Microsoft Cheapens Windows 10 with Ads

Posted on November 21, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 52 Comments

Like its predecessor, Windows 10 is full of advertising. But unlike Windows 8, Windows 10 places ads directly in the user interface, and it’s gotten worse over time.

To be clear, Windows 10 is a tremendous product, and is in many ways the best version of Windows ever. Indeed, its ability to transform between traditional mouse/keyboard and tablet/2-in-1 functionality, and work well in either, is a testament to Microsoft’s deep understanding of its diverse user base.

And yet, Windows 10 also represents a tough moment for the Microsoft crowd.

As I’ve recounted many times, Microsoft far too aggressively pushed this upgrade on the hundreds of millions of people still using Windows 7 and 8.1, and I think it crossed the line in secretly and silently upgrading many against their will, and in haranguing those who refused to do so.

For those using Windows 10, the situation is equally dire: Through a strategy called Windows as a service, Microsoft is requiring users to regularly update and upgrade the OS, whether they want to or not. It is doing so for good reasons—keeping everyone up-to-date ensures a better overall level of quality, reliability, and security. But it is doing so poorly, and the many issues that we’ve seen over the past year—from minor problems related to the many monthly updates we’ve seen to the Titanic-like problems with the Anniversary Update—have led me to conclude that, in its current state, Windows as a service simply does not work.

Today, I’d like to address another issue facing Windows 10 users. I am referring of course to the steady increase in advertising that we’re seeing in the operating system.

Advertising in Windows isn’t new: Microsoft first started placing ads directly in Windows starting with Windows 8. Four years ago, at my old gig, I wrote a post called Microsoft Cheapens Windows 8 with Ads in which I explained, simply, “There are ads in Windows 8.”

As I predicted correctly at the time, apologists would try to explain away these ads by stating that they were not in the OS itself, as they were in apps like News and Weather, which were “in” Windows 8 but not “part of” Windows 8. Bullshit, I said, preemptively. But those apologists nonetheless did exactly that.

But my central complaint in 2012 was that advertising was a slippery slope. That is, once you’ve opened the door to advertising of any kind, the door will remain open. And it will widen. And that’s exactly what’s happened with Windows 10.

Well, the apologists will need to try a new tact this time around because—wait for it—now these ads are actually “in the OS user interface,” as I described it in 2012. These ads often take the form of “tips” in which Microsoft recommends its own bundled products over the competition. Most obviously with Edge, a browser that has done nothing less than speed the decline of Microsoft’s browser solutions as users race to more capable solutions like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. (Microsoft is also advertising “the latest version of Skype for Windows.”)

So Windows 10 pops-up little advertising windows—sorry, tips—on the Edge icon in the taskbar, or in the Action Center UI, or in the Settings interface where you can change your defaults, because it really, really, really doesn’t want you to exercise free will and make a better decision for yourself. It just wants you to use Edge.

For the next version of Windows 10, Microsoft is even experimenting with ads—sorry, tips—that will appear in File Explorer. You don’t get any more “in the OS user interface” than that, folks, unless Microsoft starts displaying ads in event logs next. Don’t laugh.

So repeat after me: There are ads all over Windows. And it’s just getting worse.

But let me address the apologists—yes, they’re still out there, sniffing around the interwebs for any opinions that do not conform to Redmond’s needs—-because you can already imagine the obvious responses to this issue.

You can turn them off. If you know where to look in Settings, you’ll find various options you can disable to slow the steady tide of advertising in Windows 10. You can turn off suggestions in Start, and “get tips, tricks, and suggestions as you use Windows,” which impacts both the desktop and, alarmingly, the lock screen. But people don’t know where to look. And remember, this is a slippery slope. Once the door is open, Microsoft can quietly disable these options one at a time and the next thing you know, ads in Windows will be like those in Minority Report: Personalized and everywhere.

They’re not really ads. This is my favorite reaction to this issue, as if Microsoft wasn’t in fact performing the same bundling activities that got it in trouble with antitrust agencies on four continents 15 years ago. There’s no need for semantics. They’re ads.

They’re subtle, and not in-your-face. This also falls into the “slippery slope” category. They are subtle. But they’re also getting less subtle over time. And that, in a way, is the central issue here: Since the initial release of Windows 10, these ads/tips have gotten more prominent. On the lock screen. And on the desktop.

So let me just repeat what I wrote four years ago, but I’ll remove the version numbers and make these statements more generally applicable to the situation today.

Ads are unacceptable in Windows for the same reason they’re unacceptable in the Xbox Dashboard, another place where Microsoft is pushing the boundaries: You pay for these products, so they don’t need to be further subsidized. (And why Xbox Live Gold subscribers still see ads in the Xbox Dashboard is an insult I’ll never understand.) There should be no ads in the Windows user interface. Period.


