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Microsoft is testing ads in Windows 11 — and that's not good

Windows 11 logo on a laptop screen
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: A few hours after this story was published, Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc told The Verge (opens in new tab) that "This was an experimental banner that was not intended to be published externally and was turned off." Our original story follows:

Have you ever looked at the Windows File Explorer and gone “boy, I sure wish there was more advertising here!”? Probably not, because the mere suggestion of that is completely nuts. However, it seems Microsoft is not on the same page as everyone else.

Windows Insiders (via XDA (opens in new tab)) are reporting that this is happening in the beta version of Windows 11, specifically build 22572. You’ll be glad to hear they aren’t commercial ads, trying to make you buy some new product or service. Instead, it looks like gratuitous self-promotion (opens in new tab), with ads recommending Microsoft Editor — the AI-powered spelling and grammar checker.

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Other users have reported seeing promotion for PowerPoint templates and Office.com. 

The ad isn’t that intrusive, but that doesn’t change the fact that Microsoft is adding self-promotion into File Explorer in the first place. It may not be the first time Microsoft has used Windows to promote its own products, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

Built-in advertising has been a feature since the launch of the ever-controversial Windows 8. Ads can also be found in Windows 10, and various Microsoft-run apps. For instance, my settings menu on Windows 10 just prompted me to finish setting up my laptop properly, despite the fact I’ve been using this same laptop since 2018.

Clicking this prompt then had Windows suggest I sign up for Office 365 and OneDrive storage (in my own time), before trying to make me use Microsoft’s “recommended” browser settings. Naturally, that included setting my default browser to Edge.

In fact, even after skipping over that prompt, my settings menu still has a prompt trying to convince me to stop using Google Chrome.

Windows 10 settings menu browser prompt

(Image credit: Tom Pritchard/Tom's Guide)

Advertising is a fact of life in a lot of places. It’s generally used to help fund apps or services that don’t cost any actual money. In fact, some of the most common subscriptions out there offer ad-free access to one product or another.

But Windows is a premium product, and it doesn’t matter whether you paid for a license yourself or if it came pre-installed on your machine out of the box. We should not be getting prompts to use or try other Microsoft services — especially if you have the more expensive Windows 11 Pro, like me.

We still don’t know a lot about the ads hitting File Explorer for certain Windows Insiders. But until they start showing up in the public build of Windows 11, they’re still technically in the testing phase. That means Microsoft could backtrack and keep the current slate of Windows self-promotion as it is. Here’s hoping someone makes that decision sooner rather than later.

Tom is the Tom's Guide's Automotive Editor, which means he can usually be found knee deep in stats the latest and best electric cars, or checking out some sort of driving gadget. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.