Microsoft Cheapens Windows 10 with Ads

Posted on November 21, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 51 Comments

Microsoft Cheapens Windows 10 with Ads

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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