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  1. 2 | Reply
    Siv Alpha Member #451 - 1 month ago

    I think if you paid for the privilege of having their product you should not have to see adverts. I cancelled my Sky subscription in the UK because I was sick of the adverts and the cost of the service rising continually. 

    I think in the western world we should start taking a lead and refuting this notion that our economies and our companies are not doing well unless they are increasing growth every year. 

    To me that is not sustainable and because we live on a planet that has finite resources we should look to grow our businesses in the early days and then when we get to a sensible sustainable maximum output we should be happy to stay at that level.

    Shareholders should accept that when a company reaches that point they will get the same revenue every year and any improvement in revenue should come from economising the business and making it produce the same output with fewer new resources or by recycling resources.

    If we keep on this pointless attempt to consume more resources to make even larger profits we are doomed as a species. The likes of Microsoft shouldn't be trying to squeeze even more profit by ruining the Windows Experience with adverts just produce the same profit with the same number of people but by consuming less resources, win-win for everyone!

  2. 2 | Reply
    AliMaggs Alpha Member #1317 - 1 month ago

    For me, I quite like it when the "Spotlight" (lock) screen promotes new apps, games, movies, or features, in the same way that I actually like the ads on the Kindle lock screen when that also surfaces content I may enjoy. And I think that's fairly easy to switch off and replace with a fixed personal background or slideshow.

    But I agree with the "tips" that try to convince you against using non-built in apps - I think that's a bit desperate, and insulting.

    I guess it's down to personal choice, but that's my own, personal, "line".

  3. 1 | Reply
    hrlngrv Alpha Member #100 - 1 month ago

    20 years ago people bought paper newspapers and magazines. People PAID for them. And insult of insults, those newspapers and magazines had ads.

    Plus ça change.

    I agree ads are annoying, and I do everything I can to disable or bypass them. However, MSFT and only MSFT gets to decide what comes with a Windows license (or Xbox Love Gold).

  4. 1 | Reply
    red.radar Alpha Member #2526 - 1 month ago

    Windows has slowly progressed from smoldering to an inferno consuming dumpster fire.

    bad updates, poor test quality, operational quirks, ads...  I just hate using windows right now 


  5. 1 | Reply
    gsmith-plm Alpha Member #1599 - 1 month ago

    The MS version of "Just The Tip"...

    1. 0 | Reply
      Waethorn Alpha Member #2235 - 1 month ago
      In reply to gsmith-plm:

      I'm sure they'll have some K-Y ads in there before long.

    2. 0 | Reply
      hrlngrv Alpha Member #100 - 1 month ago

      In reply to Waethorn:

      You believe MSFT either wants you to enjoy it or not notice it as much?

  6. 0 | Reply
    simont Alpha Member #1053 - 1 month ago

    Here's a revenue idea for Microsoft, be like Amazon with the Kindle ads, pay a once off fee of $20 and no more ads. I would happily pay

  7. 0 | Reply
    Skolvikings Alpha Member #2561 - 1 month ago

    What do you think about the ads in the Roku dashboard?

  8. 0 | Reply
    JerryH Alpha Member #248 - 1 month ago

    Windows Insider here. I got a advertisement for Edge a week or two ago. It was terribly invasive having that use my bandwidth to download it and then display it coming from the taskbar. It took a few minutes, but I found where to turn it off. But, the next two Windows Insider builds both changed my default browser to Edge. It is pretty well known that early Insider builds had done that - and then it had been fixed and an apology issued. Now it is doing it again. Bug? Maybe. Or perhaps they just want to see how many Insiders don't change it back - sort of an A B test. Not appreciated at all. "Gee, thanks for changing my default browser to Edge - it is SO much better than my prior browser", said nobody. Ever.

  9. 0 | Reply
    Awhispersecho Alpha Member #1649 - 1 month ago

    My experience with Windows 10 across all of my devices is getting worse by the day. I'm having a sync issue that is so bad right now across my devices that I am at the point that I can't wait for Google Andromeda so I can drop everything MS. This coming from a guy that absolutely hates Google. I am literally speechless at every misstep they make like the above mentioned advertising, upgrade issues, sync problems and on and on. Even this site doesn't display properly and the comments don't work properly with Win 10 mobile. The upgrade situation is a disaster. The syncing problems are driving me insane. I honestly have never been more disgusted at a company that I support and the products they make than I am now with MS. As trashy as the ads are, I wish that was the only issue there was, it's the least of my concerns.

    1. 0 | Reply
      lvthunder Alpha Member #2039 - 1 month ago
      In reply to Awhispersecho:

      What are you trying to sync?

