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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Microsoft continues to shove Copilot down our throats, this time on our tablets

If you’re a Windows user, you’ve probably been embracing (or running away from) Microsoft Copilot being integrated into your operating system. The AI-powered tool has been added to Microsoft Edge, Microsoft 365, and the Windows 11 taskbar. Now, it seems like the AI companion is making its debut on Windows tablets – in the most annoying way possible. 

Zac Bowden from Windows Central discovered that swiping from the right on your tablet now opens Copilot instead of your notification center – disrupting a core gesture that users have grown accustomed to. Bowden posted a video on Twitter (sorry, X)  showing this change in action, swiping to open notifications and instead being greeted by an unwelcome Copilot. 

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Bowden also adds that the notification panel has apparently simply disappeared. You would think that if Copilot had been moved to the right, the notification panel would have been relocated, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Now, it seems that if you miss a notification it’s simply gone with the wind – you have nowhere to catch up on anything you miss. 

Give it back! 

Almost all modern devices have some kind of notification center that’s easily accessible. iPhone and Android mobiles have the swipe down from the top gesture, which is also translated to larger touchscreen devices like iPads or Galaxy tablets. Even your Windows PC has a notification center on the right side of your taskbar. So, it’s incredibly peculiar for Windows tablets to have that crucial feature removed. 

If you’re worried about your tablet being affected, don’t panic – so far this change has only been implemented on tablets that are running on the latest Windows 11 version (24H2). It was first spotted in Microsoft Windows Insider Dev and Canary channel and now seems to have broken out to a wider array of devices – so if you want to avoid this, just hold off on updating to version 24H2 for now.

Hopefully, this is a temporary change that’ll be reversed soon. While Microsoft’s Copilot is an objectively impressive tool, there’s no doubt that not everyone will be happy to have these changes shoved in their faces like this. Especially if you’re not a big fan of AI chatbots in the first place – I’d be pretty upset if I lost access to my notifications for something I’d never use.

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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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This new app brings Netflix and Prime Video in 4K with Dolby Atmos to Apple’s Vision Pro

One of the most popular uses for Apple's Vision Pro headset is to enjoy movies and TV shows on its enormous virtual screen, but not all streamers are on board. Netflix in particular caused some disappointment when it said it had no plans to make a native Vision Pro app for its service. 

Not to worry. Independent developer Christian Privitelli has stepped in to deliver what some streamers won't. His app, Supercut, lets you stream Netflix and Prime Video, and is designed specifically for Apple's virtual viewer.

The app works much like Apple's own TV Plus app, but instead of Apple content it offers Netflix and Prime Video without the letterboxing you get when viewing shows and movies from the headset's web browser. It's not packed with gimmicks and doesn't have the pleasant virtual theater of the Disney Plus app, but it's cheap and effective, and that's good enough for me.

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What Redditors are saying about Supercut for Vision Pro

If you want to know the ups and downs of any AV app, Reddit's always a good place to look – and the reaction to Supercut in r/visionpro has been positive, no doubt partly because Privitelli, the developer, has been cheerfully chatting with the other redditors in the subreddit and talking about what the app can do, can't do and what he hopes to do next. Future versions are likely to include some virtual viewing environments too.

At just $ 4.99 for the app – roughly 1/700th of the cost of your Vision Pro – it's extremely affordable, and that means you'll happily forgive its shortcomings – such as the fairly basic Prime Video implementation. It delivers 4K, Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision if your Netflix subscription includes them, and it supports multiple profiles for easy account switching. It'll also tell you what resolution you're getting and whether Dolby Atmos or Dolby Vision are happening.

Supercut is available now in the App Store. 

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Microsoft confirms when WordPad will be tossed on the scrapheap – later this year with Windows 11 24H2

It’s now official that when Windows 11’s big 24H2 update rolls around later this year, we’ll be saying farewell to WordPad.

This is no surprise, as we had already heard the death knell for the venerable default app, with Microsoft announcing WordPad was deprecated back in September 2023, and then it disappeared from preview builds of Windows 11 in January 2024. Back at the time, we were told future releases of Windows 11 would not include WordPad.

