Microsoft's Big Hidden Windows 8 Feature: Built-In Advertising

Despite the fact that I've been using Windows 8 for the past three weeks, I somehow managed to overlook a rather stark feature in the OS: ads. No, we're not talking about ads cluttering up the desktop or login screen (thankfully), but rather ads that can be found inside of some Modern UI apps that Windows ships with. That includes Finance, Weather, Travel, News and so forth. Is it a problem? Let's tackle this from a couple of different angles.

The Modern UI (Metro) interface of Windows 8 essentially delivers a mobile experience on whatever device it's used on, be it a desktop, notebook or tablet. On previous mobile platforms, such as iOS and Android, seeing ads inside of free apps hasn't been uncommon. It's a way for the developer to get paid while allowing the user to have the app for free. That's where the first big difference comes in. While people can expect ads in a free app, no one expects ads in a piece of software that they just paid good money for. I actually can't think of another immediate example where a piece of paid software shows ads.

But there are other angles to look at this from. People subscribe to cable, and see ads. However, the difference there is that's a recurring subscription, and it could be assumed that without ads, cable fees would be much higher. Then there's the fact that the apps inside of the Modern UI are all Internet-capable, so in a sense, they all act like their own customized browser. We're used to seeing ads on websites, so is this really that different? It's hard to say, but again, as free services, that's to be expected.

The answer of just how wrong Microsoft is to cram advertisements in its commercial software will differ from person to person, I'm sure. Me, I'm not too bothered, but I can totally relate to anyone who is. From all I can tell, none of the ads are intrusive, and I appreciate that. As for them being in paid software, that doesn't bother me either because of that above fact. However, I am bothered by other aspects.

The biggest mistake here on Microsoft's behalf is that no one is made aware of these ads until they happen to stumble on them. No one is going to expect ads to be loaded in their paid-for OS, so a notification of that at first boot would be appreciated. Further, no one is given the option to disable them (though I'm sure it'd take little more than an editing of the hosts file). Finally, there's also the fact that these ads haven't decreased the price of the OS, else that'd be a point Microsoft would no doubt flaunt.

We can't talk about the inclusion of ads and not mention the "T" word: tracking. I haven't been able to find any information on whether or not Microsoft's tracking the ads you are clicking on, but if that is indeed the case, we'll find out soon enough. Unlike Windows 7 and earlier, your entire Windows 8 account can be tied to an e-mail account, so it would be rather easy for Microsoft to track things on a personal level - much like how Google does with its search engine, e-mail and so forth. This alone gives good reason to be concerned.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Are you okay with Microsoft infusing the Modern UI with ads? Would you ever be interested in a less expensive version of Windows that was ad-supported?