013. I was still not used to not having a start menu so I got Start 8. Problem solved right? Then an interesting thing happened... I realized how little I actually use the Start Menu which is almost never. My core apps are all docked on my Taskbar so why exactly do I need the old start menu? With Windows 8.1 I've now removed Start 8 altogether and actually like the native Start screen even on my Desktop system. I even got used to the colour blandness of Office 2013 and don't find it a problem anymore. To me Windows 8.1 is an experiment by Microsoft (like Windows Vista was) to push things in a new direction. Not many business's will go to Windows 8.1 and why should they when they've got Windows 7 that's still fully supported? Now Microsoft has their feedback, I expect a pretty nice OS coming in Windows 9.
          • @JeffLe73

            Everything you said I agree with. Unlike you though I liked Win 8right from the start, hated Office 2013. I have since reinstalled office and miss Microsoft Picture Manager. I tried Start 8, Classic Shell and Pokki, they are all gone now. I have now bought a Lenovo Mix 2 8 (using it now) and find I am rarely in the desktop on this. Love Windows 8.1
          • "I even got used to the colour blandness" - LOL

            Can Microsoft put your quote on the back of the Windows 8 retail packaging. I am sure it will help sell more copies of Windows 8.

            "I even got used to the colour blandness". Another satisfied customer. Awesome!!!
          • Windows 8

            It took me a bit to get used to it, but it wasnt long before I began to like it. I didnt care for the start screen or the tiles, but a few changed settings and a download of Classic Shell, and now Im very happy with it. I like the new window style, and especially the new redesigned file explorer. Hopefully they wont get rid of that in 9.

            All in all, its about what people want and what works for them. I enjoy Windows 8.1 quite a bit, and it was easy for me to learn. At the same time, I can see it being very confusing for those who arent as computer savvy as people like us.

            It will never be perfect. There will always be people who want it to be different, who want it to work differently. It will never be able to cater to everyones needs. So instead of trying to say that it is definitively a good or bad OS, lets just say that it either works for us personally or doesnt.
          • "who arent as computer savvy"

            Really, how much more concescending can you get? I started out with a computer that ran on either proprietary BASIC or Assembly language. I moved to MS-DOS 2 through 7, Windows 2.01 through Windows 7 (skipping Millennium and Vista). Along the way, I also have used Apple Lisas, iMacs, Android tablets and phones, and fifty or more versions of Linux. I consider myself somewhat computer savvy, and the hundreds of people for whom I have fixed computer problems seem to agree.

            Windows 8, as it was offered (read: crammed down our throats) was a TABLET OS designed for people who don't really do much besides check email, update Facebook, and maybe read some news. That it could also be made to be semi-functional for desktops was incidental. I figured out Windows 8 in a couple of hours and decided that Microsoft could put that in the garbage bin with Millennium and Vista. I could maybe like it on a tablet. Maybe.
            Iman Oldgeek
          • Win 9 is where it's at

            That's the one I plan to get. I knew Win8 was an abomination and I'm so glad I didn't bother with it. Win 9 will be a winner, I just know it.
          • what!?

            Regular users that don't know about the start menu apps don't need to be messing with control panel(not like they couldn't just right click anyways) and they used the start menu for one thing only every since XP.... SEARCH.... And that is improved under the metro version...
          • let's face it it's the techies not the general public

            If a person never saw a computer in there life windows 8.1 would be more user friendly than Windows 7
          • and the probability of a person that had never seen a computer before

            and the probability of a person that had never seen a computer before
            buying one now is ~ 0