As Windows Latest spotted, we now have fresh info from Microsoft which represents concrete confirmation that the 24H2 update will be when WordPad is ditched from its desktop OS.

Microsoft tells us: “WordPad will be removed from all editions of Windows starting in Windows 11, version 24H2 and Windows Server 2025.”

Windows Latest checked current preview builds of Windows 11 24H2, searching for WordPad in the Start menu, and its related files in various folders, finding that it has all been stripped out.


Analysis: WordPad down, Notepad on the up

In the past, Microsoft has made it clear that you won’t be able to somehow reinstall WordPad (and that the app won’t be present in new installations of Windows 11). So, you’re not going to be able to avoid losing WordPad when the 24H2 update rolls out to Windows 11 users, which should be around September 2024 (or maybe a bit later). As ever it’ll be a phased rollout so you might not get 24H2 straight away, anyway.

There is one obvious way to keep WordPad, mind you, and that’s not to take the 24H2 update when it’s released. You can stick on 23H2 at least for the length of time it’s supported, which will be until November 2025. After that (or even just before), Microsoft will start force upgrading PCs away from 23H2 (as without support and security updates, users are at risk from unpatched exploits).

Of course, by not getting the 24H2 update you’ll be missing out on a whole bunch of new features – so WordPad better be worth a lot to you. Windows 11 24H2 promises to be a major update, not just bringing in new functionality, but also changing the underpinnings of the OS with a new platform – Germanium, which ushers in performance and security benefits under the hood.

Furthermore, Notepad will remain in Windows 11, and Microsoft’s attitude to this is very different in that it’s still actively developing this lightweight text editing app. Notepad has been fleshed out beyond its traditional simplicity to add features such as spellcheck and autocorrect (plus an AI addition could be inbound in the form of Cowriter, even).

Perhaps all of this is happening exactly because WordPad is being dispensed with, so Notepad can be more readily tapped as a mini-Word alternative, as it were.

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Apple confirms the Vision Pro will get international launch this year

The Apple Vision Pro VR headset has wowed many of those who have given it a whirl, but one major issue keeping the device out of people’s hands is availability – if you live outside the US and want to buy one, you’re out of luck. That’s set to change, though, with Tim Cook confirming that the headset will launch in at least one other country this year: China.

Apple has previously hinted at a wider Apple Vision Pro release coming in 2024, and while speaking at the China Development Forum in Beijing over the weekend Tim Cook specifically mentioned China as one of the lucky countries that's set to get the headset before the end of the year.

Beyond confirming that a China release is on the cards, Cook didn’t reveal a specific release date or pricing: however, a Vision Pro release outside the US before June 2024 was hinted at by analysts earlier this year, and it's unlikely that China will be the only country where it's released. 

Is a worldwide Vision Pro release coming soon?

China, Japan, Canada, Australia, and the UK, among a few others, are regions where Apple is looking to hire a 'Briefing Experience Specialist' for the Vision Pro. When the job postings were spotted it was believed they hinted at where the wider Vision Pro release would begin, and Cook’s China confirmation suggests that this may indeed be the case.

As such, we wouldn’t be surprised if the UK and Australia (and the rest) saw an Apple Vision Pro release around the same time as China. As mentioned above, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has previously suggested Apple is likely to launch the Vision Pro outside of the US before WWDC – which is due in June – so we might only be a month or two away from seeing the Vision Pro in more people’s hands. 

If you're interested in picking up the Apple headset, we'd suggest first reading our Apple Vision Pro review to help you decide if the $ 3,500 device (around £2,800 / AU$ 5,350) is worth it for you.

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Google Drive is finally getting a dark mode – and this makes me happy

It looks like Google Drive could finally get a dark mode option for its web version, meaning perusing documents could become a lot easier on the eye for people who like their web pages muted rather than a searing while. 

This information comes courtesy of 9to5Google, which reports that one of its Google accounts received an update that prompts users to try out a “New Dark mode” so that they can “enjoy Drive in the dark”. The option to trigger this dark mode is reportedly under the ‘Appearance’ option in the Settings menu of Drive, but I’ve not seen this in either my personal Drive or my workspace Drive. 

