Microsoft is Experimenting With Ads in the Windows 11 File Explorer

Posted on March 14, 2022 by Laurent Giret in Windows, Windows 11 with 58 Comments

Microsoft appears to be experimenting with a new type of ads for Microsoft services in the Windows 11 File Explorer. After installing last week’s Windows 11 Insider build 22572, you may have noticed a subtle (or not) ad in File Explorer, as did Windows Insider Florian last week

The File Explorer “ad” seen by Florian was for Microsoft Editor, the company’s intelligent grammar and spelling assistant. Florian tells me that he only saw this ad once, and we have yet to see anything similar in the latest Windows 11 Insider build. Notably, Florian told me that he was already using Microsoft Editor, making this ad somewhat irrelevant for him.

While the scope of this new experiment could be very limited, it’s actually not the first time Microsoft brings ads to File Explorer: The company did so before on Windows 10 with more intrusive OneDrive ads, which users could turn off if they knew where to look.

The launch of Windows 11 last year was the sign of Microsoft’s increased focus on PC users, and there’s no doubt that the Windows team is hard at work on creating a desktop OS Windows fans and general consumers should love. However, the company’s heavy-handed approach to push Windows 11 users to use more Microsoft services could well alienate some users.

Microsoft walked on this very thin line before with the new Widgets Menu, which forces Windows 11 users into Microsoft Edge instead of respecting their default browser choice. Starting this week, Windows Insiders are also about to see trending Bing searches, Microsoft Rewards offers, and more “Search Highlights” in Windows Search, though it will be possible to turn off this feature.

The Windows Insider team keeps repeating that what we’re seeing in Dev Channel builds may or may not end up in a future Windows 11 update, so there’s no guarantee yet that these new File Explorer ads will roll out to a broader audience. Fortunately, some nice improvements for the Windows 11 File Explorer are also in the pipeline, including the much-requested tab support.

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Comments (58)

58 responses to “Microsoft is Experimenting With Ads in the Windows 11 File Explorer”

  1. spacein_vader

    As if people didn't need another reason to use an alternative file manager.

    I use Files from the MS store. Clean interface, handles network drives much more gracefully than File Exporer and supports multiple tabs.

    • sharps

      Have been using Directory Opus for a while now - great power user replacement. the 11 explorer is just too limited and requires too many clicks.

    • Thr2017

      I use xplorer2

    • hrlngrv

      Thank goodness I prefer 2-pane file managers, so I don't use/see File Explorer much.

      Gotta wonder how long before MSFT puts ads into File Open/Save As dialogs in all applications.

  2. ronv42

    How many times did we see a development build with ad's only to have it pulled? Unlike Google which nags me every day to use Chrome for their services, Microsoft seems to get the message.

  3. yaddamaster

    How much money could Microsoft really be looking at making here to risk alienating consumers?

    • vladimir

      there are no consumers left to alienate

    • hrlngrv

      | to risk alienating consumers?

      How many dozens of Windows users do you believe would switch to Macs or install Linux because there are ads in File Explorer? MSFT is banking on user inertia, and I haven't seen any evidence that doing so is unwise.

  4. simont

    It is things like this that make me want to take another look at MacOS X and the various Linux distros

    • andrew b.

      Hell, ChromeOS is even an option. I love Windows, but really hate Microsoft at this point.

  5. sherlockholmes

    I think its time for the Gong again on Windows Weekly this week .....

  6. red.radar

    Another thing that is strange... Its an advertisement for a grammar editor in a file manager. It is not even helpful. It would be one thing if this came up in word or edge when composing a document. Its just weird that it comes up when trying to manage and access files.

  7. F4IL

    From a bean counter's perspective, I think msft is making the right move here since it is sacrificing enthusiast loyalty on the altar of profitability. Arguably, the vast majority of windows users are not enthusiasts, therefore the blow to msft is negligible to not be considered a statistical error.

  8. datameister

    Is Microsoft struggling for money? If so, Microsoft needs to bring back the paid OS upgrades and then in exchange for the payment remove all advertising and Bing search lock-in for OS level searching.

    • hrlngrv

      What sub-1% of PC users used to pay to perform full version Windows upgrades before Windows 10?

      I suspect MSFT knows better than anyone here what generates the most revenues for MSFT. Lest anyone need disabuse, MSFT cares far more about ever increasing revenues than any amount of nonmonetizable Windows user satisfaction.

  9. SaintKaze

    I really hope this isn't going to go through, I mean ads in a file system. That feels not secure. I use 3dBrowser from Mootools, not all time. I used it to track and view my 3d stuff, but I still use explorer almost always. 

