Is this the worst idea Microsoft has ever had for Windows 11? Ad-related taskbar button concept makes us really nervous

Windows 11 could conceivably get what surely everyone would regard as an unwelcome addition, or at least a very controversial change in terms of a potential new button for the taskbar that’s been uncovered in the innards of the desktop OS.

Apparently, Microsoft might just be mulling a ‘recommended’ button for the taskbar, and the theory is that it could surface various suggestions and thinly veiled adverts.

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The workings for such a button were discovered by well-known Microsoft leaker Albacore on X (formerly Twitter).

As Albacore makes clear, the button has had all its related strings (in the background) stripped from production builds, as if Microsoft’s team working on the interface wants to keep this as low-profile on the radar as possible.

As the leaker points out, the worry is that Microsoft is really thinking about making ‘suggestions,’ or nudges, recommendations, or whatever you want to call them, an integral part of the desktop, with a whole dedicated button on the taskbar.

Albacore notes that the description of the button is that it ‘controls visibility of recommendations on the taskbar’ and it’s filed under the term ‘taskbar sites,’ so the leaker theorizes that perhaps we could get website suggestions right on the taskbar, with the button’s icon changing to be the favicon of any given recommended site.

We’d further guess that maybe the idea would be to make these context-sensitive, so suggestions given would depend on what you’re doing in Windows 11 at the time – but that really is just guesswork.

Person using a Windows 11 laptop looking annoyed

(Image credit: Marjan Apostolovic / Shutterstock)

Analysis: Paying twice for Windows 11 isn’t fair

As Albacore observes, we can hope that this might just be a piece of work from times gone past which has been abandoned, but references to it are still hanging around in the background of Windows 11. It’s entirely possible nothing will come of this, in short, and even if Microsoft is currently exploring the idea, it might ditch the button before it even comes to testing.

Granted, even if a recommended taskbar button is realized, we’d assume that Windows 11 will come with the option to turn it off – but it’s still a worrying hint about the direction Microsoft is at least considering here with a future update. A dedicated button like this would be a huge move in the direction of what might be termed soft advertising (or nudging).

Sadly, a further recent development as highlighted by another leaker on X, PhantomOfEarth, is that the ‘Recommended’ section in Windows 11’s Start menu could be getting something called promoted apps.

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These would be apps Microsoft is actively promoting – there’s no bones about the advertising here, this isn’t badging or nudging – and again, it’s a dangerous move that very much runs the risk of annoying Windows 11 users. (Albeit it can be switched off – and remember, this is only in testing so far).

Given all this, we very much get the feeling that advertising-focused recommendations along these lines is something Microsoft is seriously considering doing more of. And given the past history of the software giant, that’s not surprising.

If you recall, recommended websites in the Start menu has long been a controversial topic – Microsoft previously toyed with the idea, abandoned it, but then brought it back in again last year to the disbelief of many folks (ourselves included).

Microsoft has been ushering in various other veiled ads for its own services, too, such as so-called ‘notification badging’ prompting you to sign up for a Microsoft Account (or finish configuring it) on the Start menu, for example (which rolled out with Moment 3 last year). Another example is prodding folks to use OneDrive for backing up their files, or the new Outlook app with ads for many users.

As we’ve discussed in-depth elsewhere, the pushy advertising around Microsoft’s Edge browser and Bing search has been taken to new and unacceptable levels in recent times.

How about we abandon this line of thinking entirely, Microsoft? Just stop with the incessant promotion of your own services, or indeed possibly third-party services or websites, within Windows 11. This is an operating system we, the users, pay for – so we shouldn’t have to suffer adverts in various parts of the Windows interface.

Either make Windows completely free and ad-supported, or charge for it, with no ads, suggestions, nudges, or other promotional tomfoolery to be seen anywhere in the OS. Or give us a choice of either route – but don’t make us pay twice for Windows 11, once with an initial lump sum fee to buy the OS, and then again with further ongoing monetization by way of a constant drip-feed of ads here, there and everywhere.

Via Neowin

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Microsoft Edge may introduce a new AI-generated writing feature – and that makes me nervous

Microsoft Edge could drastically change the way we interact with written content on the web with a new AI writing feature that copies existing content and regurgitates the information in a more ‘personal’ tone at the click of a button. 

According to Windows Latest, the GPT-4-powered feature allows users to select text on a webpage and have it rewritten in a tone and length of their choice. Microsoft Edge’s AI offers customizable tones like professional, casual, enthusiastic and informational, as well as format options that include a simple paragraph, email or blog post layout. 

The feature is integrated into the browser itself, allowing more users to access it much quicker. This is helpful if you want to generate ideas or make a quick change to the tone. 

So far Microsoft has been testing the feature with a small group of users in the Canary version of Chromium Edge, so we’ll have to wait and see if the feature ends up making its way officially to Microsoft Edge. 

It’s not all bad is it? 

I don’t mean to harp on about the doom and gloom aspect of a feature like this, but we do have to think about the negatives of AI before the positives because once the technology is out there, it can’t be taken back.

Microsoft Edge’s AI could allow more people to break into blog writing who may feel a little nervous about getting their work out there without any mistakes in the copy. It would be useful while you’re researching and looking for a springboard for ideas and would help write boring but important emails without too much effort. 

However, because the tool is web-integrated and uses text on the web, it’ll become virtually impossible to detect whether or not a person's blog email or pitch has been plagiarized and AI-generated. Anyone could feed the tool a site’s copy, alter it slightly super quickly and pass it off as their own without any of the skill or hard work that goes into actually writing their own work. 

Microsoft’s efforts to cram artificial intelligence into its own products as quickly as possible, particularly after the success of Bing AI could have some unforeseen repercussions if it’s not careful. We can only hope that if Edge AI writer does make its debut, it proves me wrong and stays a writing tool, not a crutch.

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