Those Windows 11 Instabilities Were Caused by a Microsoft Ad

Posted on September 3, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 11 with 86 Comments

Remember the slippery slope I first mentioned when Microsoft started adding advertisements to Windows 8? Well, it’s back. And better than ever.

Or, worse. I guess.

“Earlier today, Microsoft pushed a promotional message to early adopters of Windows 11,” EdgeDeflector creator Daniel Aleksandersen explains. “The promo intended to promote the upcoming operating system’s integration with Microsoft Teams. Instead, it caused Explorer (the Windows desktop shell) to stop responding and left users without a working Start menu and taskbar.”

As you may have seen, Microsoft posted fixes for this problem, for the Windows Insider Preview Dev and Beta channels, respectively, after many users complained about the rampant unreliability. What it didn’t explain, of course, was that the instability was self-inflicted. And that it was triggered by a goddamn advertisement.

“[Before the fix was released,] Microsoft customers on Twitter and Reddit quickly shared ways to work around the problem and restore the Windows shell,” Aleksandersen continues. The successful ideas all involved different methods that made the device unable to communicate with Microsoft servers. It became clear that the issue was caused by one of the many cloud services built into Windows.”

As Aleksandersen explains, the problem wasn’t caused by an update delivered through Windows Update, it was caused by a small file downloaded by a Windows component called IrisService that is part of Windows Spotlight, which provides the Bing wallpaper of the day and various lock screen suggests that all have a Bing back-end. More specifically, it was caused by an advertisement for Microsoft Teams.

“How could Microsoft have let this happen?” he wonders aloud. “Yes, this is a beta build for early adopters. Yes, rough edges and productivity losses are expected. However, that doesn’t answer why the Windows shell was so poorly architected in the first place. How come that it would stop responding just because of one failed cloud service? It’s not a crucial cloud service either, and the computer became useless because of a single … advertisement.”

How indeed.

Windows 11 will ship to customers globally in less than five weeks. But this advertising nonsense has been present in Windows for almost ten years, and I have yet to hear a single valid argument about why. All it does is annoy users. And now, make their PCs less reliable too. Fantastic.

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Comments (86)

86 responses to “Those Windows 11 Instabilities Were Caused by a Microsoft Ad”

  1. lvthunder

    The argument why is because there is no charge for upgrades anymore. That $200 I gave them 10 years ago isn't going to cover all the security updates and OS upgrades over time.

    • train_wreck

      So you’re saying the company isn’t making enough money to be able to reliably push ads that don’t crash your computer?


      • hrlngrv


        Well put.

      • lvthunder

        No, I'm saying that's why ads are there in the first place.

      • innitrichie

        No publicly traded company is ever making enough money. They have to make more and more, otherwise the stock goes down.

        • Daishi

          And why do we care if the stock goes down? If we wiped out the stock price tomorrow it doesn’t actually change anything about the company

          • Greg Green

            Then expectations for short term gains would be obliterated, and that’s what the investors care about. Loans become more expensive, items have to be liquidated to keep cash reserves up, it’d be a mess.

          • hrlngrv

            If the stock price dropped to $0.00, the company may still go on if it has free cash, but give it a year or two and the D&O lawsuits would kill the company off.

    • roundaboutskid

      Funny! I've never ever paid for upgrades to the OS of any of my Apple products ...

      • Saarek

        You do pay for it, their markup is around 35-40% on every Mac sold. Don't get me wrong, I much prefer to have the lack of ads and spyware built in and don't mind paying for a product, but ads is the way MS has chosen.

      • ruivo

        Sure you did, it was backed in the price of the product x life expectancy.

      • ralfred

        You must be young. It's a "new" thing that Apple is not charging for updates.

    • jdawgnoonan

      Actually, in 2021 this is a great reason to switch to a high quality Linux distribution like PopOS, Fedora, Elementary, or Manjaro. Those operating systems are all free, are as user friendly as Windows, have great software available, great stability, and no damned ads. I bought 3 Windows based computers, a Lenovo, a Dell, and a Surface Pro 7 in the last two years. Windows Licensing was included in the cost. I did not buy premium laptops so I could have ads.

    • navarac


  2. iainlennox

    Yeah "goddamn advertisement" like the 100s on this Web site that make it almost unusable

    • jimchamplin

      Premium is less than $10 a month. Very much worth it to me.