    2. 0 | Reply
      Awhispersecho Alpha Member #1649 - 1 month ago
      In reply to lvthunder:
      At this point, just my favorites. My win 10 laptop synced my favorites from my phone which was great. It then stopped syncing in real time so any new favorites weren't syncing between devices. So in Edge on my laptop I had 2 of each favorite folder I created, 1 folder would have most of my favorites in it, 1 folder would have even more of my favorites in it but neither folder would be kept up to date.
      The end result ended up being that on my laptop I had 2 of each favorite folder, neither was syncing in real time and any favorite I create on any other device would only remain on that device. They would not all sync. 4 win 10 devices, none of them syncing favorites unless I force a sync and they sync up to that period but do not sync anything after that.
      So last night I decided to delete all my favorites from the laptop. I deleted Edge favorites then went into users folder and deleted all favorites in there. My hope was it would sync with my phone again and I would at least be somewhat up to date. Now it won't sync at all. I restored my favorites back onto the favorites folders under the users folder but they don't show up in Edge. 
      I had to import favorites from IE which means I don't have any of the favorites I have saved the last few months and it still isn't syncing with my phone now. Sync is and always has been on on all my devices and none of them will sync with each other.


  10. 0 | Reply
    zybch Alpha Member #2568 - 1 month ago

    I HATE it that the day after you do the 'right-click - never show recommendations' option, they're back again trying to get me to download an buy useless crap I don't want or need or are interested in in the slightest.

  11. 0 | Reply
    inlocoabsentia Alpha Member #1634 - 1 month ago

    Someone at my place of business (who has managed to get himself a Lenovo-Surface in spite of being in a Mac shop) was complaining about just this exact thing today. The kicker: it was Windows 10 Enterprise.

     I wonder if Server 2016's lock screen is similarly impacted.

  12. 0 | Reply
    lvthunder Alpha Member #2039 - 1 month ago

    If the tip is pointing out features in Windows like Edge does I'm fine with that.  How else are you going to learn about new features.  It's not like they make books anymore.  Now if the edge icon or the notification center gives me an ad for $500 off of a BMW then that's a different story.

  13. 0 | Reply
    ponsaelius Alpha Member #1328 - 1 month ago

    Agreed.  There should be no ads in Windows. I have managed to turn most of mine off. However in the longer term you just undermine Windows. Isn't Google supposed to be the advertising company with in your face advertising? Isnt Microsoft the company that wants to sell their OS and services?

    The quid pro quo is if they want advertising in Windows then Windows has to be free - permanently. Actually the advertising convinces me to uninstall Microsoft apps. 

  14. 0 | Reply
    Waethorn Alpha Member #2235 - 1 month ago

    Cortana is heavily advertising new "tips" too - I just received a few while booting up today.  This will keep whatever few potential converts away, and many businesses will try to rip it out.

    POINT OF NOTE: In the Anniversary Update, it was said before that Cortana can't be turned off.  They're right, but the OOBE STILL HAS THE OPTION TO TURN IT OFF, yet it does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.  This is FALSE ADVERTISING, and Microsoft needs to be called out on it.


    If I didn't have a number of issues with a KVM switch and the relatively complicated options for non-PnP monitor signaling with Xorg, I'd be using Ubuntu Budgie Remix right now.  I never saw the issues with Windows Vista as I do with Windows 10.  Other than using a Chromebook for day-to-day stuff, I'll be looking at moving to some kind of modern Linux distribution for advanced functionality and service work.

  15. 0 | Reply
    Narg Alpha Member #420 - 1 month ago

    "They’re subtle, and not in-your-face."  <- this one.  Not quite so in at least some cases.

    I really don't mind ads that much.  I do actively attempt to reduce them if at all possible though.  But in the few truly "pop-up" style ads I've seen inside of Windows 10, all I can say is Microsoft better get smart about their approach.

  16. 0 | Reply
    navarac Alpha Member #375 - 1 month ago

    I stopped using the News app; stopped using Edge because of this.  The news app presents "sponsored" stories as though they were "real news items" and Edge just shoves it in my face.  Any app that shows ads gets uninstalled or at least unpinned and ignored, and reported to the feedback hub. I'm just waiting for the daily ad (tip) popping up in Action Centre! The day ads appear in File Explorer is the day I go fully to Linux, which I have been experimenting with since the advent of Win 8.

    1. 2 | Reply
      zybch Alpha Member #2568 - 1 month ago
      In reply to navarac:

      And have you notices that MS seemingly don't gave a shit about what the sponsored ads are for?  Numerous times I've seen ads for those crappy fake anti-malware suites, and bullcrap clickbait "pregnant women shouldn't eat this..." 'articles'.

    2. 1 | Reply
      hrlngrv Alpha Member #100 - 1 month ago

      In reply to navarac:

      Compared to other news aggregators, the News app stinks. Ditto Finance. OTOH, the Weather app is pretty good. I wonder when it'll start home securing and renovation ads before major wind storms or after floods.

    3. 0 | Reply
      navarac Alpha Member #375 - 1 month ago
      In reply to hrlngrv:

      Weather app is fine, I agree.  I don't hold my breath though :)