Windows 11 Start menu ads look set to get even worse – this is getting painful now

Woman annoyed at laptop crash
(Image credit: / Butsaya)

Microsoft is heading further down the path of advertising its own services in Windows 11, with different ads now popping up in the Start menu.

To be precise, this is Windows 11 preview build 23435, which was just released to the Dev channel.

As Microsoft puts it: “We are continuing the exploration of badging on the Start menu with several new treatments for users logging in with local user accounts to highlight the benefits of signing in with a Microsoft account (MSA).”

So, the translation of this is that ‘badging’ is essentially advertising (‘badgering’ would perhaps be more accurate), and it’s something we’ve recently seen with Windows 11 urging users to perform a cloud backup (in OneDrive).

In this new preview build, the prodding stick is being employed to nudge those who haven’t enlisted for a Microsoft Account (who remain using a local account) into signing up for an MSA.

Compared to the previous cloud backup prompt on the Start menu, it’s even clearer that this is advertising because it’s fully selling the benefits of having a Microsoft account. For example, Microsoft tells you how hooking your Windows 11 installation into an MSA will ensure that your PC is kept backed up and more secure, or that it’ll keep your settings synced across multiple devices.

The other big introduction with this preview build is the new Gallery, a built-in image gallery right there in File Explorer (which is in line for a major revamp). You can read more about the Gallery here, and for all the rest of the tweaks and changes in build 23435, peruse Microsoft’s blog post (opens in new tab).

Windows 11 Start menu badges

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Analysis: Sick of being badgered

We’re aware that we are starting to sound like a broken record with the whinging about Microsoft’s exploration of Start menu ads, but the company doesn’t seem to have got the message.

Clearly, Microsoft is aware that this is a controversial addition to Windows 11, which is why it’s happening in a limited form (even in testing). The software giant even states in its blog post that: “As a reminder, it is normal for us to try out different concepts in the Dev Channel to get feedback.”

Microsoft specifically asks for feedback from testers, and we’re betting it’ll get it – particularly now these ‘badging’ pop-ups are taking a form that’s more obviously advertising. Being told to sign up for a Microsoft account is a sensitive point for some folks, too, who don’t want anything to do with it, and just want their OS to be a standalone piece of software (as much as it can be) that’s not further meshed into Microsoft’s ecosystem.

What’s also a concern here is the flagging of the ad with a yellow warning circle and exclamation point, which suggests that there’s something seriously wrong with your system setup. That’s not fair, and some might argue a cynical way of cajoling less tech-savvy folks into signing up for a Microsoft account (or whatever else the ad might be pushing).

Granted, if the person in question isn’t good with tech, it may not be a bad thing to ensure cloud backups are in place, if they haven’t done anything else on the backup front themselves. But still, ads in the Start menu – one of the main parts of the Windows interface – is not the way to go about this. At least not if you don’t want to annoy and alienate the majority of Windows 11 users who aren’t going to be impressed with Microsoft’s growing ‘badge’ collection (if these fresh additions move past testing, that is).

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).