      • ruivo

        Not that I see that many ads (I'm using Edge), but that is still steep if you live in a country with the wrong FX rate. Also, not that I don't think web content should be free, but if every site I visit started to ask for $10 (and many started to do just that), I would be paywalled out in no time.

    • bluvg

      Agreed, the ads are out of control. I'm most definitely NOT against ads, and won't use an ad blocker on this site. But starting a couple months ago, the ads on this site and make the sites nearly unusable and often saturate an entire CPU core or more. I often wonder how much energy is wasted and CO2 released solely due to overbearing ads. Yes, Premium is an option, but I thought the value is more about the additional content, not about no ads vs. ads 'til your computer chokes.

      Not sure why the ads are so convinced I'm interested dry vs. fresh herbs.

  3. sherlockholmes

    I love it. Thank God none of our 4 PCs are able to run Windows 11. Knock on wood :-P

  4. justme

    An advertisement...from a cloud service. I dont know whether to laugh or cry. How sad. Nothing like an own goal five weeks before going live to instill consumer confidence.

    Havent seen what some of the solutions were, but given it was a cloud served add, would simply disconnecting from the internet have helped?

  5. bettyblue

    I am not sure why anyone, other than PC gamers actually choose Windows for a computer OS. It has become a complete train wreck.

    • red.radar

      With the work steam is doing on Vulcan and the proton compatibility layer it won’t be long before you can game on Linux rather effectively. Their steam portable gaming system is a rather interesting demo / product proving the point.

      But while Linux is a compelling alternative, the grass isn’t always greener. Open source politics and Distros striving to distinguish themselves create bizarre functional gaps. Such as… If you use a distribution with Wayland to render the desktop environment… good luck getting Remote Desktop to work. The philosophy is real servers use a remote console there is not application for Remote Desktop…. You get weird baloney like that.

      But the main distros, Fedora, Debian, Arch are pretty good and make sensible decisions. The spinoffs are the ones you got to be careful about

  6. RobCannon

    I ended up doing a factory reset last night. No data lost thanks to OneDrive, but a lot of time was sure wasted. Bad design that an ad can crash the Shell like that. Why are ads running in the same process space as the Shell? I thought they learned that lesson long ago.

  7. lewk

    I'm waiting for the inevitable Windows 11 advertisement telling me to use widgets, because I've hid them and won't ever use them.

    • huddie

      I'm waiting on the inevitable Windows 11 ad telling me to try Windows 11.

      I'm already getting ads telling me to try Teams on Windows 10 while using Teams Windows 10.

      • eric_rasmussen

        I've received ads asking me to try Office 365, even though I currently have both personal and business subscriptions. Even if they do collect telemetry data about me, they're not very good at using it.

        • hrlngrv

          May be the case that non-developer departments collect and analyze feedback and telemetry data. May also be the case that communications between different departments within MSFT are no clearer than MSFT communications with the outside world, so no developer could interpret the BS coming from the feedback/telemetry analysts. Or it could be the case that the people tasked with developing ads get paid by the number of PCs on which those ads appear rather than the number of potential customer interactions those ads generate. Either could explain why MSFT is trying to get you to buy the same product a 3rd, 4th, . . ., Nth time.

  8. skinnyjm

    You would think they should be better at this by now.

    • hrlngrv

      Dead serious question: what % of developers on the Windows team have been working on Windows for more than 6 years? Also, what's the average years working on Windows among the subteam which has developed the Windows 11 ad subsystem?

      • skinnyjm

        Good questions. But I'm not sure Microsoft would want us to know those answers.

  9. smartin

    This goes hand in hand with the decades old decision of MS to integrate the browser so deeply into Windows that they could say "we can't remove OUR browser from the PC." We needed all of that instability and insecurity baked directly into the OS itself to keep pushing out changes forever.

  10. ponsaelius

    Windows shouldn't carry ads. That's it.

    • hrlngrv

      In all seriousness, where would MSFT be if it had ever cared about should?

  11. bobnetgeek

    Good commentary, but the profanity was unnecessary, and ruined it for me. It put a taste in my mouth, one of lack of respect...

  12. nbplopes

    Humm. It’s beta so things like this can happen and do happen regardless come from features around Ads or something else.

    Having said is weird in an OS a bug inside a small set of nine core features causes this kind of instability in today’s day and age.

    I think the problem might be somewhere else. It just was manifested due to an Ad but could happen with something else.

