Sets tabs plus unhappy Windows 10 BSOD

It’s official: Sets is dead. That’s no surprise. Sets was doomed from the start because Microsoft turned it into a complicated mess that no one wanted and few Windows users could understand. Sets was all about what Microsoft—not customers—wanted.

People Wanted Tabs in Some Apps—That’s It!

Add tabs to File Explorer in Windows 10 Feedback

Microsoft axed Sets because it was too complicated. But no one asked for Sets to be so complicated in the first place.

Since Windows 10’s release, one of the top feature requests in Windows 10’s Feedback Hub has been “Add tabs to File Explorer.” Right now, it has the fifth most upvotes with 23399 votes in favor.

Microsoft’s last response to this issue was nine months ago when a Microsoft engineer named Ryan P wrote Sets was vanishing for the time being “to continue making it great.” He promised, “Sets will return in a future [Work In Progress] flight.” At some point between then and now, Sets was canceled. But no one bothered telling Microsoft’s users until Microsoft employee Rich Turner tweeted something related.

That’s a shame, because—as we can see in the Feedback Hub—no one was asking for a complicated feature with a built-in browser engine. People wanted tabs in File Explorer as well as console (Command Prompt, PowerShell, and Linux Bash shell) windows—and maybe Notepad.

RELATED: Windows 10's "Sets" App Tabs Are "No More"

Sets Inserted Edge and Bing Into Every App

Sets on Windows 10 showing Edge's new tab page with a Bing search box

Sets was really complicated. We documented how it worked when it was available in Insider builds of Windows 10 for a short time in 2018.

In summary, Sets turned every Windows application’s title bar into a tab bar. You could mix and match tabs from different applications—a window could contain a File Explorer tab, a Command Prompt tab, a Notepad tab, and a tab from some third-party Windows application.

Sets was based on Edge. Clicking the “+” button on the tab bar in any application’s window opened a Microsoft Edge browser tab with the New Tab page. The New Tab page had a Bing search box and web shortcuts along with links to applications you’d recently used. (Edge’s New Tab page is full of garbage, by the way, but that’s a separate issue.)

Sets seemed like another way to push Bing—just like how Microsoft makes it difficult to disable Bing search results in the Start menu, won’t let you change the Start menu’s web search engine, and forces you to use Bing as your default search engine in Windows 10’s S Mode.

Who was asking for all this aside from Microsoft’s Bing team?

RELATED: How to Disable the Articles on Microsoft Edge's Start and New Tab Pages

Sets Was Complicated and Unstable

Sets on Windows 10 showing new tab button

Sets was looking like the biggest change to the Windows desktop interface since Microsoft removed the Start button and wouldn’t let you boot to the desktop back in Windows 8. And, just like when Microsoft removed the Start button and hid the desktop, this new interface was confusing to users.

Beyond the confusion, it caused problems in some applications. Microsoft provided a way to disable the Sets feature for individual apps in Settings, but average Windows users might never find those options. Apps could opt out of Sets, but it could break old applications that never updated.

Microsoft realized Sets wasn’t ready for primetime and pulled it, and promising Sets was going to see additional work and polish before it was released. That was nine months ago and was the last we heard about Sets—until recently when an errant tweet from a Microsoft employee confirmed it was no longer on the way.

The death knell for Sets was when Microsoft switched Edge’s browser engine to Chromium. Suddenly, all that work dependent on Edge’s older browser engine had to be thrown out.

Microsoft Can’t (or Won’t) Communicate

As usual, Microsoft can’t seem to communicate publicly with its customers and third-party Windows application developers.

Sets isn’t just some niche feature—it was promoted, discussed, and even released for a short time. Microsoft promised users that “it will return.” Microsoft’s official Windows account even uploaded a YouTube video explaining how it works.

If you’re a Windows desktop application developer, you might have been waiting for the release of Sets to implement tabs in your application. In silently axing this feature—presumably to avoid bad press, why else?—Microsoft isn’t doing right by its customers. We should all expect more from one of the most valuable companies in the world.

Now It’s 2019, and We Still Don’t Have Tabs

At the end of all this drama, it’s 2019, and we still don’t have tabs in File Explorer, Command Prompt, PowerShell, WSL, or Notepad. That’s all we wanted all along.

Microsoft’s console team has confirmed that tabs are on the way, which is great. But even those won’t appear until Windows 10’s October 2019 Update at the absolute earliest—and maybe not even until 2020.

But what about File Explorer tabs? That’s one of the most demanded features, and Microsoft won’t say anything about it. Don’t hold your breath.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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