Microsoft’s mission to make Windows 11 worse continues with ads in the Start menu

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Windows 11 has just received an optional update which applies some useful fixes… but also something a bit more controversial for the Start menu.

As spotted by Bleeping Computer, that’d be what Microsoft describes as “notifications for Microsoft accounts” appearing in the Start menu, a feature that some suspect has a hidden agenda.

What do we mean by that? Well, in the support document introducing patch KB5023778 for Windows 11 22H2 PCs, which is still in preview but will be fully rolled out next month, Microsoft gives an example of a notification: a pop-up panel warning the user that they need to back up their files.

Sensible advice, and of course, it’s a good idea to back up your main folders (documents, pictures, and so on) to the cloud every now and then as suggested (and locally too, maybe using an external drive for instance).

You can guarantee, though, that starting a backup from this prompt will try to get you to use OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service. Because as we know, these Start menu prompts are notifications related to Microsoft accounts and connected services like OneDrive.

Past leaks from Albacore (a well-known leaker on Twitter) have also shown Microsoft prodding users (in test builds) to hit up OneDrive in this manner, or to create a Microsoft account (or to complete their Microsoft profile).

Regarding this new feature, Microsoft tells us: “This is only available to a small audience right now. It will deploy more broadly in the coming months. Some devices might notice different visual treatments as we gather feedback.”

The freshly unleashed optional update also provides a bunch of bug fixes, including one for a glitch that affects printers (connected via a USB port) and makes them appear to be multimedia devices.

Analysis: The start of something ominous?

So, this Start menu feature is progressing, clearly. We saw it in the Release Preview channel for Windows Insiders (testers) just a week ago, and now, it’s hitting actual Windows 11 PCs going forward.

Admittedly, it’s still an optional (test) update right now, but it’ll almost certainly be part of April’s cumulative update for Windows 11 deployed in a couple of weeks. Unless Microsoft has a last-minute change of heart and pulls the plug at the precipice of deployment (and at this point, that’s very unlikely).

Of course, it’s only rolling out to a small subset of Windows 11 users initially. Although that in itself is telling – Microsoft is evidently concerned about the response and is still testing the waters in a limited fashion, as it were, with a broader rollout not coming for ‘months’ to boot. The software giant is being careful about this one, and doubtless for good reason.

Maybe we won’t even see these kind of ads – or reminders, as Microsoft couches them – all that often in the Start menu. They could just be very occasional things. We don’t know, and we also don’t know exactly where Microsoft is going to be drawing the line between suggestions or recommendations, and pushing its own services as a form of help to the user which effectively crosses over into the realm of advertising.

Time will tell, but it’s clear enough that suggestions are set to be a big thing in the future for Windows 11 (or indeed Windows 12). Recently we’ve seen further hints of personalized recommendations in the Start menu, including recommended websites to visit (yes, that concept is seemingly back on the table), which again would seem to be ripe territory for what could effectively be advertising.

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