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Windows 10 'Timeline' is truly useful, but its success is uncertain

One of the biggest new features coming in Windows 10 Redstone 4 is a feature called Timeline. Announced last year, Timeline allows users to pick up where they left off within an app up to 30 days in the past, congregating all the work you do on your Windows 10 PC into one convenient timeline for you to look through. It works across devices too, meaning you can resume work you were doing on another device whenever it suits you.

When Timeline was first announced, I wasn't sure anybody would find the feature useful. After all, it's essentially a glorified "recent apps" screen. But now I've had a few weeks to properly play with the Timeline feature, I can't imagine myself going back to a time where Timeline didn't exist. Timeline has changed how I use Windows to open apps and be productive, and this should only improve once Sets is ready for primetime.

Hands on with Windows 10's new Timeline feature

The biggest advantage of Timeline, at least for me, is the ability to resume apps and documents across devices. I use both a Windows 10 desktop PC and a laptop, and being able to resume a document or browsing session that you were partaking in on one device on another is beyond useful. Of course, this scenario is only beneficial to you if you're someone who uses multiple Windows 10 devices.

Shared across devices

For example, just this past week, I was working on a Word document on my Surface Laptop, which I then clumsily left as a friends house. Thanks to the magic of Timeline, however, I was able to open up Task View on my Windows 10 PC at home, and find my Word document in my timeline under "Earlier today." All I had to do was click on the document, and it opened up and put me exactly where I left off on my Surface Laptop. It's incredible.

Now Cortana has technically had the ability to do this for some time, but since Cortana is only available in limited markets, and the fact that the pick up where I left off feature was random and unreliable, Timeline makes the entire syncing activity across devices feature so much more accessible and easy to use. It's so nice being able to see a complete overview of all the tasks you've done over the past 30 days.

The usefulness of Timeline will depend heavily on what apps you use. As someone who uses Edge as their default browser on all devices, along with Office, and other built-in Windows 10 apps, Timeline is incredibly useful to me as it logs my browsing sessions and more. However, if you're someone who uses Google Chrome or Google Docs, and rarely uses any Microsoft software or services, Timeline is kind of useless. At least right now.

Developer support will be key

Third-party developers are more than welcome to build support for Timeline into their apps and services, but will they? My People, a feature that has been available in Windows 10 officially since September last year, is yet to see any real adoption from any big players. This casts doubt over whether any developer will want to support Timeline too.

And that's a real problem because for Timeline to succeed, it needs support from developers. Timelines biggest access point is via web browsing, which is what is logged the most. Being able to open up Timeline and jump back to a webpage you had open a few days ago is really useful, but it only works if you use Edge. And soon, Timeline will incorporate Sets, allowing you to jump back in time and resume entire groups of apps.

If people are going to find Timeline useful, it will very likely need support from the likes of Google's Chrome, Spotify and more. Being able to resume a playlist or track you were listening to last week via Timeline would be incredibly useful. Right now, however, it's only useful if you're all in on the Microsoft ecosystem, which, unfortunately, most people aren't.

Timeline will be arriving with the Windows 10 Redstone 4 update this Spring. Do you think Timeline is a feature you're going to use? Let us know in the comments.