However, from the images 9to5Google provided, it looks like the dark mode in Drive is rolling out bit by bit, and will be a fairly straightforward integration of the mode that one can find in Android, Chrome and other Google apps. No icons are changed in terms of design or color, rather the background switches from white to black, with text flipping to white – all fairly standard. 

There’s some difference in shading between the inner portion of Drive, where one will find documents and files, compared to the sidebar and search bar; the former is black, while the latter is slightly grey in tone. 

Is this a huge deal? Not really, but for people who work late into the evening, the ability to switch from light mode to dark can be a blessing on tired eyes. And having a dark mode can offer a more pleasant experience for some people in general, regardless of the time of the day. 

I’m definitely up for more dark mode options in Google services and beyond. Where once I thought dark mode was overhyped, I started using it on some of the best Android phones and my iPhone 15 Pro Max and haven't really looked back – it makes scrolling through various apps in bed more comfortable, though common sense would say you’re better of putting your phone down when in bed and picking up a book instead. 

My hope is that by bringing dark mode Drive, Google will better integrate dark options into more of its apps and services, especially in Gmail, which has a dark mode but won’t apply it to actual emails when using the web versions, which is jarring. So fingers crossed for a more ubiquitous dark mode from Google.

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Here’s more proof Apple is going big with AI this year

The fact that Apple is going to debut a new generative artificial intelligence (AI) tool in iOS 18 this year is probably one of the worst-kept secrets in tech at the moment. Now, another morsel has leaked out surrounding Apple’s future AI plans, and it could shed light on what sort of AI features Apple fans might soon get to experience.

As first reported by Bloomberg, earlier this year Apple bought Canadian startup DarwinAI, with dozens of the company’s workers joining Apple once the deal was completed. It’s thought that Apple made this move in an attempt to bolster its AI capabilities in the last few months before iOS 18 will be revealed, which is expected to happen at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June.

Bloomberg’s report says that DarwinAI “has developed AI technology for visually inspecting components during the manufacturing process.” One of its “core technologies,” however, is making AI faster and more efficient, and that could be the reason Apple chose to open its wallet. Apple intends its AI to run entirely on-device, presumably to protect your privacy by not sharing AI inputs with the cloud, and this would benefit from DarwinAI’s tech. After all, Apple won’t want its flagship AI features to result in sluggish iPhone performance.

Apple’s AI plans

Siri

(Image credit: Unsplash [Omid Armin])

This is apparently just the latest move Apple has made in the AI arena. Thanks to a series of leaks and statements from Apple CEO Tim Cook, the company is known to be making serious efforts to challenge AI market leaders like OpenAI and Microsoft.

For instance, it’s been widely reported that Apple will soon unveil its own generative AI tool, which has been dubbed Ajax and AppleGPT during its development process. This could give a major boost to Apple’s Siri assistant, which has long lagged behind competitors such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. As well as that, we could see generative AI tools debut in apps like Pages and Apple Music, rivaling products like Microsoft’s Copilot and Spotify’s AI DJ.

Tim Cook has dropped several hints regarding Apple’s plans, saying customers can expect to see a host of AI features “later this year.” The Apple chief has called AI a “huge opportunity” for his company and has said that Apple intends to “break new ground” in this area. When it comes to specifics, though, Cook has been far less forthcoming, presumably preferring to reveal all at WWDC.

It’s unknown whether Apple will have time to properly integrate DarwinAI’s tools into iOS 18 before it is announced to the world, but it seems certain it will make use of them over the coming months and years. It could be just one more piece of the AI puzzle that Apple is attempting to solve.

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This N64-powered VR setup is the complete opposite of an Apple Vison Pro

Most tech creators are on a never-ending upgrade quest – always after higher frame rates, pixel counts and processing speeds, in a lighter, sleeker form factor – but a select few instead choose to look backwards. And that’s how we got a Nintendo 64-powered Oculus Rift setup that's pretty much the antithesis of the Apple Vision Pro

It's the latest project from James Lambert – previously known for the Portal 64 demake that aimed to bring the classic Valve game to Nintendo’s 1996 console – and in a video shared to his YouTube channel he detailed exactly how he managed to create this unlikely VR pairing.

