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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I’d love it if Apple dropped the Vision Pro’s worst feature to make a cheaper version – it’s a win-win

Well, the Apple Vision Pro isn’t even available yet, and Apple is already looking to the future (well, the further future) to consider how to make the follow-up model even better. Or, in this case, even cheaper: according to a new report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple wants its second headset to cost less.

We already knew Apple was likely considering a cheaper Vision Pro model, and this latest news gives credence to those rumors. It seems like the first-generation Vision Pro is having some teething issues too, most notably the weight – the same Gurman report discusses Apple’s efforts to reduce the weight of a second-generation headset. But there’s a far better nugget of information we should be focusing on…

Apple might get rid of that horrible external display! Yes, the EyeSight feature that I heavily criticized when the headset was first revealed might be cut from future Vision models in order to save on costs. It makes a lot of sense; adding an external screen to show the user’s eyes is a ridiculous feature that no doubt costs a lot of money, adding extra (entirely unneeded) OLED display tech to every single headset. The screen even has lenticular glass to create an illusion of depth.

The feature isn’t even that helpful; it projects the eyes of your uncanny-valley FaceTime avatar onto the exterior screen when you’re looking through the headset’s external cameras, or displays an opaque color when you’re immersed in something that blocks out your surroundings. In other words, it tells other people if a Vision Pro user can see them or not – something that could’ve probably been achieved with a single LED.

Get ready for the Apple Vision… something

Apple is reportedly targeting a $ 1,500-$ 2,000 price range for its more affordable Vision headset, which sounds a lot more accessible than the current $ 3,499 price tag. Given that some other popular VR headsets – like the new Meta Quest 3 – are a lot cheaper, many potential users are likely to give the first-gen Vision Pro a pass.

A cheaper model was likely always going to happen given the name Apple chose for its headset – Vision Pro implies the (future) existence of a standard Apple Vision headset, in keeping with Apple’s naming conventions for its other products. Just look at the iPhone 15 Pro and the MacBook Pro – hey, maybe the cheaper headset will be called the Apple Vision Air?

Apple is also reportedly developing a second high-end version of the headset (a Vision Pro Max, perhaps?), and it’s enough to make me wonder if the first-gen model will even be worth buying at all. The Vision Pro represents Apple’s first step into an entirely new market, and it wouldn’t even surprise me if it gets hit with delays – after all, it’s suspected that issues with chip manufacturer TSMC could delay M3 MacBook Air models until the middle of next year, and the Vision Pro features not just the M2 chip but also a new dedicated R1 chip for mixed-reality workloads.

In any case, I’ll be happy to see a less expensive headset from Apple. I still remember the noise the crowd made at WWDC 2023 when the price was unveiled… and let’s face it, EyeSight is a feature nobody really needs.

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Microsoft’s ad plan for Windows 11 is its worst idea since Windows 8 – but all is not lost

Microsoft’s leaked plans to add even more ads into the Windows 11 Start menu has not gone down well, and the less-than-positive reaction could hopefully make the company think twice about implementing the change.

As we reported on March 29, Microsoft has added 'notifications for Microsoft accounts' into a new option update for Windows 11. Despite its rather coy-sounding name, many people saw this as meaning more adverts for Microsoft’s services, such as OneDrive.

However, as Neowin reports, a hidden setting has been spotted in Windows 11 build 23419 that allows you to turn off those adverts. This build of Windows 11 is only currently available to people who are signed up to the Windows Insiders programme to help test early versions of Windows 11, but it could hint that Microsoft is considering adding the option to an upcoming version of Windows 11 for everyone.

Good news and bad

The discovery of this setting could be seen as good news. It means that Microsoft may have anticipated that its move to add more adverts to the Windows 11 Start menu wouldn’t be popular, and decided that adding the option to turn ads off could address some people’s concerns.

Somewhere in the bowls of Microsoft, then, there may be a voice, no matter how faint, that’s saying “maybe we shouldn’t keep trying to push our services so aggressively onto our users.” That gives me hope that not all is lost.

However, it’s not all good news. For a start, when I say this option to turn off adverts is hidden – I mean really hidden. Not only is it supposed to be buried deep in the menus (you have to go to Settings > Personalization > Start), but it won’t even appear unless you use a third-party app called ‘ViveTool’ to make it appear.

Messing around with this app, and using the powerful Windows PowerShell application to make the option appear, isn’t recommended (visit Neowin’s page above for instructions if you are keen), and forcing this hidden option to appear and disable adverts could have unanticipated consequences.

Even if Microsoft doesn’t hide it so completely, it’s pretty obvious that Microsoft wants to have the adverts turned on by default, and hopes that many users won’t know how to turn them off.

We’ll keep an eye on how this develops, but if Microsoft keeps filling Windows 11 with adverts for services its users don’t want, we could soon see an even more vocal pushback against its plans.

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A clever new browser extension eliminates one of the worst problems with the web

A team of academics has developed a new web browser extension that rejects cookie consent pop-ups automatically.

Developed by researchers from Google and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the CookieEnforcer extension navigates through the labyrinth of menus that conceal the option to reject non-essential cookies on the user’s behalf.

As explained in a paper published earlier this month, the extension analyzes the rendering pattern of HTML elements to identify cookie notices, before mapping out the necessary sequence of clicks. An evaluation of its accuracy found the extension to be effective in 91% of cases.

The implementation of third-party cookies, which are used to track people across the web to inform targeted advertising efforts, has long been the subject of fierce debate.