Zac Bowden
Zac Bowden

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

47 Comments
  • The big question you're not addressing is whether PWAs support, will support, or can support Timeline. Or does that require UWP?
  • Would that not just hinge on the browser?
  • PWAs will be wrapped in a UWP container in order to be installed from the Windows Store. So yes they could be supported in the basic level on an App launch basis. But PWAs need to be converted into Native Apps to be able to use deeper integration into every apps native APIs and features.
  • I think useful URLs (e.g. blahblah.com/item/item=4711) should do the trick to go to exactly the item 4711. With "continue on other device" on Edge you already can do this - if the URL makes sense and hidden POST-Information was sent.
  • The other big question is will MS sacrifice File History, which supports all programs, as they threatened to do when Timeline was previously going to be released before it got delayed? I seem to remember the system image function was also going to be removed (I think?). I like the idea of Timeline, but not enough to give up File History and System Image.
  • Let's talk about Cortana new features that now can lock 🔒 and shutdown computer
  • thats not really new...but its a decent feature. However whenever I try to turn off my xbox it always activates my computer and then both devices shutdown...
  • I eventually disabled Cortana on my Xbox as it, my PC, and my phone would all respond. Very annoying. 
  • That is not the fault of the technology but a natural result of having both devices in the same room and powered on at the same time. Very easy to solve by simply muting the microphone on your computer when not using it.
  • Nope, it's a fault of the software. Microsoft knows that people have phones, speakers, and other devices in the same room. They should have already had a solution to this issue. It shouldn't be up to the user to work around issues like this, it should "just work".
  • Actually, this is something no assistant has implemented. It's just more a problem on Cortana because it's biggest advantage - to be everywhere - brings this issue up more. For now, only my PC is listening for my voice in the living room, and my old Surface 3 in the kitchen, non of my other devices. The PC and the surface (built into the kitchen) are stationary, i can carry the other ones arround and so also hit a button.
  • In an actual fact Apple has some kind of priority built into their Homepod speaker so when you call on Siri both speaker and phone wake up but phone doesn't respond, only speaker does. I've only heard about it and haven't tested it so I don't know exactly how it's done but sounds like speaker has hardwired priority over phone. It's not intelligent but it's at least useful.
  • Spotify will definitely add support cause they're all on Windows 10.
  • Well, Spotify isn't enough... Over 90% of services available for Windows is necessary.
    .............
    MS needs to do some serious convincing with Andromeda. Andromeda might be where the biggest benefit may be... But, Andromeda will need support from the entire industry including MS.
  • I have tried this on one old pc on which I run Insider Builds and struggled to find it very useful. I didn't realise it would work across devices so looking forward to trying the use scenario you have outlined once Redstone 4 is officially released and I can use it on more than one device on which I do  real work.
  • Thanks for the update Zac! I would so utterly use Timeline and I can already imagine it changing how I work on Office documents and bookmark browsing sessions. If half the current developers for Windows took advantage of this, it would improve the perception of Windows as a modern OS, different from its past iterations. I do imagine they would need to be a bit careful about selling this feature too heavily to consumers since they don't have the dev support to push any non-Microsoft usage scenarios at the moment. Even when Microsoft has supported developers in the past, many have chosen to give half-hearted support to the platform (mobile for example).  
  • I'm both surprised and shocked that Timeline already shows stuff I'm doing on my laptop, which is not on Insider. But the usability is really limited right now, all it shows is news I read. I guess it could be useful for people who use Edge as the main browser... I just hope it doesn't share the traditional 'history' issue of being awfully crowded.
  • That's the Cortana "Pick up where you left off" feature kicking in there. If you've never seen it, it usually appear in Action Center pinned to the top.
  • The success of any feature really comes down whether or not users find value in it.  And that depends on how users prefer to work.  Personally, I've always kept everything on the cloud, but with OneDrive configured to keep things on the device, too.  That way I know things are already quite current regardless of where I open them.  I turned off the Timeline features because, frankly, I don't need them and don't find value in them.  But that's just because it's how I work.  If enough people use the feature it will drive more devs to support its capabilities.  
  • Yeah, my documents are already sync'd through OneDrive so I can pretty much work and resume from anywhere already. As far as browsing, I can remind myself through Cortana since they removed the ability to see what tabs were open on mobile and v/v. There's really not many cases of me wanting to resume something elsewhere. I'd be interested to see others use cases but it will go just as unused as MyPeople when I had to try and use Skype for messaging.
  • This is very interesting. I am a desktop only user, and I use Firefox as my broswer. But most of the websites I like don't work very well with Firefox, log ins,printing, downloading, and I have never liked Chrome. But these Timeline and Sets features may make me look at goign to Edge as my broswer.
  • I think that it is fair to say that Edge has improved a lot in the latest builds (CU, FCU and RS4). And Timeline is a very useful feature for Edge. Edge, in the early days of win10, was a bit bare boned, but now I will recommend it. I use Edge as my standard browser, and use Firefox occasionally.
  • I have not used firefox for a few years now, but I never had problems with sites when I used it, I know a few people who still use firefox and they seem to be happy with it, so not sure what sites you are going to.  
  • What Website that you like doesn't work well in Firefox?  I haven't encountered a single one anywhere on the Web, other than DirecTV.
  • How easy is it to disable?
  • Settings / Privacy / Activity History.  
  • I use Timeline on both my desktop and laptop systems and have found it to be extremely useful. If a program or app does not support it, I will most likely move to a similar app that does and go from there.
