A close look at the Windows 10 Timeline feature

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 20, 2017
Updated • Dec 20, 2017
Windows, Windows 10

Microsoft revealed the Timeline feature of Windows 10 earlier this year. While its entire functionality was not made clear at the time, it looked as if it would allow users to keep track of past activity on a machine running Windows 10.

Timeline was launched in the Windows 10 Insider Build 17063 in December 2017 as a way to "get right back to where you left off".

Timeline enhances the Task View feature of Windows 10 by listing past activity when you launch Task View on the device. You can launch Task View on Windows 10 with the shortcut Windows-Tab. The core difference to Alt-Tab was until now that Task View remained visible on the screen when you let go of the keys whereas Alt-Tab's interface would be closed the moment you let go of them.

Timeline enhances Task View by adding records of past activities to it. Microsoft defines activities in the context as a combination of a specific app with a specific piece of content. Think of Website+Edge, spreadsheet+Excel, music playlist+Spotify, or photo+Photos app.

timeline task view

The preview release limits Timeline to Microsoft Edge, Microsoft Office, and the applications Maps, News, Money, Sports and Weather. It appears that apps need to be actively support the feature by creating activity cards that then appear in Timeline.

Microsoft uses the terminus apps but it appears that legacy desktop programs may be able to use Timeline as well; at least Microsoft Office 2016 supports it already and that is a desktop program and not a Windows 10 UWP application.

Another interesting feature of Timeline is that it can draw activities from iOS and Android devices as well. It is likely that this is limited to devices that you link to your Windows PC, and activity of programs like Microsoft Edge that you may run on these devices.

Task View displays open programs at the top and below that the Timeline view. The default view shows a snapshot of the activity on the day. Activities are listed with a thumbnail screenshot, a title or file name, and the application.

Timeline displays only select activities by default. A link is provided to display all activities, but users need to click on it to display them all. Activities are grouped into hourly batches to make it easier to locate specific tasks according to Microsoft.

It takes a while before activities start to show up on Task View once you upgrade your machine to a version of Windows 10 that supports Timeline.

Task View comes with a slider on the right side that you can use to go back in time and check out activities on previous days.

A click on an activity card opens it in the designated application. A click on Maps opens the same place or information in the Maps application again, a click on a Microsoft Edge activity the site in question.

A right-click on any activity displays an option to remove it from the list. This seems to be the only option right now to remove items from the activity records. There is no option to remove activity records in bulk other than using the clear button in the Settings app but that removes all records.

Manage Timeline

windows 10 timeline activity

The Activity history page of the Settings application offers some control over the Timeline feature. You can turn it off there so that Windows won't record activities anymore, and manage accounts separately.

  1. Use the shortcut Windows-I to open the Settings application.
  2. Go to Privacy > Activity history.

You find three main options there right now:

  • Enable the filtering of activities by account. You can set accounts to off there so that the activity of these accounts won't show up on Timeline. This is mostly useful if you sign in using different accounts.
  • Turn off Timeline. This is the main switch for the feature. If you turn it off, no activity is recorded.
  • Clear the activity history. This clears the activity but does not affect its state.

Closing Words

Timeline looks like an advanced version of the recent history functionality of the Windows operating system. It lists past activity of supported applications so that it becomes easier to continue using an application or going back to something that you did earlier.

The main limitation right now is that apps need to support this actively. It remains to be seen if the vast majority of third-party developers will support this, or if this will remain a mostly Microsoft-specific feature as major company apps support it already.

I can see how this can be useful to some users. I won't use it however, and won't use it even if the programs that I use mostly will support it as I have no need for it.

Now You: Will you use Timeline?

A close look at the Windows 10 Timeline feature
Article Name
A close look at the Windows 10 Timeline feature
We take a close look at the new Timeline feature of the upcoming next version of Windows 10 which lists part activities on the system for easy access.
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  1. chesscanoe said on July 8, 2018 at 3:17 am

    I enabled Timeline just a few days ago on Windows 10 x64 Home 1803. I’ve happily lived without it for about 35 years, relying on my memory and established workflow patterns to do or review what I require. However I must admit it is a quick and easy process to use Timeline. With one click I invoke the application and file I want to review or continue work on. It is very efficient to use Timeline to do so.

  2. Swanny said on December 22, 2017 at 4:21 am

    What I don’t understand is why do developers need to manually implement support for it? What motive is there for developers to dedicate their time and effort to implement it?

