Paying the price of free software

OS 2 Upgrade

Microsoft’s march towards filling their operating system with adverts continues, with people upset to see adverts for OneDrive popping up in Windows Explorer. OneDrive Ad

And lets be honest, we’re all right to be annoyed. I think that’s certainly pretty intrusive. The Next Web has an article on how to turn it off (though ironically, when I first visited their site on my iPad it tried to take over my whole screen. Hmm… …something… something… attend to the beam in your own eye.. something).

The advert in Windows 10 that really annoys me has to be the ones that pop up when you’re using another browser.Have you seen it? It actually overlays content you’re trying to read and what’s more, it’s not afraid to use moving images to really draw your eye away from the content you were trying to look at. Thanks Microsoft.


The reaction from sources of well-reasoned debate such as Reddit have been predictable of course, with lots of screaming and carrying on… much of which I agree with in principle if not entirely in tone. What does amuse me slightly is the number of “Fix this by switching to Ubuntu” comments. Would that be the same Ubuntu that integrated Amazon shopping searches into the UI way back in 2012? I would suggest that Canonical have to take some responsibility for showing Microsoft the way, if anything.

This does raise a couple of interesting points of course. First of all, content and code cost money to provide. I recently read an interesting article about the cost of providing content by Andrew Managan, author of the Arseblog blog and podcast for fans of Arsenal Football Club (disclosure: I’m a fan and subscriber). While Andrew’s article is talking about blog/podcast content, I think it also applies to website content and apps you download on your phone, tablet or computer, including the operating system.

Of course, Microsoft are somewhat overstepping the mark with their advertising. It’s clumsy, rather poorly done and overly-intrusive (never change, Microsoft, never change) and as I’ve said before, the best advert for an app is to make it so good that those people who discover it can’t stop raving about how good it is to anyone who will listen. That’s what sold the iPhone for Apple (well once the original Jobs reality distortion field died down). That’s what makes so many business and education users huge fans and advocates for Microsoft’s own OneNote.

So what are the options? On the one hand we, as consumers, expect things to either be free or at least very cheap. On the other hand we react in an outraged manner at any attempt to monetise free content. I want to make it clear that I’m not defending overly-intrusive advertising and I’m not shy about using adblockers tame some of the more egregious examples of bad advertising practice myself, but equally we do need to be able to have a more nuanced conversation about how we pay for the services we all seem to want for free these days. Whether its website content such as blogs and podcasts, email services (can you imagine paying for personal email these days?), apps,  or even operating systems.

In the meantime, it would be nice if Microsoft at least would meet Windows 10 users halfway and at least show a bit of taste and restraint in how they do things because right now their efforts are most effective as an advert for Mac OS. Sadly, neither good taste or restraint have ever been things that Microsoft have done well.

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