Microsoft targets another corner of Windows 11 with – you guessed it – adverts, and we’re getting a bit fed up with this

Microsoft is testing adding a fresh batch of ads to the Windows 11 interface, this time in the Start menu.

Recent digging in preview builds had suggested this move was in the cards, and now those cards have been dealt to testers in the Windows 11 preview Beta channel with a new build (version 22635).

The ads are being placed in the ‘Recommended’ panel of the Start menu, and consist of highlighted apps from the Microsoft Store that you might want to try.

These promoted pieces of software appear with a brief description in the Recommended section, alongside the other content such as your commonly-used (already installed) apps.

As Microsoft makes clear in the blog post introducing the build, this is only rolling out in the Beta channel, and just in the US. Also, you can turn off the app promotions if you wish.

Testers who want to do so need to open the Settings app, head to Personalization > Start, and switch off the slider for ‘Show recommendations for tips, app promotions, and more.’

Analysis: Just trying stuff out…

As mentioned, this idea was already flagged up as hidden in test builds, but now it’s a reality – at least for a limited set of testers in the US. In fact, Microsoft clarifies that it is “beginning to roll this out to a small set of Insiders [testers]” so it sounds like the firm is really being tentative. On top of that, Microsoft writes: “We regularly try out new experiences and concepts that may never get released with Windows Insiders to get feedback.”

In other words – don’t panic – we’re just trying out this concept a little bit. It probably won’t ever happen – move along, there’s nothing to see here. Anyway, you get the idea: Microsoft is very aware it needs to tread carefully here, and rightly so.

Advertising like this, wrapped up as suggestions or recommendations, is becoming all too common a theme with Windows 11. Prompting of one kind or another has been floating around in the recent past, whether it’s to encourage folks to sign up for a Microsoft Account, or to use OneDrive as part of a backup strategy, or slipping ads into Outlook is another recent example. Or indeed recommendations for websites to visit, in much the same vein as these app recommendations in this Beta build.

In this case, the idea appears to be driving traffic towards the Microsoft Store – which Microsoft has been making a lot of efforts with lately to improve performance (and the store has come on leaps and bounds in that regard, to be fair).

We don’t want to sound like a broken record, but sadly, we’re going to, as we’re of the firm belief that you can monetize a free product with advertising – no one can argue with that – but when a product is already paid for, shoving in ads on top – particularly with an OS, where you’re cluttering the interface – is just not on.

Microsoft may argue that these recommendations could prove useful, especially if they’re targeted for the user – though there could be privacy issues therein if that’s the way this ends up working – but still, we don’t think it’s right to be inserting these bits of adverts into the UI, no doubt turned on by default. Yes, you can turn them off – thankfully – but you shouldn’t have to in a paid OS.

It’s up to testers to feed back on this one, and let Microsoft know how they feel.

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Windows 11 is forcing users to upgrade Mail app to new Outlook client which comes with a nasty addition – adverts

Windows 11 and Windows 10 users are being forced to upgrade to a new version of Microsoft’s built-in email app, with the Mail app becoming Outlook.

Windows Latest highlighted the situation whereby this happened to the tech site – and when we opened Mail, it was the same deal for us (albeit the upgrade process happened in a different way – we’ll come back to that shortly).

As Windows Latest explains, when opening the Mail app, they were informed by a pop-up that the Mail and Calendar apps are changing to be replaced by a new unified Outlook app. (We’ve previously been told about those old apps going out of support before 2024 comes to a close).

This new Outlook web app replaces both of those clients, and before they knew it, Windows Latest was looking at the new app rather than the old Mail client. The all-in-one replacement has a fair few changes from the Mail app, as we’ve explored before.

Now, this isn’t an irreversible change, though – not yet, because there is a slider top-left of the app window which says ‘New Outlook’ and if you switch it off, you’ll be sent back to the old Mail app.

That said, when doing this, Microsoft warns you that while you can switch back now, you will be returned to the new Outlook in the future. So that forced upgrade is coming soon, and it will be irreversible.