    It’s beta.

    • hrlngrv

      | It's beta.

      Nominally, but it's scheduled for PUBLIC RELEASE on 5 Oct, as of today just 29 days away.

      If it were REALLY & TRULY beta software, this sort of show-stopping bug would postpone that public release, but it won't. MSFT needs to release something then, and if it has to ship Windows 11 with critical bugs unresolved, it'll do so because revenues are all that matters.

      To repeat a semi-rhetorical question: could Windows 10 be affected by similar ad bugs? Now a new fully rhetorical question: if not, what benefits are there to Windows 11 users from such a new and unstable ad subsystem?

  13. j5

    I'll be installing Windows 11on my ASUS laptop. But stuff like this is why I'm happy I switched to an M1 Mac.

  14. naro

    I hate ads as much as anyone. But I wonder Paul, do you own any Microsoft stock individually not through mutual funds? I tend to take the issue in stride with the fact that I bought $MSFT in 2013 for $3200 and it's pushing about $40k today. I can't totally hate on what they've done with WIndows and the business. Clearly, it hasn't pushed that many people away from using Windows....the ads in Windows 10 have never really bothered me, I delete the ads for apps I don't want, which takes all of 30 seconds. I don't install a new ISO every week on multiple computers like you do, so I wonder if this is just a bit of a bias due to the nature of your job and that you see the same ads all the time frequently. I'd probably be a lot more frustrated if I was doing the same things as you lol.

    They're a great company and I trust Microsoft much more than Google, Amazon or Facebook....and I don't like the apple tax and proprietary lock in and lack of upgrade-ability (reason I've never purchased any Apple product...ever and never will).

    • pecosbob04

      Paul most likely does not directly hold MSFT or any other tech stock that he covers since doing so could lead to the perception of bias. Most professional pundit / journalists either avoid directly holding the stocks they cover or prominently post a disclaimer such as "Disclaimer: Although I hold a small equity position in HANDOVER-FIST INC. that fact has in no way affected the opinions I express in this article."

      Which always makes me wonder how they define small; 200 shares @ $20.00 or 20,000 @ $250.00. Depending on the individual either might qualify.

    • jimchamplin

      “But it’s making me money!”

      That line can be used to justify a lot of things. Quality slips? Still making me rich. Destroying the planet? I’m still making bank. People are being chewed up like worthless resources? Meh. My wallet’s fat.

      Microsoft is one of the better companies, but at the end of the day, they can only be trusted for this. Making money for shareholders.

      And that is why our whole world is in the state it is. This singleminded focus on profit is why our race is fucked.

  15. codymesh

    is pointing out Teams integration really an ad? I feel like "check out X feature" has been a thing inside software for ages.

    • navarac

      It is really. How would you think if they advertised Slack instead?

      • Sprtfan

        Would Slack be integrated into Windows 11 in your scenario? I think there is a thin line between ads and discoverability sometimes but pointing out a new feature is now available is different than an ad for 3rd party software so I don't think your example works.

  16. sentinel6671

    This is what happens when the children are in charge.

    I seriously doubt anyone is left who understands the spaghetti code and the unintended consequences that adding new, potentially breaking changes, creates.

  17. ids

    I do get everyone being up in arms about it but like it or not, its still a beta. The EULA says so and they say don't depend on it for production use. I run Win 11 Enterprise SKU, am in the UK and didn't have issues however I still chopped out the reg key. Is this related to Home/Pro SKU's only or not ?

    It is a worrying trend but if you think your Android and Apple devices aren't doing the same then you are mistaken. At the end of the day they are giving the OS away so I think its reasonably fair that they can cross promote services, as its their primary revenue now.

    They do have a knack of doing these things that seems to enrage folks. That on top of failing it hit security issues this year isn't doing their profile any good.

  18. markbyrn

    It's a beta! MSFT will iron out everything and make sure you get dunned with ads with minimal crashing. ?

    • navarac

      You got more faith in MSFT than I have, to be sure!

      • lwetzel

        So your machines are on Linux except one that you game on. Why do you insist upon sharing your misery of Microsoft with others that simply tire of it?

  19. spiderman2

    The main issues starts when you start to use web tech instead Of native one for the OS

  20. robrt

    Imagine if all that effort had gone into the underpinnings of the system, f.e. to get printing back under control instead of worrying about those "advertising signs". And the pc would just do its job and not get hiccups from side shows and stickers. But their brightest minds seem to work in more profitable departments. The windows cash cow gets a new coat of paint and connections to the latest services like a cargo vessel.

