Microsoft Says it Didn’t Mean to Put Ads in Windows 11 File Explorer (Yet)

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We expect all sorts of things from the Window 11 File Explorer, not least of which to provide access to files. It might end up doing something extra in the future: showing you ads. Microsoft rolled out a new Insider build recently that set off alarm bells by including ads for Microsoft Editor in the Windows 11 File Explorer. Microsoft now says it did not intend to make the ads publicly visible, and The Verge reports Microsoft has disabled the feature. That said, the feature does exist in Windows 11, and this probably won’t be the last we’ve seen of it. 

The dispute began last weekend when a Windows Insider tester posted a screenshot on Twitter of the Windows 11 File Explorer with a banner ad. The ad promoted Microsoft Editor, a browser extension for checking spelling and grammar. It’s integrated into the UI and style of the window, so it could easily be mistaken for an important system dialog. 

The response online was swift and strongly negative, with many pointing out that the file explorer is one of the worst places to show an ad. Microsoft eventually responded, saying the banner was a test that was not supposed to be publicly accessible. It deactivated the feature, which was limited to an early Insiders build of Windows 11. However, it didn’t express regret or promise not to do this again in the future. In fact, it has already done this in Windows 10. Back in 2016 and 2017, Microsoft ran a series of ads inside file explorer for One Drive, its quietly mediocre cloud storage platform. It has also advertised Office apps in Notepad and Edge throughout the system UI. 

Microsoft increasingly treats Windows like a free product, possibly because that’s how consumers think of it. It’s rare anymore for someone to spend money on a Windows license, even if the cost is technically bundled into the sticker price of their PC. Microsoft spent years giving away Windows 10 to get people to upgrade, and it’s doing the same with Windows 11. Clearly, Microsoft sees more benefit in giving away new versions of Windows than it does charging for every upgrade. 

It seems like a foregone conclusion that these file explorer ads will return at a later date. Average computer users will shrug their shoulders and go about their day after dismissing a Windows ad—they’ve been conditioned to expect ads by the evolution of mobile platforms. For example, Apple’s devices push Apple Music and iCloud. Google, meanwhile, will harangue you about subscribing to YouTube Premium and buying more Drive storage. A brand new Samsung phone even tries to sell you more Samsung phones. We might see the file explorer as sacrosanct, but Microsoft does not.

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