Analysis: Gloomy Outlook – cloudy with a chance of ads

We hadn’t opened the Mail app for some time, so upon reading Windows Latest’s tale, we tried it – and indeed we got a small message: “A newer version of Outlook is required to continue. Outlook will now check for updates.”

Our Mail client was then automatically upgraded to the new web Outlook, just as with Windows Latest. We weren’t treated to the fancier (graphical) pop-ups the tech site experienced though – we just got a simple text-based dialog box. (Possibly because the PC we were on is still running Windows 10)

So, it seems this is a wide rollout of the forced upgrade, albeit it as noted, a change that can be temporarily rescinded – although later this year, you will be transferred to the new Outlook email app, whether you want it, or not.

Why aren’t people keen on the new email client? Well, it’s a whole different layout, and change can take some getting used to, as always. Others seem to be complaining that it diverts important messages away from the main inbox (’Focused’ pane) too readily. However, the biggest stumbling block for many is that the new Outlook has adverts, apparently, although those with a Microsoft 365 subscription don’t see them (we have the latter, so weren’t bothered by adverts).

Certainly, adverts is a nasty sting in the tail, but you may just have to get used to them if you’re not an Office (sorry, Microsoft 365) subscriber. Microsoft’s constantly experimenting with using more ads or promotional tactics in Windows 11 (and 10) sadly, and increasingly it seems that’s something we’ll have to live with.

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Microsoft risks angering Windows 11 users by adding more adverts in Copilot AI

Microsoft is expanding the rollout of its Copilot AI to testers in the Beta channel for Windows 11 – but it comes with a sting in the tail.

Copilot has arrived with Beta build 22631.2129, but as with the preview incarnation of the AI in earlier builds, it’s in a limited form right now.

As Microsoft observes, this is more about getting the integrated UI for Copilot right – it runs in a sidebar, to the right – rather than testing all its features. We’re told that “additional functionality [is] coming down the road in future previews.”

Also, it should be noted that Copilot will be a “controlled feature rollout” meaning only a small amount of testers will get it initially. It’ll arrive for more folks in the “coming weeks”, so this is a rollout that could take some time.

(It’s also worth noting that not every Insider will get this build either – new testers, and a subset of existing testers, won’t get 22631 as it might cause their device to be put “into a bad state”, which sounds ominous).

If you’re not seeing Copilot and you’re in the Beta channel, then, this isn’t unexpected – but you should make sure you’re running Microsoft Edge version 115.0.1901.150 or better. (As the AI is powered via Edge, you definitely won’t get it on an older version of the browser).

For those who do receive Copilot, here comes that sting we mentioned at the outset. Microsoft tells us: “You may see inline recommendations we think are relevant through ads in Bing. We’ll continue to learn and listen to customer feedback.”

Yes, there we have it – adverts are going to be displayed in Copilot (we’ll come back to discuss that more thoroughly in a moment).

Elsewhere in build 22631, there’s a raft of tweaks and improvements, including some fresh work on bolstering accessibility. That comes in the form of the ability to now use Voice Access on the lock screen, plus there are new text editing controls when using speech dictation. (In order to help correct words that are misheard, or mistyped, as it were, by the voice recognition system – like putting ‘cereal’ when you meant ‘serial’ for example).

Check out Microsoft’s blog post for the full list of changes.

Windows 11 Copilot in Beta channel

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Analysis: So, ads in Copilot – testers, make your feelings known…

Windows Copilot making it to a beta build already is a pretty big thing, actually. This relatively swift progress through test builds suggests that Microsoft is serious about getting the AI integrated into Windows 11 this year. Rumors have indicated that Copilot could land with the 23H2 update, and this makes it look like that’s more likely to happen – even though we’ve said in the past we don’t think it will.

We’re still very unsure if it’s wise for Microsoft to push this hard getting Copilot out so quickly, though. The AI remains pretty barebones, and as Microsoft makes clear, it only has a “basic set” of Windows settings you can manipulate. (Turning on dark mode, or do not disturb, or ordering Copilot to take a screenshot are a few examples of Windows 11 functionality given in the blog post).

It's mostly still about the Bing AI summarizing things, or composing a picture, or writing text for you, and so forth – all the stuff that can be done already using the Bing chatbot on the web.

