Opinion Queen Elizabeth I is said to have expressed her attitude towards the private beliefs of her subjects by noting, “I do not seek to open windows into the souls of men.” Microsoft Windows 11 has few scruples. A new feature, accidentally enabled in an Insider build, not only opened a channel between the company and the quintessential tool, File Explorer, but then stuffed it with ads.
It’s an open secret that Microsoft is increasingly keen on using Windows as a platform for serving ads, to the exasperation of users and the despair of everyone who has to manage the company’s computing environment.
Windows 10 is full of lock screen ads, Start menu suggested apps, taskbar pop-ups, notifications, and even a brief excursion into third-party ads in its Mail client.
Now the company has taken a utility that’s been at the heart of Windows since the first version and covered it in ads. It’s not unfair to assume that Microsoft has at least developed the technology and potentially the urge to open content pipelines wherever it pleases.
As any cultural theorist will tell you, ads contain much more than they advertise. When, where and how they appear can tell you a lot about the advertiser, how they see their market and what their real priorities are. There are two big messages in the File Manager farago, both revealing aspects of Microsoft’s own internal thoughts and actions that the company prefers not to announce at all.
When, where and how ads appear can tell you a lot about the advertiser, how they see their market and what their real priorities are.
As with third-party ads in Windows 10 Mail, once people noticed it and started asking questions, Microsoft was quick to say it had no intention of doing the adware. of file explorer. They both came out by mistake, you see, and any hint that they were part of a real planned public experiment is completely accidental.
Maybe these things were just internal testing, but why would anyone think it was worth spending time developing when user pushback was always going to be so obvious? More importantly, what does it say about Microsoft’s internal quality control that these things come out and no one within the company notices until Twitter time?
What else, not so obvious but equally troublesome, is there that escapes Redmond’s containment field?
This concern is multiplied by the second message contained in these mutant Madison Avenue features: Microsoft considers their development and use to be worth the additional security risk they inherently present.
It’s not just that any additional complication of a system always has the potential to contain a vulnerability. Ads deliver content, which itself presents an ever-changing threat profile.
We know on the web that third-party advertisements can contain a wide range of attacks, from borderline legal links to direct malware.
It’s been hard enough to manage in the browser environment: does anyone want to have to add various operating system features to the list of things to worry about? In exchange for a brightly colored plea to install candy Crush while you’re trying to juggle five logs, 10 search tabs, and an IDE full of broken code?
Most of the in-OS ads were for Microsoft’s own services and products, which is less risky than the open web’s potpourri of toxic pop-ups. Yet, if these advertising channels work, there will be a huge push to use them as more direct sources of liquidity by offering placements to the usual barrage of “carefully selected third parties” based on portfolio size. There’s no sign that anyone within Microsoft with any control is setting limits on what the company will go with these, providing enough pricing.
Microsoft puts revenue before security, before productivity, before quality control. Are these the attributes of a reliable enterprise partner that positions itself as the very heart of enterprise computing? It won’t be the first time the company’s bloody bad grades and engine room officers have had to circumvent Microsoft’s flawed business models.
There are rules in this game, and weakening the security and functionality of core components for Ad Adventures breaks many of them. Microsoft earns huge revenue from enterprise licenses for Windows, and in return we have the right to get a tool designed to do the job we need. It’s like paying a fortune for the best spanner in the world, only to find the handle pierced with punched slots to buy Satya Nadella’s nuts and bolts.
Enough is enough. Microsoft should make the effort it puts in to annoy us and weaken Windows into better QC, better UX and it’s better to leave us alone to continue our technological life. ®