  10. mattbg

    An ad for a user that only has Notepad installed would be one thing.

    It'd be extremely sad if someone who had Office 365 installed also saw this ad, but that is about what I expect of Microsoft advertising at this point.

  11. mike2thel73

    I really hope Microsoft pulls this plug before the next update goes mainstream. I’ve become part of the Apple sheep over the last decade but I always keep a windows machine around: sometimes I need windows for certain things I can’t do on Mac OS.

  12. Elton Saulsberry

    Maybe fix the horrible taskbar first?

    (drag & hold, never combine taskbar buttons)

  13. vernonlvincent

    I've been extremely forgiving of the various things Microsoft has done lately. Some of which haven't bothered me, and other which I've been able to ignore or work around.

    But things like this are becoming a bridge too far for me. I don't need ads in Windows - I need a distraction free experience. I didn't mind in Search - because I could potentially see some value in that. But in File Explorer - that is absolutely ridiculous. I know what I'm looking for, and I know what I need to find it. I don't need suggestions for anything beyond that.

  14. chirowilk

    Just what I need. I use my computer for patient education and to run medical charting software.

    Having an ad in my face while pressed for time, is a recipe for anxiety.

  15. qaelith2112

    Looks like a lot of people read the headline only and didn't see that it's not all-out 3rd party ad-serving but rather just more bogus "tips" to use Microsoft's other stuff. Half of the comments seem to assume this is banner ads they're selling for other companies' stuff.

  16. olavgm

    I used to be a .NET developer. I moved to iOS development years ago, and I've always kept an eye on Windows because I love the platform, but when I see things like that I'm glad I'm not there anymore.

    It's a shame what they're doing to my Windows.

  17. mdrapps

    I just installed windows 11 to try it. I can see first hand they bloated it with ads and apps I don't want. It also looks like a phone screen which I hate on a desktop PC. It seems very limited and harder to do the tasks I want. I am not going back to Windows 10 - I going forward to Windows 10 tomorrow.

  18. Christopher Spera

    Why the HELL would MS do something as boneheaded as this?! Are they trying to piss their users off on purpose? As if we aren't bombarded with enough ads for paid services already...

  19. BizTechSherpa

    Does Apple do anything like this?

  20. jdawgnoonan

    Knowing Microsoft you probably will get ads for O365 even though you are already subscribed to it, kind of like the ads you get on your phone from Microsoft to install apps that you already have.

    • SvenJ

      Unfortunately, if they were good about not providing ads for things you already have installed, there would be that vocal segment that complains about how they must be able to access and scan your phone/PC to know that.

  21. red.radar

    I am willing to bet, that one of the motivating factors of these advertising beachheads showing up in various programs is to give attention to new functionality that is not easily discovered. (That is a problem with UI minimalism).

    Microsoft is continually delivering new functionality but its not obvious to the customer. It serves as a way to gently let them know it exists and to re-assure them that their monthly subscription to microsoft is delivering value.

    Otherwise subscription fatigue sets in and people begin to wonder...what am I paying for here? Which leads to risk of them unsubscribing.

    I hope it stops here and that is all this is. But the moment candy crush, twitter or other third party ads start to show up in these other areas that is my redline moment. I am still investing other alternatives because ... well... I have some subscription fatigue and things are getting more expensive. If I don't need some of this functionality and I can live with the free tier then it is something to consider.

  22. anoldamigauser

    A bridge too far.

    If they want people to "love" Windows, they should spend some time making it better, not adding advertisements and suggestions.

  23. southwark

    Just unbelievable. This might be the straw that breaks the camel's back for me

  24. Greg Green

    Please, I would rather pay for an OS or a file manager than have one that advertises to me.

    • navarac

      But..... you have paid for Windows, even if it is only $17 for an OEM version, so don't think you are buying a PC without the Microsoft Tax.

  25. j5

    Esssh, there are times when I get frustrated with Mac OS and then I see stuff like this and I’m so glad I’m not using a Windows machine.

    I mean it’s almost like a “tool tip” for Windows. I think I’d flip out if it was a graphical ad or something that was out side of Windows/Microsoft. And you’re not paying for it with money…but with your data of course. So there’s that trade off. But I can see tech nerds like us only freaking out about this. The vast majority of Windows normie and business users won’t give 2 $#@*s about it. So in the end Microsoft probably knows this, that’s why they’re testing it, and it’d just be a tempest in a teapot with tech peeps and not the majority of Windows users.

    • pecosbob04

      Don't know about windows 'normies' but business users will not be pleased.