The first step was picking the right VR headset. Lambert opted for the Oculus Rift DK1 because its tracking is “relatively simple” – there are only a few sensors in the headset – and they can all pass data through USB – which works great with Lambert's custom-built N64 USB adapter.

He was then able to easily output video from his modded N64 to the headset via an HDMI cable running between their HDMI ports. And while the DK1 has a very low 640 x 800 pixel resolution per eye, Lambert jokes that it’s “not the bottleneck here” while gesturing with the N64.

Another unavoidable issue is that while the Oculus Rift can read sensor data at a rate of about 1,000 samples per second, the N64 setup Lambert used can only read data at a rate of about 60 samples per second. But after calibrating everything as best as he could, Lambert was able to send semi-accurate tracking data from the headset to the aging console. 

Lambert goes into much more detail about how he got the setup to work despite these technical limitations in his 10-minute video, and it’s well worth a watch – but the TL;DR is that while the Rift can indeed run on an N64, the end result isn’t a VR experience you’d actually want to try for very long.

A technical feat we don't want to experience

The phenomenally low resolution – just 320 x 480 pixels per eye – gives the world a very pixelated look. This coupled with the input lag when turning your head and low frame rate makes the whole thing “pretty motion-sickness inducing” according to Lambert.

Another disappointment was that he was unable to complete the Nintendo experience by getting the Power Glove to function with the Rift-N64 setup – having previously managed to get the wearable NES controller to work on the N64 in a previous video. Lambert does seem keen to keep tinkering with his N64 VR setup, though so perhaps that's an upgrade we’ll see in a version 2.0.

As with other modded hardware projects, you unfortunately can’t go out and buy an N64 VR setup for yourself – unless you’re willing to put in a lot of time recreating Lambert’s mods. But even projects as eccentric as this are a technical marvel, and we’re excited to see what odd hardware will power a VR setup next – following in the footsteps of Doom, maybe we’ll see a lawnmower power a Valve Index, or another console will enter the mix with a PSP running a PlayStation VR headset.

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This upcoming feature on Google Keep may finally sway me away from Apple Notes for good

Google Keep is a popular task management and note-taking tool integrated with Google Suite so you can create and tick off to-do lists as you work on your computer or phone. The mobile version of Google Keep could be about to get a new feature that may tempt people away from their other note-taking apps – lock screen access to your notes.

According to 9to5Google, the team behind Google Keep has been pushing to become the default note-taking app on Android devices. In the same way, Apple Notes is the default note-taking app on every iPhone, iPad, and Mac. If Google Keep does become the de facto note-taking app of choice on Android devices, this opens the door to the app having more features that can be integrated more intimately into your phone. 

Alongside lock screen access to recent notes, we could also see improved stylus support so you can jot down your thoughts quickly and do fun doodles with a bit more control of your strokes. In version 5.24 of the app, there’s a new section of the settings menu that lists the lock screen access as ‘coming soon’, which gives me hope that we’ll see the feature sooner rather than later. 

I have no memory, I need lock screen access, please

As an extremely forgetful person who needs to make lists for everything, I am so excited about the possibility of being able to look at my lock screen and see all my important to-dos at a glance, especially if the feature becomes available to non-Android users too. 

You can have shopping lists, reminders, positive affirmations, and reflections all on your lock screen and tick them off as you go through them without even needing to unlock your phone. I currently use Google Keep on my work computer exclusively to tick things off as I go through the day. If I can have my professional to-do list not just on a mobile app but very visible on my lock screen, I can keep tabs on what needs to be done while on my commute to work, and jot down tasks to carry over to the next day on the way back home. 

Apple Notes has been my default note-taking app mostly because I’m an iPhone user, and while it has had a few improvements here and there (like adding grids, text formatting options, and being able to drop in photos into the app) it’s ultimately nothing special in the world of note-taking apps. If Google Keep can implement lock screen access outside of just Android phones, you’d better believe I’m shifting all my shopping list reminders over immediately and saying goodbye to Apple Notes for good. 

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