  • The most useful feature in Timeline is, in my opinion, the way it handles files. The timeline "feed" not only remembers the file you were working on, but also the app you used to open the file (which is displayed at the top of the file name). I know it sounds trivial, but in this way Timeline already (in a sense) supports apps. If you open a jpeg photo in Adobe Illustrator to edit the photo, and afterwards open the photo in the Photos app, it will show up as two different "cards" in Timeline, and will also open the respective apps when you click on the Timeline cards. So in this way Timeline is not just for Microsoft products - you can go back to files you are working on in Adobe Acrobat DC, Illustrator :)
  • That's a similar situation with pinning contacts to the taskbar.  It needs to incorporate more options than just Skype (which I don't use since I left WM), mail, and people?  Not sure what people does in there.  I need Facebook Messenger as that's where most of my close communication happens.  Some sort of texting would be nice, but again, that's out since I switched to Android.  
  • Uhm... what do you mean depends on who will support it?  It does not need to be supported by anyone. It just works. 
    I use it daily with so many different applications. From 3dsmax to Unity, Mail, VLC, OneNote, WhatsApp, various browsers, games, etc. etc, etc. .  On top of that you draw parallels with Cortana. Why? 
    Cortana was doing something different, AND it was doing it badly. So I really do not see how they are relevant as a comparison. 
  • To criticise it properly I'd have to be using it and I'm not so I'll refrain from that. That said, I don't see anything of value for Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox users and I see no point in them supporting the feature. Those browsers already possess that ability. Users can have their tabs, passwords, browsing history and bookmarks follow them from browser to browser on any computer. If a user uses Google Docs for the productivity tools all work is automatically saved and universally accessible. And, since 90% (or for some of us 100%) of our daily tasks are mediated through a browser on the desktop that's good enough. TimeLine adds little to no value to a user of a Chrome or FireFox. That said, provided you can limit TimeLine's scope I see it being useful, but, Microsoft has a history of all-or-nothing. I like to keep a firewall between my personal devices and my work devices. I don't login to my Chrome browsers at work and I don't login to my work accounts at home except in controlled situations. I am not prepared to give my employer access to my personal files or accounts. Having TimeLine breaks that down. I'm a user of many devices because of the nature of my work. I log in to a plethora of devices at work. In that context TimeLine could prove to be useful, but, the reality is that each device is typically used for something different. And, for work that I'm doing consistently I have my laptop that I tote around which is my version of TimeLine. Potentially interesting, and, for once I'm not going to lambaste WC for hyping up some BS "feature" that is obviously a non-sequiteur. This actually does have potential, though, it's not exactly ground breaking. Apple experimented with this over a decade ago in an early version of Safari. Perhaps that's the reason I'm prepared to give Microsoft credit for potentially implementing something useful. I was disappointed when Apple removed it from Safari back in the day (maybe going from Mac OS X 10.4 to 10.5? Or was it from 10.3 to 10.4) and would love to see it resurrected. CoverFlow it was called.\ PS You can tell I'm not a Mac user anymore because I just Google coverflow and discovered that it's been re-introduced into Apple's line of software ;) and exists in iOS ;).
  • considering timeline doesn't even work on the fast line builds for me its pretty useless. all I get is the the standard task manager.
  • What do you mean task manager it's where the task view button is but that's been changed slightly too
  • Well, or you could have just opened Word an see the synced recent document there on the welcome page. I don't see the benefit of displaying every task in one single timeline. Your diploma will sit right next to a cat video you watched 20 days ago. Who comes up with this stuff? Synchronizing Jump Lists would make more sense.
  • I think the end game with Timeline has more to do with Cortana than what we see when we hit Win-Tab. Someday we will instruct Cortana to take actions on the things that we've done. "Cortana email the Word document I was editing yesterday to Daniel Rubino" ... "Cortana add those cats websites that I was viewing last night to my favorites in the cats folder" and so on.
  • I think this would be very useful but I will need to be able to manage what timeline gets to recall. So far, it hasn't been a problem but I don't want to not have it. When it recalled a page I intended to bookmark but didn't, it won a permanent spot on my computer. But I will try to NOT get dependent on it understanding Satya's drive-by interest in anything outside cloud computing.
  •  I would find it more useful if it was self-cleaning as you go. What I mean is, I frequently open the same webpage(s) or documents multiple times per day and it displays each and every instance of them. Keeping only the most recent visit to a webpage or the most recently changed version of a document would be extremely useful.
  • Keeping different versions of the same website/page I do not think that would be that useful, but keeping different versions of  productivity in software could be if you are the sort of person who do not save.  
  • While I can understand that some people may find timeline useful, I have a few niggles about it.
    As said, producers need to get on board for it to be of any use and not just UWP apps either, win32 software will have to support timeline, since the majority of people still use Win32 software. So are producers like Adobe going to put timeline support in say photoshop?
    If producers like Adobe, do not get on board then Timeline is dead. My other niggle is where do timeline store the data? If it is in the cloud then some people will not use it, I realise that a MS account is required to share between devices, but will timeline work as a local service on a local account? Will timeline make people even more lazy and they think their data is safe, so they will stop saving their session? If I am working on something like a video, i will save every half hour to an hour, depending on what I am doing, sometimes more often if it is a complex composite. To be honest I doubt I would use it, I would disable it, I do not use multiple MS devices, I have this machine and an old laptop running Linux and even if it was running windows 10, it would not run the software I use and Windows 10 would be as slow as hell on it anyway. But fine if people find a use for it, but I do not see it being supported, Remember MS new ribbon menu system, MS wanted it to become the norm, for windows software and yet it failed.
  • I'm all in on the Microsoft ecosystem, so yeah, I'll use it.
  • It's not at all useful to me, since I don't use Edge or Cortana.
  • Same here, but it is not all about Edge and Cortana,  some people will find it useful, but for the way i work, I would not.  
     