      • will

        If I had to guess Enterprise versions will not have this, it would be Home and Pro users

      • j5

        I am a business user, for an international company. We never complain about Windows. It almost always about other first party software we use or VPN issues. Issues about how Windows looks or works never come up. I’m tact normie users complain “why can’t X software work like Windows?”

        • sadsteve

          Hm, most of the Devs I've worked with have installed alternate Start Menus. StartIsBack and Open Shell seem to be the popular ones (I use Open Shell).

  26. trparky

    I hate to say this but when my Windows PC dies, I'm going to buy a Mac. I'm done with Windows.

  27. sherlockholmes

    Hopefully not in my Windows 11 Enterprise Edition.

  28. navarac

    Yet another excellent reason to totally abandon Windows when W10 goes out of support.

    • red.radar

      Already experimenting with a few Linux Distros. If all else fails there is Mac OSX.

      The slope is getting even more slippery. I am looking for some stable ground for some traction.

      • sadsteve

        I switch to Linux as my main OS a few months after the release of Windows 8.0. I'm a happy MX Linux user and only start my Windows VM when I want to play a game that doesn't work under Linux or when I want to do some photo editing (I really dislike Gimp!).

        • nsemrau

          If you dislike Gimp, try Krita. It has become way better than the staleish GIMP in recent years in my opinion.

  29. rmlounsbury

    I'm not one to react too much to the ad placement that Microsoft is doing in their OS. Though, as they continue to add more hooks into different points of the OS to inject ads it is becoming far more off putting. It isn't like Microsoft isn't still making money off of Windows. The OEM's still have to pay for the license and business or even private users still have to pay for a license. Clearly this is a new way for Microsoft to increase Windows profitability and put other Microsoft products front and center.

    I won't say I'll stop using Windows. As a Microsoft professional I need to use Windows and it isn't really an open debate. I did recently move my personal devices over to a MacBook Air/iPad Pro 11/iPhone. For business the enterprise license I assume will continue to let you disable these ads (though the Pro version lost a lot of it's capabilities to stop these shenangins in recent years).

    • red.radar

      I am in a similar situation. Professionally it is non negotiable, Windows is too entrenched. However, for my personal usage I think there are options to explore.

      I have been tinkering with a few linux distros as that allows me to transition my hardware immediately. The Ultimate backstop is MacOS. However I am not certain its worth reacting too quickly here. I suspect even MacOS will succumb to this trend. I may be wrong...

      • will

        I do t see Apple doing this ever as they make the money from hardware over software. Personally I would rather MS increase the price of M365 and got rid of this.

      • rmlounsbury

        Yeah, I've used Linux for desktop purposes and to be honest it gets about 75% of the way there since I spend most my time in a browser. However, it isn't really for me as far as a desktop/laptop primary OS. It still gets to persnickety for my interests. I'd rather just keep it as a server OS in my world.

        I have Pixelbook which is a great little device and does a decent amount. I am getting annoyed that anytime I pickup an ChromeOS device there is a bunch of new functionality that my Pixelbook won't get.

        So I ended up with Apple primarily because of the ecosystem. I enjoy and prefer the seemless integration between macOS, iPadOS, iOS, and Apple TV. I've recently adopted the Sonos platform for music and that experience is first class. Now that Apple has the M1 chips even the entry level devices perform excellent meaning I don't have to get a MBP for my purposes. I was able to get a MacBook Air, Apple Watch 7, iPad Pro 11" (Refurbished Gen 2), and an iPhone SE3 for $2,566 and I had enough bits to trade in to knock that down to $1,846 which feels like a steal for everything.

        • red.radar

          I have been having some self reflection and agree that I don’t need the “pro” line of apple devices. And if I am happy editing home videos at 1080p I am pretty confident a M1 class device (mini or air) is just fine.

          My wife has been stable in the Apple ecosystem for a long time she has been drudging along with her MacBook air circa 2017 just fine. Apple’s hardware has great longevity it seems to help blunt the higher up front expense

  30. nsemrau

    "Don't ask questions, just consume product and then get excited for next products."

  31. bleeman

    I'd like to see them spend less time screwing around with things like ads, removing features, etc. If they want us to "love" Windows then perhaps they should start working more closely with developers. I would love to have a decent Windows tablet that allowed me to do my Windows related things when I'm in a productive mode and then be able to use a lot of the various apps I have to go to my iPad mini or phone for. Instead, I just watch more and more of the app builders either leave Windows entirely or pull their product and replace it with a web interface instead. The big problem I find with the web interfaces is, many times they have less features, or in the worst case scenario's they have no offline functionality so if you don't have an Internet connection your SOL.