Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Microsoft’s aggressive self-promotion involves constantly pushing Edge and OneDrive onto users.
  • The latest Windows 11 Beta version now features a Start Menu with disruptive third-party app recommendations.
  • Promoting third-party apps within the operating system can confuse users, erode trust, and raise security concerns.

An operating system’s primary role is to provide a clean foundation to run other programs. That’s why it’s so concerning that Microsoft has been increasingly more aggressive with ads in Windows 11. Is this going to be the future of our operating systems?

Windows is already full of Microsoft’s built-in apps and bloatware. Although this is a relatively common practice among most operating systems and their customized versions, Microsoft goes above and beyond to promote Microsoft Edge and OneDrive. Edge and OneDrive aren’t bad products (quite the contrary), but there’s no need for Microsoft to shove them down our throats.

I recently booted up my laptop after not using it for a week, and I was greeted with that pesky “Let’s Finish Setting Up Your Device” screen as if I had just bought the device. All the “set up” did was recommend various Microsoft products to me that I already declined previously. Fortunately, you can disable it, but the sole fact that it pops up randomly on older systems is baffling.

Another recent bit of news is that Microsoft PC Manager recommends setting Bing as the default search engine in Windows 11 to “repair” your system. This, combined with the constant pop-up notifications to set Edge as your default browser, makes it hard to recommend any Microsoft products. All this self-promotion does is clutter an otherwise great operating system.

The Start Menu has always been the place you go to open an app installed on your PC or change a setting. It’s a safe and familiar spot within your operating system. I use it to hide my less frequently used apps like game launchers and hardware monitoring tools.

Now, Microsoft introduced ads and app recommendations in the Windows 11 Start Menu with the last Beta update, so each time you want to open an app quickly, there’s a chance you’ll click on an ad that’ll open a browser window or the Microsoft Store. The section previously only displayed frequently used apps, so I can imagine that the average user will accidentally click on an ad instead of an app they want to open.

In addition to recommending apps, there’s a new “Game Pass recommendation card” that’ll display recommended games to users who are logged in to their Microsoft account and use the computer to play games. I personally think that Microsoft’s experimenting with ads in the Start Menu is out of line. It’s an integral part of the operating system and will disrupt the user experience in a major way, but there’s not much that we can do other than switch to Linux.

The location of the recommended section in the Windows 11 Start menu

Jerome Thomas / How-To Geek

The Windows 11 Start menu is already a confusing mess, and I don’t think that the grid layout can save it. If you agree, check out Stardock’s Start11 app to see how you can customize your Start Menu. Again, it’s worth noting that these changes are only present in the Beta update, so there’s a sliver of hope that Microsoft won’t roll this update out in the final version.

There’s nothing wrong with ads and promoting third-party apps, but there’s just something about recommending them within an operating system that feels off-putting. If you get an ad in Chrome, you know that it’s an ad, but it feels much more subtle when it’s on your operating system.

1Password app listed in Recommended section of Start Menu

The average user might interpret the recommended third-party product as a pre-installed or Microsoft product, which can lead to confusion, a loss of trust, and potential safety risks. After all, Microsoft can’t guarantee the quality and safety of the advertised product, so what happens if a recommended app ends up embroiled in a controversy or legal dispute?

An Operating System Is No Place for Ads

Call me old-school, but I think that an operating system is the one “sacred” piece of software that shouldn’t have ads, promotions, or any form of pesky clutter. Users expect that their operating system is professional and free of clutter. macOS and most Linux distributions don’t bombard users with ads in core functionalities and system apps, whereas Windows has become increasingly more intrusive with its constant ads.

The worst part is that Windows 11 Home costs $139 at the time of writing, which is a significant sum of money for a product that contains ads. Ads would make some sense if Windows had different price tiers, so the cheapest tier would get the most ads and self-promotion, but this isn’t the case, which is why it’s so unacceptable.

If you use your Windows PC for work, ads within the operating system are an unwelcome distraction that diminishes your user experience. Fortunately, you can remove most ads in Windows 11, but I still wish that Microsoft would reconsider its approach to monetization within its operating system.

I’m Staying on Windows 10

Windows 10 support ends next year, so I was planning to get ahead of the curve by upgrading to Windows 11 now. However, after talking to a few friends who have upgraded and doing some research, I decided to hold off, in no small part because of ads.

Windows 10 is still mostly free of ads and provides a less disruptive OS environment. Since there’s no real incentive to upgrade and Windows 12 is reportedly around the corner, I’ll stick with Windows 10 to the bitter end. I just hope that the next version of Windows will prioritize the user experience over intrusive advertising.

Microsoft knows that users love Windows and won’t switch to a different platform just because of a few ads, but I still hope that they’ll reconsider their approach to advertising before it’s too late. While I can handle ads when I open Microsoft Edge or the occasional reminder that Edge and Bing aren’t my default browser and search engine, respectively, app recommendations within the Start Menu are a step too far.

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By John P.

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