How MICROSOFT's Aggressive Advertising Tactics Are Overshadowing User Experience

It’s arguable that, in the realm of digital space where user experience should be (some would say is) the final arbiter of attention, MICROSOFT is taking an approach that runs counter to the golden rule of shrewd enterprise. MICROSOFT has become a beacon of daily computing. It’s given us the tools and platforms we rely on, yet a transformation now underway in its ecosystem – perhaps best characterised by the recent release of Windows 11 – has sowed confusion and dismay among everyday users. Let’s take a closer look at the issue and question where the line between self-promotion and user delight should be drawn.

MICROSOFT's Advertising Crosses the Line

Now, in its Windows domain, where once you felt at home and knew your way about, stuff is sprouting up, things that tiptoe too close to your virtual borders – to the point where you have to wonder why MICROSOFT feels the need to keep pushing Edge and OneDrive so relentlessly.

The Start Menu: An Unexpected Billboard

That was once the Start Menu, your route to productivity and a space of utilitarian purity: a blank screen, free from all but the apps you chose to launch. In what can only be described as a bold and borderline impudent act, MICROSOFT has taken the Start Menu from a blank canvas of efficiency, and turned it into a billboard for ads and apps – including apps by MICROSOFT, in the form of a ‘Game Pass recommendation card’ for gamers. It might be optimising the user experience of one consumer, but to many others, it’s intruding on a space that should have remained utilitarian.

The Perils of Promoting Third-Party Apps

Inserting ads for third-party apps right into the guts of the operating system is a dangerous move, even if, on the surface, it seems like a benign way to help users find perhaps-useful apps. On the surface, it at least appears to be a choice, and users might fall into thinking that these are MICROSOFT-endorsed or vetted apps, in blatant violation of user security and trust.

When an OS Becomes a Billboard

That’s the nature of an operating system, which is supposed to provide a clean, well-performing, encouraging context for all computing work: ads, which are disruptive in that they aren’t clean, don’t perform, and aren’t encouraging, open the door to more of such interventions. If this is where MICROSOFT’s user interface is headed, it could become very unpleasant, very quickly. Ads would be less out of place on other platforms where users have every reason to expect that they’re not working for the software company. The operating system, however, should be a neutral space, designed for performance, usability, not advertising.

Sticking with Windows 10: A Temporary Reprieve?

People who are still running Windows 10 and don’t want to change operating systems have been given an ultimatum to upgrade to Windows 11 or get stuck with legacy software and slow-moving drivers for an OS that is approaching the end of its support lifecycle. But there is another consequence besides thinking about operating systems: pressure to upgrade puts our universe of websites under a magnifying glass, where every nuance is revealed. We are in a moment where increased pressure on users to upgrade will lead to greater frustration with the browsing environment overall. For individuals weighing the pros and cons, what that means is that staying on Windows 10 for as long as we can afford to, though not pleasant, seems like a better option for keeping lucrative future versions of Windows focused on user experience instead of ultimately boosting advertising revenue.

MICROSOFT's Balancing Act: A Call for Reevaluation

Of course, MICROSOFT is a company first and foremost, and it’s in its interests to be profitable and to grow. How it chooses to engage with its users through advertising will have a huge influence on what kind of reaction it gets from them. The backlash against these intrusive tactics should be a sign, to MICROSOFT and everyone else, that there’s a new way for businesses to think about how they interact with their customers. It’s got to be able to play nice with the user, to respect the user’s space, not to invade it and make itself obtrusive.


Anyone who uses technology has interacted with MICROSOFT’s software over the years. A powerhouse in computer software, the US tech company has created operating systems with Windows, office programmes with Office, and more recently forayed into cloud services with its Azure offering. With its ability to thoroughly pervade every aspect of our lives for better and worst, MICROSOFT continues to be at the philosophical crossroads of promoting its services and maintaining a user-friendly platform: a difficult balance to find, now as ever, without compromising on the core user experience that has powered its success.

MICROSOFT’s campaign for intrusive promotions embodies a point of reckoning between making advertising less intrusive … and making the user experience more intrusive for the sake of advertising. It remains to be seen whether this strategy heralds a future in which ads are an inevitable part of our operating systems or whether MICROSOFT will also hear Vance’s call to put the user experience first. Hopefully, we will find some path that preserves the sacredness of the digital space, preventing necessity from spoiling the experience into something nuisance.

Jun 03, 2024
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