  • "it's only useful if you are all in on Microsoft's ecosystem, which, unfortunately, most people aren't". That sums everything up in a nut shell, Microsoft have been so busy in pushing everyone onto their competitors platforms for short term stock market gain that they lost complete sight of the bigger picture. Now many are thoroughly entrenched in their competitors ecosystem through Microsoft's own doing and now they have put themselves into a corner. As I said, before - the wall is fast approaching. Microsoft will be the defacto case study on what not to do when growing your own ecosystem. I just hope Andromeda does not get cancelled, if that happens Microsoft would have nailed their own coffin shut. No company is too big to fail. Blackberry, IBM, Nokia, Compaq, Acclaim, THQ, just to name a few house hold names that have gone and for their time they were huge players. Now they have to start again from the ground up. If Microsoft played their cards rights, this would be an non issue. Heck we probably would have seen a blackberry device running on Windows core. We still might, providing Microsoft doesn't squander opportunities to grow the mobile segment of the ecosystem. But I'm not holding my breath because if a CEO, himself comes out and says he doesn't believe the world needs a third ecosystem. Then what do you expect? Developers to come rallying behind these awesome features in the o/s? Nope. Developers aren't tools or objects, they are people with emotions and financial obligations to make ends meet. If you remove the ability to monetise where else are they going to go? With that one sentence he burned all the developer bridges completely and undermined everything Microsoft has done to unify the core and make the UWP platform a reality. Because Microsoft, whether he likes it or not are that third ecosystem. No more fancy, smancy words. He needs to come out and say it - that they are going to double down on the consumer space and the mobile space. Give out obscene amount of hardware at Build 2018, build new stores in more countries, release Cortana in all markets, release tap to pay in all markets, give the dev teams more resources, rehire programmatic testers so we don't see another fiasco that we saw with the fall creators update and these testers could have thoroughly checked Intels micro code patches for spectre and meltdown avoiding ******* off millions of customers. Complete and utter focus on Andromeda alongside UWP and stop chasing PWA's like possessed magpies. For PWA to work without issues every single country in the world needs access to 5G infrastructure and that is not going to happen for a good long while. In the interim they can work on UWP and compression technologies. Quantum computing is still a long way off before become accessible for all people. No more penny pinching. If he wants Microsoft to be a scrooge then he better be prepared to see Microsoft fail and be branded the CEO who buried Microsoft into the ground. He is going to be facing very, very tough questions and that's just the start of it. If he and those in charge of finances don't stop penny pinching. I want Microsoft to succeed, I really do because out of Apple and Google they have the ability to change peoples lives for the better. Apple just wants to make money and Google want's the very fabric of what makes a someone a person so they can sell you more adverts. My dislike for Apple stems from the fact they have been gobbling up renewable tech companies and have engaged in a loop hole practise where they are the sole supplier for their own renewable energy and customer purchasing that renewable energy. Thus classing it as an expense to pay less tax. Instead of paying that tax and improving the communities around them exponentially. Now when in you take into account the tax breaks, who is well off? The communities or the corporations?
  • Definitely a nice feature, but not something I personally use myself. I'd save my progress regularly so data is not lost. I can see this being helpful to someone who is working on a project that requires several apps running at once. Then have to migrate their work suddenly from one machine to another. Timeline would bring all those apps back up where the user left off at.
  • My UWP app F10 image bbs browser already support the Windows Timeline :)
  • I think at the moment it looks too busy. The principle is there but I think the application needs work. In early concepts the content was stacked along a timeline, expanded when  that date was selected. I think that would make it neater and more usable.
  • I use it and like you, Zac, I love it. But like you I am also all in on Microsoft ecosystem. I have mostly used it for tabs and occasionally word. It does not even support all 1st party apps it seems. I cannot see OneNote activites, but Notepad is there, which is odd that Notepad is supported but not OneNote :P