On one side, there are companies like Google, which argue that tracking technologies prop up business models that guarantee universal access to web services and content. But on the other side are those that believe our privacy is too great a price to pay, and that there are ways to replumb the economic engine of the web.

In an effort to increase the level of transparency around data collection practices, regulations like GDPR were implemented across the world, requiring websites to request explicit consent from the user. But whether these rules resulted in a net gain from a privacy perspective is unclear.

“Cookie notices inform users about the type of cookies the website maintains, their purpose and, in many cases, the options to control them. However, in their current forms, cookie notices suffer from usability issues,” the researchers explain.

“Prior work has shown that these notices use dark patterns to manipulate users into making website-friendly choices which put users’ privacy at risk.”

Earlier this year, both Facebook and Google were slapped with multi-million-euro fines by the French data protection regulator over precisely this practice, which makes the latter’s participation in the development of CookieEnforcer deliciously ironic.

In lieu of new regulation that shields against manipulative behavior of this sort, or bans the use of cookies outright, CookieEnforcer eliminates the friction associated with locating the option to reject third-party cookies.

Unfortunately, the extension is not yet publicly available. The research team says it is preparing a general release, but has not yet offered a specific timeline.

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Windows 11 is testing ads in the worst place possible

Windows 11 is now showing adverts in File Explorer, which is an alarming development – though it’s nothing we haven’t seen before (more on that later) – albeit this is still in limited testing currently.

Bleeping Computer reported on the presence of an advert in the most recent preview build of Windows 11, as spotted by Microsoft MVP Florian and posted on Twitter.

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As you can see in the tweet, the advert for the company’s own product – Microsoft Editor – appears as a strip along the top of an open folder window, just above where the contents of the folder are displayed.

The promotional snippet reads: “Write with confidence across documents, email, and the web with advanced writing suggestions from Microsoft Editor.” There’s also a button you can click to ‘Learn More’ about Editor, an AI-driven service that aims to brush up your writing style, grammar and spelling.

Note that these ads are just in testing, and Bleeping Computer could not find any adverts in File Explorer when it went hunting for them, indicating that Microsoft has likely rolled this out to a very limited amount of Windows 11 testers to begin with. It’s not surprising to see a tentative approach with this one, of course.

Analysis: Are we really looking down this road again?

Many folks are unhappy to see this, which again is unsurprising, but we should make it clear upfront that as noted, this is just in limited testing right now. The caution around this is something of a positive sign, at least, and going by the negative feedback which is already airing on Twitter (and elsewhere), Microsoft may well give this ‘feature’ the chop before it makes the release version of Windows 11.

Let’s hope so, because those of you with longer memories may recall that Microsoft has been down this road before, and it didn’t stick with File Explorer ads in that case. This was back in early 2017 when we witnessed ads for OneDrive pop up in Windows 10 with the same positioning in folders, although in that case, the adverts were even larger and more annoying.

While this is just a thin strip of an ad this time around, it’s still an unwelcome intrusion mainly because File Explorer is such a central element of the Windows interface. These are the very folders you’re working with on a daily basis (no doubt) on your desktop, and real estate is valuable in this window, so the last thing you want is an advert intruding on the fundamental experience of opening or copying files within Windows 11.

For us, this is about the worst way to deploy adverts in Windows – the most intrusive way to clutter up interface space with promotional activity. Not that anywhere is a particularly good place, of course, and really an operating system should be free of ads full-stop.

With the repeated attempts at this venture, it’s clear this is something Microsoft would like to get away with, but hopefully, the software giant will get the message which is being sent pretty loud and clear online right now, and abandon the idea of File Explorer adverts (again). We suspect Microsoft well knows the truth of what the broad reaction will be anyway, but then we do wonder why it’s even dipping a toe in these waters again, given that.

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Microsoft Teams will soon push one of the worst Windows 11 features down your throat

Although Cortana may be dead on mobile, Microsoft's digital assistant is alive and well on Windows 11 and will soon be making an appearance in Microsoft Teams.

While Cortana was first introduced in 2001's Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox, the smart artificial intelligence construct eventually came to Windows Phone and Windows 10 PCs in 2014 as a digital assistant. 

Just like with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Apple's Siri, Microsoft created Cortana to help Windows users set reminders, search the web and more.

Now though, according to a series of new posts on the Microsoft 365 Roadmap, the software giant is bringing Cortana to Microsoft Teams Rooms. With Microsoft Teams Rooms, businesses can configure a meeting room with a number of devices including displays, webcams and microphones so that an organization can use video conferencing software together as a group as opposed to having to use their own laptops.

Cortana is coming to Microsoft Teams Rooms

In the first update to the Microsoft 365 Roadmap, Microsoft explained that “Cortana voice activation will be enabled by default on newly imaged Microsoft Teams Rooms solutions” beginning this month.

This means that Teams users will be able to shout out voice commands to their Teams Rooms devices to start a video call, change settings and more. Fortunately though, IT admins will be able to adjust this setting to disable voice activation. At the same time, Microsoft has updated the Cortana iconography that appears on the front of a room display and in the console UI in a Microsoft Teams Room according to the second update.

Finally in the third update, the company explained that Cortana will support additional languages on Teams devices that are set to different locale languages. Currently American English, Canadian English, Australian English, Indian English and British English are supported.

While voice activation can certainly be useful in shared meeting rooms designed for video conferencing, business users may not be too keen on having a character from a video game speaking up during their all-hands meetings.

Also check out our roundups of the best business webcamsbest headsets for conference calls and best video conferencing software

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