Windows 11 has an ad problem that threats to user experience

As Windows 11 evolves, so the tactics to inject ads across the experience, and it's getting out of control.

Windows 11 ads on desktop
Windows 11 ads on desktop / Image: Mauro Huculak

Microsoft is aggressively putting more ads across the Windows 11 desktop, and this behavior of trying to monetize the operating system threatens the user experience.

If we look back to the pre-pandemic era, Windows wasn’t even a priority for Microsoft anymore, as the company was thriving with its cloud services (Azure primarily), such as Azure and Microsoft 365 (also known as Office 365).

I want to be clear that the company didn’t actually say that it wasn’t a priority anymore. However, the lack of attention to the operating system signaled a shift in focus to other services.

Then, the pandemic happened, and with the sudden shift to remote work and learning, PCs and Windows became crucial tools. Microsoft noticed the surge in usage of Windows 10 and renewed its focus on the operating system, and then Windows 11 was introduced.

For context, the company (Microsoft employee Jerry Nixon) originally said that Windows 10 would be the last version of the operating system, but then Windows 11 came out. So, when everyone asked themselves what happened, Microsoft responded that “the pandemic happened.”

As part of the new version of the new version of the operating system, Microsoft introduced radical changes to the interface that we haven’t seen in over a decade with a new Start menu, Taskbar, and new design language. However, two and a half years later, Windows 11 still includes a lot of UI inconsistencies, which I have already discussed in great detail in my previous editorial.

However, one of the biggest problems with the operating system is the desire to find ways to put more ads across the experience in any shape or form.

In this editorial, I want to highlight how the company (from my point of view) is pushing more ads with every update.

Microsoft is going too far with ads on Windows 11

On Windows 11, advertisements, which are usually referred to as “discovery,” “recommendations,” or “promotions,” are everywhere, and they start in the initial setup and spread around the different parts of the operating system and apps.

Ads in the initial setup

It all starts with the initial setup. On every installation or when setting up a new computer, you have to go through the Out-of-box Experience (OOBE), which is the experience that guides you through the steps to create an account and choose your initial settings.

Although it’s a straightforward process, it’s also the first place where you’ll find advertisements since, throughout the steps, you will be prompted or suggested to purchase the PC Game Pass.

OOBE PC Game Pass promotion
OOBE PC Game Pass promotion

As well as OneDrive and Microsoft 365 subscriptions.

OOBE Microsoft 365 subscription
OOBE Microsoft 365 subscription

You will even have to go through the “Let’s customize your experience” settings, which basically is a way to tell the operating system what types of ads to show you.

OOBE customize experience settings
OOBE customize experience settings

Ads in the Start menu

As you complete the setup process, one of the behaviors is to open the Start menu font and center, and the first thing you will notice is the “Pinned” section that includes several pins for built-in apps as well as some other apps from partners, some of which include Twitter (X), Photoshop Express, PicsArt, Instagram, etc.

Start menu Pinned promotions
Start menu Pinned promotions / Image: Mauro Huculak

These pins can be considered ads as they are not Microsoft apps, and they are actually not installed on the computer. However, as soon as you click them, it will trigger the install from the Microsoft Store.

This set of instructions contains a trick for installing Windows 11 without these default bloatware.

If you look below the pins, you will find the “Recommended” section, which is also expected to feature more advertisements.

Start menu app promotions
Start menu app promotions / Image: Microsoft

At the time of this writing, in the latest preview of Windows 11 available through the Beta Channel, Microsoft is testing suggestions of apps you may be interested in downloading from the Microsoft Store.

The company says it’s a new way to make apps more discoverable, but we can argue that it’s another way of advertisement.

The approach isn’t totally new either since the company has already tried something similar on Windows 10.

Finally, in the Start menu, you will also find another type of advertisement in the profile menu as a form of account-related notification. Sure, the notifications are a way to alert you of required actions in your Microsoft account, but the problem is that if you don’t use OneDrive to back up your files, you will be prompted to upload your files to the cloud, and if you proceed and don’t enough space, you will have to purchase a subscription.

Start profile menu promotion
Start profile menu promotion

I honestly see this as another way to promote the Microsoft 365 subscription.

Ads in the Search

In the Windows Search experience, we can also find other advertisements in the form of recommendations to lure you into Bing with dynamic content.

Search Bing promotion
Search Bing promotion

Usually, the search interface doesn’t offer anything for sale, but it is a gateway to try to get you using the Bing search engine.

In fact, the Digital Markets Act (DMA) in the European Economic Area (EEA) now forces Microsoft to change the behavior of Windows in many ways to promote fair and competitive digital markets. One such change, includes adding a way to change the search engine provider for the Windows Search experience. However, this only applies to users in the European Union regions. In the United States, Canada, and many other countries, it will continue to be stuck with Bing.