    • hrlngrv

      Ads generate NEW revenues, fixing bugs doesn't. 'Nuff said.

      • huddie

        Are you sure these ads generate revenue? How would you know?

        • hrlngrv

          Oh, excellent point. It makes so much more sense for the ads to generate no revenue but cause lots of potential problems in Windows. It's a mystery why you're not running MSFT with such a penetrating mind.

        • pecosbob04

          If they didn't generate revenue some sort why would they be there?

          • pecosbob04

            of some sort . . . . . . Gee wouldn't it be neato if there was some way to go back and make a change to a comment after you post it. That must be a hard technology problem though.

      • navarac

        Ads don't generate revenue from me, I always ignore them, especially the crap ads from MSFT !

  21. Aaron44126

    I do love that as part of this whole kerfuffle, they've told everyone how to disable the built-in ad service. :-)

    • anoldamigauser

      The law of unintended consequences strikes again.

    • eric_rasmussen

      Maybe someone on the Windows team also disagrees with ads in the OS, and helped develop an ad that would do exactly this shell-destroying behavior. Perhaps this was a genius move by someone who is two steps ahead of the marketing team.

  22. rm

    Part of OS beta, test ads before official launch in one month . . .

    • hrlngrv

      If an ad can do this to 22000.176, the presumed stable build, 5 weeks before official public release, is Windows 11 anywhere close to stable enough for public release? Imagine what this bug could have done had it appeared in ads in the last week of December.

      Part of me wants to see MSFT realize it has only bad alternatives: either don't release in early October, which means no Windows 11 this holiday season, so VERY pissed off OEMs, or NO ADS in Windows until MSFT can figure out how to design ads and/or Windows 11 so that no ad could fubar Windows 11. I figure MSFT will be forced to accept the 2nd alternative, but I also figure they'll resist doing so in the hopes of spreading some of the pain to their partners.

      When it comes to Windows 11, perhaps greatest wisdom is to wait for SP2.

  23. hrlngrv

    Had ALL software failed to run, that would have been one thing. But SOME software could still run.

    I use Windows 11 Insider builds in a VM. I have 4 accounts on that VM in order to test different things. One of those accounts uses Cairo Desktop Environment, which DID run and DID launch non-Store Win32 software. However, no Store/UWP apps would run. Oddly, in another account, I have a God Mode icon on my desktop, and it ran, and I could run it then navigate to drives, so File Explorer could still run as a file manager if you could get it running in a window in the 1st place.

    This just stuffs me full of warm fuzzies about Windows generally. That is, couldn't this same problem have affected Windows 10? Or does Windows 11 use a different ad subsystem than Windows 10? If so, an outstanding reason to continue using Windows 10 until EOS.

  24. bluvg

    Wow. I'm not a dev, but... isn't try catch just elementary, noob-level stuff?

    This is like Lenovo getting caught with malware in their bundled crapware. I don't know if Microsoft will learn their lesson from this, but... c'mon, this basic lack of resiliency is absolutely unacceptable, at the OS level or otherwise. Hopefully there is accountability internally on this.

    • lvthunder

      How do you know that a try catch would fix the issue? It's a bug in a beta. That's part of the process. Like everyone else, these devs aren't perfect.

      • solomonrex

        A bug in an ad can't reasonably be expected to crash your system unless a mistake was made. The current Windows 10 doesn't do this, that I've noticed. It's a real facepalm, for an OS that's barely being changed to begin with.

      • bluvg

        I don't. I meant try catch generically, though--resiliency in general. Locking up explorer.exe due to some non-in-box anything is unacceptable... at worst, at least implement a timeout.

  25. wbtmid

    Don't forget that this crap happened ONLY on computers with the NEW hardware requirements!

  26. blue77star

    I added another service to my list to disable.

  27. StevenLayton

    Hahahahahaha. Microsoft. Face. Punch. Yourself.

  28. cnc123

    I've adopted every single Windows OS since Windows 95 early, including Windows Vista and Windows 8. Not happening this time. I'm not threatening to go Linux or Mac at this point. Just no plans to adopt Windows 11. Good work, Microsoft.

