Why Windows 10's new 'Sets' feature is key to the future of Windows

Late last week, Microsoft released a new Insider Preview build of the next major Windows 10 update coming later this year that includes an early version of a new feature called "Sets". It essentially takes the tabbed browsing interface found in Microsoft Edge and bolts it on top of normal apps, allowing the user to group both apps and websites under a single tabbed window. This is an interesting play for an OS called "Windows," but that's because Sets isn't just about grouping apps together under one window; it's about Microsoft Edge and the future of Windows itself.

There are a lot of layers to Sets. For starters, it brings a new user interaction model to Windows that lets users sync entire groups of apps and web pages across devices. More importantly, however, it integrates Microsoft Edge into the workflow of millions of people without them necessarily noticing. This is important, because the majority of people today use Chrome, and refuse to even try and use other browsers, out of habit if nothing else.

That's a real problem for Microsoft and its Edge browser. The mindset of many is if it's not Chrome, it's not an option. If Microsoft wants to invest in things like Windows 10 S, and in the long run, Windows Core OS, it needs to shake people's dependency on Chrome, and simply building a good browser isn't enough. That's where Sets comes in.

Integrating Edge into your workflow

The beauty of Sets is that the tabbed interface hooks directly into Microsoft Edge. When you press the new tab button, just like you would in a normal browser, it takes you to a dedicated Start page, housed in Microsoft Edge. From here, you can launch not only apps but websites, too, just like in a normal browser. Microsoft is making this new tab page a portal to everything, locally or on the web, with shortcuts to recently opened apps, documents, and web pages.

Sets is an important gateway to a version of Windows 10 that's truly modern. If Microsoft can alleviate the need for Chrome, it can finally innovate and push forward a more modern version of Windows 10 build on Windows Core OS. Building a modern version of Windows is seriously important for Microsoft. If Windows is to remain relevant, it needs to modernize. It needs to shake the dependencies it has on 20-year-old legacy software and components, and build an OS that is flexible enough to run on the smallest or biggest of form factors, and even on form factors that don't yet exist.

With Windows Core OS, this project is already underway. Microsoft is testing the waters with a "streamlined" version of Windows 10 called Windows 10 S, which is locked to the Store and as such, doesn't have apps like Chrome available to the user. Windows Core OS is the next step in that idea, except this time the OS really does become streamlined. The biggest legacy app in use today is Chrome, by a wide margin. If you remove the need for Chrome, Microsoft is more able to move forward in its modernizing of Windows, and also take back some of that browser market share.

Infrastructure is important

Microsoft Edge on Android

Microsoft Edge on Android (Image credit: Windows Central)

And with Edge now being available on Android and iOS, users can still get the same syncing-across-device functionality that they already know and love in Chrome. If Microsoft were to try pushing Edge without having apps available on other platforms, it would fail spectacularly. A lot of people who use Chrome do so for the ability to sync between Chrome on other platforms with ease. So it was vital that Microsoft made Edge available on other platforms. So the infrastructure is there, and now all Microsoft has to do is get people to actually use Edge.

So that's why Sets is an important feature that is about way more than what's on the surface. It introduces a new way of using Windows and is also an important gateway toward Microsoft being able to move forward. It's designed to get people using Timeline and Edge, and slowly make people less dependant on Chrome.

Initial impressions are key

Microsoft needs to build Sets out and outline why it's a better way of working. Getting Sets right the first time is super important because if Microsoft doesn't, people will turn Sets off and never give it another try. That's what happened with the original version of Microsoft Edge, and you can bet it will happen again if Sets isn't amazing from the get-go.

My significant other, for example, is your average Joe ... or Jane. Not really that interested in technology, she uses Chrome, and her laptop for work and procrastinating. I recently told her that Sets was a feature that was coming soon, and explained it to her a bit. She was not too pleased with what she was hearing. I didn't mention Edge, only that they were bringing tabs to apps as well as web pages. Her immediate response to this was "but I don't want my apps and web pages grouped together." I'm sure there will be a lot of normal people out there who have the same mindset, so it's important for Microsoft to get the implementation of Sets right immediately out of the gate. So, no pressure then, Microsoft.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter and Threads