Over time, more features will be added, of course – and third-party plug-ins will expand Copilot’s functionality considerably – but all that seems quite a way down the line.

With Windows 11’s 23H2 update potentially arriving in October, that’s really very close now, so we don’t really get what Microsoft is planning here. It feels like the full launch of Copilot will be a basic incarnation of the AI, if it happens, and that runs the risk of underwhelming with first impressions. Oh well, we shall find out soon enough.

As for Copilot serving up adverts, this is something that Microsoft has said in the past, but the software giant appears to be pushing ahead with this frankly reckless idea. That’s not too surprising, though, as we are seeing more efforts to cram ads into Windows 11 – disguised as recommendations – lately. But obviously, it’s still a very unwelcome move in an operating system Microsoft charges you for.

We’d expect feedback to be pretty withering on this, particularly if, as it sounds, these will be more out-and-out adverts than what we’ve already seen in Windows 11 (like badging in the Start menu). And so hopefully Microsoft will have to take that into account, and curtail these ambitions. Hopefully being the keyword there…

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Chatbot or adbot? Microsoft could bring adverts to ChatGPT-powered Bing AI

Don’t look now, but Microsoft is exploring the idea of pushing adverts with its Bing AI chatbot.

The ChatGPT-powered AI hasn’t been around for long, but has already achieved a measure of success driving more traffic to the Bing search engine, which is one of Microsoft’s main aims with the chatbot, naturally.

However, another target Microsoft is now sighting up is the addition of advertising to monetize the chatbot in a more concrete way, as evidenced by a freshly written post on the Bing blog site.

The content makes for worrying reading – though it’s a predictable avenue for Microsoft to assess, and we should note that this is very much early days still. The blog post talks about “exploring” the use of ads and that it’s mulling over “some early ideas,” so we shouldn’t get too carried away at this point.

The ideas Microsoft is toying with include making it so that if the user hovers over a link, it’ll pop up a panel containing further links to a publisher’s content. And also placing a “rich caption of Microsoft Start licensed content” next to a chat answer, meaning driving traffic to these Microsoft Start partners (and sharing ad revenue with that partner).

Microsoft further states: “We’re also exploring placing ads in the chat experience to share the ad revenue with partners whose content contributed to the chat response.”

Analysis: A case of greed before need?

Oh dear, oh dear. And another oh dear for good measure. Microsoft seems to be losing sight of the purpose of its ChatGPT-fueled AI here. It’s supposed to be a useful tool, a smart addition to Bing to let people search in a new way, and do a whole lot more to help them besides, with a bunch of other tricks up its sleeve (from knocking up artwork or poetry, to providing swift aid to gamers, kind of).

So, Bing AI is all about helping folks, right? Well, nobody believes Microsoft is doing this out of the goodness of its own heart. Of course there’s an agenda, and that’s to push Bing search to compete better with the highly dominant Google. Fair enough: Bing needs some kind of secret weapon, you can’t argue with that, and finally, it looks like the AI chatbot might be the answer.

Google is even worried, having rushed its rival AI, Bard, onto the stage, fumbling its lines in the process (and not getting nearly the same amount of attention as Bing AI, which is already well underway with updates being applied regularly by Microsoft).

But a measure of early success appears to have left Microsoft with dollar signs flashing before its eyes, perhaps blinding it to Bing’s original purpose. So now, we have Microsoft thinking about getting greedy (there’s evidence of this with the company’s attitude elsewhere regarding the AI, too). Bing traffic isn’t enough in the way of monetization, perhaps, so why not do adverts, too?

We’ll tell you why not – because people are tired of you trying to jam adverts into everything, Microsoft. Like your online services, or the Windows 11 interface, over and over, with the latest example coming earlier this week in the form of (veiled) ads for the Start menu. And now the Bing chatbot?

We’re not surprised, really, but we are getting fed up with the condition Microsoft seems to suffer from, the main symptom of which is a sickening and relentless compulsion to cram in adverts with its products and services. Let’s call it ‘ad nauseum’, and let’s further hope a cure can be found.

Via Neowin

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