  3. KeZa said on December 21, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    I do not get it with Micro. It is just stupidity full on. How long do they make OS’sen and they can not make it work like it worked in the past with Xp and W7. This two OS are the best and all the rest is totally crap and BS and they lost there Windows Phone and they are making it worse for themselves for not listening to us. Make a damn great stability OS et voila but no crap after crap after crap and problems after problems after problems and we are stuck with it all in the end. I’m here on Xp and I think it can last a few years like I have set it up here but after this I do not know what to do.

  4. dark said on December 21, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    Linux probably already has this feature for years.

  5. Kyle said on December 20, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    I do not see any use in this. Now that Windows Mobile is dead. Windows 10 UI needs serious make over. Get rid of tiles and UWP. Bring back the true win32 desktop.

  6. Not Remond Here said on December 20, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Evade the remond monster, embrace Linux.

    1. seeprime said on December 20, 2017 at 6:18 pm

      Even Quicken can be installed on Linux using WINE. We’ve had a couple of customer of our computer shop switch to Chromebooks after they tried the kids school-supplied machine. Unless they need to run installed Windows-only programs, everything they need to do is available online. Microsoft is now solely focused on large corporate customers that pay big bucks to use their software, since they know the long term trend for consumers it to move to smartphones or other platforms as Windows is not required any more. The remaining consumers that hesitate to change need to realize that Linux and Chromebooks are great alternatives, as eventually Windows 10 is going to annoy them enough to stop using it.

  7. jupe said on December 20, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    At least I like the look of the Acrylic settings page, much better than the stark white we have now, I still find it easy to miss settings in the new Windows Settings App, hopefully this makes it a little better for me.

  8. Oscar said on December 20, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    More useless features

  9. basicuser said on December 20, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    So, Microflaccid will parrot back a bit of the data they have already slurped and call that a feature to lure users into connecting other OS’s and apps to be slurped. Clever.

  10. niks said on December 20, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    Use blackbird privacy tool to remove shit from win 10…

  11. Anonymous said on December 20, 2017 at 11:55 am

    God hell, it keeps getting worse. Windows 10 is the eternal beta from Microsoft.

    1. insanelyapple said on December 20, 2017 at 12:59 pm

      I saw comments and opinions saying that the only W10 version which matters is Enterprise edition on long-term support, the rest is only a test field which pretends to be stable release.

      As for feature, as well as Sophie, I see it as privacy and user trust violation because it doesn’t seem to be helping user itself but someone who would want to know what user does, did on the machine – for marketing and/or user monitoring purposes.
      Operating systems are for few years feature complete and it’s really hard to introduce something new and really helpful; Timeline falls for me into useless features baked just to show that MS does something else beside changing bmp resource files in their OS. Virtual desktops for which users were asking MS for ages, is enough.

      Also, obviously – activity tracking already exist in Windows and NirSoft tool lastactivityview can show you how accurate it can be. Try it and you’ll be surprised.

      1. Sophie said on December 20, 2017 at 2:12 pm

        Yes….you’ve put your finger on it: that OS’s are very feature complete now, and as you say, it is actually rather hard to add anything that really means a lot. For this reason, it kind of boils down to one thing……stability, and not using people as guinea pigs, just because you fired your IT staff that were real and proper testers.

        IMO Microsoft have really lost their way. Is it Nadella? Does it just come down to one person? They don’t listen, and frankly don’t seem to care much.

        This is why they are having a tough time shifting Windows 7, because that was pretty complete and stable too. After all, we don’t generally keep re-inventing the operating system of our TV hard drive recorders…do we? We switch them on, and realise that they are stable and doing their job well. Microsoft’s eternal “beta” is counter-intuitive on many many levels.

  12. Xahid said on December 20, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Nobody likes the revolutionary feature?

  13. Zen said on December 20, 2017 at 10:40 am

    I’ll stick with using my brain & my memory thanks…

  14. Sophie said on December 20, 2017 at 10:40 am

    There’s no way I would want anything like this. It seems to me, that its just another pointless privacy-violating “enhancement”, that does little to improve the overall experience.

    My view is what it has been for some time……… Microsoft: stop adding rubbish, and concentrate on stability and things of real value. Fix all the things that keep breaking, before adding virtually useless bloat, that serves very very little purpose, and adds practically nothing of value.

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