Microsoft has come under fire in the past for some of its advertising practices and pop-ups related to Windows 10, but the company isn’t planning to back down from these endeavors. The company is now pushing advertisements for what it calls the Personal Shopping Assistant for Chrome (provided you use that browser).
The browser plugin has actually been out for several months, and was developed as part of Microsoft’s Garage project (Garage is a skunkworks for experimental projects and ideas). Its ostensible goal is to simplify shopping by saving products you browse, informing you when prices change, and allowing you to share this information with friends. Since the data is attached to your personal email account (via Microsoft or Google), there’s a good chance that this is a monetization effort for Microsoft — the company doesn’t derive much revenue from selling data, but Microsoft has its own advertising service and its own search engine. Information about what people are searching for and purchasing is valuable to multiple market segments.
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Reviews for the extension are split, to put it kindly. Prior to the last few weeks, there were virtually no unhappy reviews and not many reviews at all. Now, the extension has been bombarded with one-star reviews from unhappy users who are frustrated with the way Windows 10 “recommends” this particular product. Given how few reviews have been written, it doesn’t seem to be a useful metric of the extension’s functionality, one way or the other.
The bigger problem Microsoft is facing is the Windows Store is supposed to be the future of application distribution and software purchases. The company likes to tout various claims about the Windows Store, including data from May 2016 where it revealed user engagement with the Windows 10 Store was more than 2x what the Windows 8 Store averaged, while revenue per-user was up 4x. At the time, Microsoft claimed 6.5 billion visits from July – May from more than 300 million devices — but that’s actually just 21.6 visits per device, or 2.2 visits per month. The company said little at the time about total revenue payouts, average developer earnings, or per-application download rates. Reports from roughly a year ago suggest that developers were anything but happy with the Windows 10 Store.
But I think the problem is larger than the relative quality or lack thereof of the Windows 10 Store. When Apple launched the iPhone, it created the concept of an app store. Android, when it debuted, followed suit. Users of these platforms are therefore used to using the App Store to download or purchase content on iOS or Android. They are not used to this model in the PC market.
If I want to download a media player, I don’t think “Let’s see what’s in the Windows Store!” I think “VLC” or even “MPC-HC.” If I want access to a library of high-quality games, I’ve got Steam and GOG. If I want to access Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter, I’m not going to download an app to do it — why should I, when there’s a browser or four on my system already?
People don’t want to see ads for software on their desktop. It’s a cheap trick that reeks of bloatware and desperation, and it encourages users to think of Microsoft as a hostile landlord that effectively forces you to look at ads in exchange for the ongoing use of its software. To those who would vastly prefer to buy the OS and skip the telemetry, the advertising, and the unwanted periodic resets to default software, issues like this are a reminder that the relationship between Microsoft and its users have changed in ways they rather dislike.