Microsoft Partners: Some Customers Already Peeved Over Increase In Windows 10 Advertising

Microsoft is planning to step up promotion of third-party apps in its forthcoming Windows 10 update, a move partners say is already triggering complaints from customers.

In its Windows 10 Anniversary Update, slated to arrive this summer, Microsoft will be increasing the number of promoted apps – known as "programmable tiles" – from five to 10, according to a PowerPoint deck from last week's Windows Hardware Engineering Community (WinHEC) conference.

Programmable tiles are shown as part of the Start menu. When a user clicks on a promoted app tile, they're taken to the corresponding page on Microsoft's Windows Store, where they can download it.

[Related: Microsoft Partners Say Windows 10 Strong-Arming Tactics May Extinguish Customer Enthusiasm]

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In the PowerPoint deck, Microsoft says its goal is to "Introduce users [and] expose them to the Windows Store," where they can "discover [and] engage with high quality [and] locally relevant apps."

As Microsoft notes in the deck, individual users can easily remove promoted app tiles, and commercial customers can use Group Policy to disable them.

"We’re always listening to customer feedback as well as looking to ensure our customers get access to great, relevant and useful apps on their Start Menus," a Microsoft spokeswoman said in an emailed statement in response to CRN's questions about the increase in promoted apps. "Customers are always fully in control of their devices and can opt out of that experience if they wish."

Microsoft partners see the doubling of promoted apps as a continuation of the land grab that began when the software giant introduced ads in Windows 8. Some said customers already wary of Microsoft's pressure to upgrade to Windows 10 are not reacting well to the forthcoming ads.

"We're already hearing complaints from our customers, and this certainly won't help," said Jon Bach, president of Puget Systems, a Kent, Wash.-based Microsoft system builder partner.

"Will this particular change be a big deal? No, probably not. But it is just another proof point of a change of focus by Microsoft, and our customers are increasingly recognizing it," said Bach. "Windows 10 is still being positively received overall, but Microsoft is quickly consuming that goodwill with moves like this."

Jeff Middleton, president of IT Pro Experts, a Microsoft partner in Metairie, La., sees the promoted apps as the latest push from Microsoft to compete with freeware and ad-driven business models.

"I find it disquieting that the desktop has been sold out this way, but I’m old school and think my privacy should include not having guests on my desktop," said Middleton. "I don’t accept the argument that Microsoft can invite squatters to sit on my desktop, and I only have to ask them to leave if I don't want them."

Microsoft has been aggressively trying to get Windows 8 and Windows 8/8.1 users to upgrade to Windows 10, using pop-up windows and bundling Windows 10 files in software updates to nudge them in that direction.

If Microsoft can get everyone onto Windows 10, the task of updating and securing the OS will be greatly simplified. Yet some users still unhappy with Windows 8 aren't ready to embrace Windows 10, according to partners.

However, partners say Windows 10 fixes most of the issues with its predecessor, and is getting a much warmer reception in the marketplace, so the promoted apps aren't likely to be a deal-breaker. Microsoft said earlier this month that Windows 10 is now running on more than 300 million devices.

Andy Kretzer, director of marketing and sales at Bold Data Technology, a Fremont, Calif.-based Microsoft system builder partner, said that while some customers may be unhappy with the new ads, he believes most won't notice them.

"People have become accustomed to pervasive advertising, of different types, throughout much of their computing experience. It’s a shame, but I think people are just becoming numb to it," Kretzer said.