Ads in the Taskbar

Microsoft is even experimenting with bringing “recommendations” to the Taskbar. Although it’s not official at this time, a new “Recommended” feature has been discovered in the Taskbar settings as part of the “Taskbar items” settings.

Taskbar new promotion settings
Taskbar new promotion settings / Image: @thebookisclosed

The details of this feature are still unclear. However, it could be another way for the company to promote apps or services, which, even though labeled a recommendation, can also be considered an advertisement.

Ads in the Widgets dashboard

Although the Widgets dashboard is on the brink of getting an update that will allow you to turn off the news feed, at the time of this writing, it’s also another controversial feature since it includes more curated marketing content from the MSN network and useful widgets.

Widgets dashboard news feed
Widgets dashboard news feed

Furthermore, users can’t still place widgets on the desktop like Windows 7, but that’s a story for a different day.

Ads in the Settings app

You will also notice some advertisements in the Settings app. For example, on the “Home” page, the company has been “promoting” many of its services, including Microsoft 365 and Copilot Pro.

Settings Home Microsoft 365 and Copilot promo
Settings Home Microsoft 365 and Copilot promo

In addition, if you still need to back up your files to the cloud, the page will also nag you into setting up OneDrive as your backup solution. The problem is that if you don’t have a subscription, you will only have access to 5GB of storage, and as soon as you get close to the limit, the company will try to lure you into getting more paid storage.

I personally don’t find the “Home” page useful, so I turned it off with these instructions. Also, having a backup of your computer and data is essential, but you can use other solutions. For example, you can use the legacy System Image backup tool or File History. These solutions won’t cost you anything, but you will have to provide your own external storage.

If you open the “Accounts” section, you will also find various advertisements for purchasing different subscriptions, including Microsoft 365, PC Game Pass, and Microsoft Copilot Pro.

Settings Accounts promotion
Settings Accounts promotion

Ads on File Explorer

One of the apps that users interact with the most is File Explorer, and somehow, the company also managed to inject a few ads.

Of course, the app doesn’t promote buying a new mattress or promote breaking news in your region, but from time to time, you will find banners to back up your files to OneDrive, which in most cases will require you to purchase a subscription.

On Windows 11, I have come across two forms of notifications or banners. The first is a “Backup” element in the address bar and a banner under the command bar that says to use OneDrive to back up my files.

File Explorer onedrive promotion
File Explorer onedrive promotion

If you see this, it’s possible to disable this behavior from the Folder Options settings and turn off the “Show sync provider notifications” option.

Ads on Microsoft Edge

Since Microsoft Edge comes pre-installed on every installation, I consider it part of the system, and this app includes some advertisements.

Microsoft Edge promotions
Microsoft Edge promotions

For example, the app will always try to stay as the default web browser on your computer. On the right side, you will find the side panel that advertises many of the company’s products, including its Shopping, Games, Microsoft 365, Outlook, and various other products.

The experience not only pushes users to engage with the company services but also takes up valuable space on the screen.

The New Tab page’s default settings push marking content curated from the MSN network, and you will find different default shortcuts, but if you look closely, you will notice that they’re labeled as “Ad,” suggesting that the company generates revenue from these icons.

You can always customize and turn off most of the non-essential features, such as the side panel and New Tab page, but the problem is that most non-technical users are unaware of what’s happening or that these settings exist.


Although Windows is still an amazing operating system that provides great security, many productivity features, and an excellent platform for gaming, it has been slowly losing its direction since it became a free upgrade for most devices.

It now feels that in every major update, the company thinks of a way to promote more of its services and products from partners.

And this is not just in the operating system. You will also find advertisements on many of the company apps, but since these are different services, I won’t be ranting about them.

However, I do have to say that the legacy version of the Mail app was terrible. Even when I had a Microsoft 365 subscription, the app showed a banner to purchase the subscription.

If you’re up to the challenge, there are different ways to remove many of the advertisements, including finding and disabling notifications and uninstalling built-in and promotional apps. You can also use third-party tools to debloat the operating system, and there’s even a trick to proceed with a clean installation of Windows 11 without bloatware.

Furthermore, it’s possible to set up an installation with a local account to minimize advertisements and use a more traditional experience, but this experience is also changing rapidly. You may not see many promotions, but you will be reminded to switch to a Microsoft account quite often.

I’ve been saying this for years. Microsoft should offer Windows in two ways: a free upgrade that can continue with the same experience as we see today and another that comes as a bundled part of the Microsoft 365 subscription that offers a clutter-free and promotion-free experience.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Would you pay for a Microsoft 365 subscription if it means a cleaner experience on Windows 11? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and Email him at [email protected].