    • hrlngrv

      I bought and used Windows 1.0 back in the mid 1980s, for a few hours in aggregate. It didn't do much. I also used Windows 2 because I wanted to use Excel without a Mac back in the 1980s; Excel was about the only GUI program there was at the time. FWIW, Windows 2 was more stable than Windows 3.0. Windows 3.1 was much better. Windows 3.1 was when I started getting sick & tired of the desktop shells MSFT provides. I used Norton Desktop for Windows, which came with the 1st icon editor I used.

      I didn't use the NT 3.x versions, 98 non-SE or Vista, but I've used every other version either at work or at home. I've usually used a launcher or desktop shell other than what MSFT bundles. One of the things I like best about Windows is that it's easier than under macOS to change desktop UI components. Not as easy as it is to do so under Linux, but not difficult.

      As for Windows software, rather software which only runs acceptably under Windows, I figure that includes all UWP software, and if I used any (OK, other than bundled applets like Settings) that might matter. For me, there's a few in-house utilities I use at work, but the only program I need under Windows is Excel. No, LibreOffice Calc isn't close enough. No, the Mac version isn't more than a sad joke. Yes, I do need it for what I do, well, if I want to do things in minutes or hours rather than days or weeks. But it's the only reason I have to use Windows. I can kludge things together with Python and Tkinter under Linux when I need to, and GNU R and the database subsystems I use work under Linux. I don't use anything Adobe, nor game, nor edit video or audio. And, FWIW, scripting with xdotool and POSIX shell tools works better for automating GUI sequences of tasks than AutoIt.

      I use Windows 11 Insider builds more out of curiosity than interest, and I've found out that it supports various alternatives to bundled desktop UI components. This is good. It means I could use Windows 11 the way I want to use Windows. It means Windows 11 will look and function almost the same as Windows 10, Windows 8.x and Windows 7 did for me. Maybe I'm a luddite, but I really don't care to use whatever desktop shell MSFT provides. For me, there are superior 3rd party alternatives. And again I thank MSFT for continuing to make it easy to use those alternatives.

    • navarac

      I didn't threaten to go to Linux myself, either - I just went and did it, with no regrets. This debacle called Windows 11 that I'm watching, I find is a disgrace, even IF it is A Dev build.

      • jdawgnoonan

        Exactly, all three of my machines are running Linux in dual boot configurations and it is very rare that I actually need the Windows partitions.

  29. jimchamplin

    I actually lost data because of that. Nothing of real consequence, just a few BASIC programs I'd written in C64 and Atari 800 emulators, but still. When that issue occurred last night to me, I thought something had gone wrong with my user profile. I needed to access an application so that I could complete something for a new job and I wasn't able, so I nuked my user account and created a new one. If I wasn't in such a rush, I might have had the time to figure out that it was just Explorer. I didn't.

    Learning this now just makes me even angrier. How did they screw up in such an epic and awesome way?

    • spacein_vader

      It shows why you should never install beta software on a system you need to be running though.

      • jimchamplin

        It's on my gaming machine. My main workstation runs Ubuntu Linux is still packed up and behind two sets of mattresses.

    • bluvg

      Shoot, that sucks. If you could create a new user profile, though, couldn't you access the contents of the old and copy them elsewhere? Or maybe try an undelete tool?

      • jimchamplin

        If it were things that really mattered, I'd try, but it's all things I can recreate. I didn't lose anything mission-critical or important. All of that lives on a separate physical drive. I should have backed it up from my admin user account but I was in a "holy crap!" situation where I needed to get an important document sent.

  30. winner

    It's not like we should be shocked that WIndows has shitty architecture. We've known this for decades. Microsoft is not surprising us by getting better.

    • bluvg

      Userland, it's not great. One might have hoped Win11 be a refactoring, but even if it is, this egregious error demonstrates we shouldn't cross our fingers for better.

      At the kernel level, though, I would disagree. If the entire Windows team had Dave Cutler's team's discipline, this would not happen.

  31. jdawgnoonan

    Holly hell, I reset Surface Pro 7 last night specifically because of this issue. I didn't lose anything, I had just planned to surf the web while watching a movie, but still, that is a huge issue. When the shell was obviously screwed up, I tried doing some remedial troubleshooting after launching the task manager. But I just figured that it was the joy of using Beta software. But if this was just due to an ad that could not display, and this is on nearly a release candidate for the OS, Microsoft has proven themselves to be utterly incompetent.

  32. navarac

    Nuff said.