When Microsoft committed to developing Windows as a service, it declared that users could look forward to an unending stream of feature improvements and updates over time as the OS evolved. The company has kept that promise for most of the past three years — each new major Windows update has introduced its own set of features and improvements. Recent developments, however, have pointed in a different direction. We’re starting to think the Big Idea Person presumably responsible for pitching and developing new Windows 10 features may actually hate Microsoft.
Microsoft’s next big idea is, or possibly was, ads. Specifically, embedding ads into the Windows 10 Mail application that comes free with the OS. Now, in the time since this story started breaking, Microsoft has reversed course. It now claims that this was a simple A/B test that was never meant to be exposed to Windows Insiders.
Claptrap. We know so, because Microsoft published an entire FAQ for people who saw ads in Windows Mail and wanted to know what the heck was going on. Microsoft has taken the FAQ offline, but fortunately Google cache still had a copy. We’ve also screenshotted the relevant text (Click on the image below to see a full-size version).
Relevant quotes include:
Currently, we have a pilot running in Brazil, Canada, Australia, and India to get user feedback on ads in Mail.
Ads will be visible on Windows Home and Windows Pro but not on Windows Enterprise or Windows EDU.
Ads will be visible for non-work accounts, such as Outlook.com, Gmail, and Yahoo Mail. Ads will not be visible for non-work accounts with an Office 365 subscription tied to their email address, or when viewing your work email accounts like Exchange Online or Exchange Server.
And my favorite:
Can I Dismiss Ads?
You can temporarily dismiss an ad using the trash can when hovering over the ad. You can permanently remove ads by buying an Office 365 Home or Office 365 Personal subscription.
I have no doubt that Microsoft tests many features that it doesn’t roll out to customers. I highly doubt they bother to create FAQ documents spelling out exactly how the feature works, which customers it impacts, which OS versions it applies to, which countries are currently enrolled in pilot testing, and the exact rules for when and how ads will be shown for a feature they have no intention of deploying. Saying something was never intended to be tested broadly could simply mean the test was intended to be confined to the countries listed above as opposed to rolling out to Windows Insiders in general.
If you think about it, you can tell the difference. When people’s Windows 10 Pro installations were erroneously flagged as Windows 10 Home earlier this month, there wasn’t an initial Microsoft response. The company eventually released a quick “Hey, we’re working to fix the problem.” When a company has an FAQ drawn up with this kind of information on it, it means that feature and its implementation have been thoroughly discussed already, even if a rollout or public announcement hasn’t been set yet.
Earlier this year, Microsoft tried to scare people away from using Chrome. The Verge points out one change I missed — in March, Microsoft tested a feature in which clicking on links in Mail would open them in Edge rather than the system default browser, bypassing your own browser preference. Now, it wants to bury ads in Mail as a way of shoving people into using Office 365.
Microsoft needs to step back and consider how its aggressive and unwelcome intrusions are changing the perceived dynamic between the company and its users. After several poor update experiences, I find myself unconsciously thinking about a major Windows update the same way I’d think about the chore of minding a child I had to watch, constantly. Updates don’t mean nifty new features, they mean trudging through the OS to find whatever defaults Microsoft has changed to favor its own preferences as opposed to mine. This, of course, assumes I’m not spending several hours trying to fix whatever bugs Microsoft introduced via the update process.
It would be nice, at least, if Microsoft was honest about its own intentions. “We introduced scary language to push users away from Chrome because no one likes our browser,” would be a good start. So would “We put ads in Mail hoping to annoy more of you into giving us money.”