I’ve been using Windows operating systems (amongst others) since Windows 3.1, and while there have been highs (Windows 95, Windows 7), there’s also been quite a few lows (Windows 8, Windows ME) – I’ve never truly hated a version… until now.
Windows 11, the latest version, started off pretty well. OK, so I wasn’t entirely sure why we needed Windows 11 when Windows 10 seemed perfectly fine (and Microsoft had kept saying it would be the last version of Windows you need), but it was reasonably solid, and a few tweaks, such as the centralized taskbar, grew on me.
Of course, that free upgrade should have been the first red flag. Nothing is ever free, especially with big corporations like Microsoft.
However, over time, Microsoft has made me regret upgrading to Windows 11.
Thanks, I hate it
The first seeds of discontent were sown when I saw the new Start menu – and the amount of pre-installed apps Windows 11 now comes with. If you’ve ever bought a new laptop or PC, you’ll probably be aware of bloatware – unwanted software that comes preinstalled and ends up clogging up your hard drive (OK, that was more of an issue when we had smaller hard drives).
Device manufacturers get paid to include those apps, which then allows them to sell their products at lower prices without cutting into their margins. Annoying, but understandable. However, as I usually build my own PCs, I’m used to doing fresh installs of Windows, which should usually mean my devices are free from unwanted apps.
However, Microsoft has included several apps when you first install Windows 11, and is likely to make a bit of cash considering it's offering Windows 11 for ‘free’. It’s not the end of the world, and doesn’t take up the kind of resources that might have been an issue when our PCs were more modest, but it’ll tick off people (like me) who want control over what’s installed on their devices. It was also a hint at how even if it gives you Windows 11 for free, Microsoft will make you pay for it.
The Start menu experience in Windows 11 has also deteriorated, with Microsoft managing to annoy almost every one by putting in adverts for its services amongst the apps you’ve installed. It even bugged me to use OneDrive, though I already use it!
To make matters worse, while Microsoft was adding more pushy ads for its products in the Windows 11 Start menu, it wasn’t as keen to add features that users have been crying out for – many of which were present in older versions, but dropped for Windows 11.
To be fair, I probably got further than some people before the Windows 11 doubts kicked in. Microsoft also updated the setup screens that appear when Windows 11 is installed, and it’s there that the heavy selling begins – though this time for Microsoft’s other devices and services.
This didn’t initially bother me that much, as I use Microsoft Office and subscribe to OneDrive for cloud storage, so setting up those as part of the installation made sense – but I can totally understand how they could frustrate other people.
However, Microsoft has been pushing its luck here as well. Since I’ve installed Windows 11, Microsoft has made it increasingly difficult to set up a fresh Windows 11 install without having a Microsoft account.
The setup screens also now appear after some major Windows 11 updates, and I’ve found that they’ve added in a sly option that changes your default web browser to Edge, which you have to untick if you want to keep your choice of browser.
Eff off Edge
Microsoft’s ambition to get more people to use its Edge web browser is well known by now – but it's recently been crossing a line. As well as trying to get people to set it as the default web browser after major updates have been installed, it’ll bug you with messages and pop-ups if you have the temerity to want to use a different web browser, such as Google Chrome.
Like many people, the first and last time I use Edge is to go to Google’s website and download Chrome – and Microsoft knows this, throwing up begging messages to give Edge a chance. It’s a bit unedifying.
Even when choosing a different web browser as your default, Microsoft just doesn’t take no for an answer. If you use the Search bar in Windows 11 (which I have issues with anyway, as I don’t think it works well) and click on a web link, it’ll open up in Edge, regardless of the web browser you’ve set as default.
This happens throughout Windows 11, and it’s extremely annoying. If I want to use Chrome for viewing websites, then that’s what I want to open up – no exceptions. It feels like Microsoft thinks it knows better by opening some links in Edge.
There’s been a bit of reprieve for some people from this behavior, with the European Economic Area (EEA) forcing Microsoft to accept its users’ browser preferences. ‘Forced’ is the operative word here, as it’s clear that Microsoft hasn’t done this because it’s the user-friendly thing to do. Instead, users in the EEA will have links from within Windows 11 open in their actual default browser, but people in the rest of the world will likely still have Edge pushed on them.
Even worse, Microsoft recently started pushing out large pop-up adverts to people using Chrome, asking them to switch the default search engine within Chrome from Google to Microsoft’s rival Bing search engine.
This happened to me, and, frankly, that was the last straw. It was invasive, taking up a large part of my screen, and downright creepy, as it showed Microsoft was keeping tabs on what I was using in various apps.
It felt like a huge overreach – and I wasn’t alone in reacting like that, as many users took to the internet to complain about these pop-ups, with some experiencing them while playing games or watching full-screen movies. The backlash was large enough to make Microsoft pause the adverts, but the damage had been done.
Windows 11, to me, no longer feels like an operating system that I have control over. Instead, it seems like I’m renting it from Microsoft, which gives the company the right to bombard me with adverts.
So, where can I go? Reinstalling Windows 10 is an option, but there’s plenty of evidence out there that suggests Microsoft will continue to bug me – especially when it comes to upgrading (again) to Windows 11.
Linux is looking increasingly attractive. I’ve used plenty of distros in the past (in a former life I was deputy editor of Linux Format, after all), and thanks to the Steam Deck (which runs a version of Linux), and a clever bit of software called Proton, I can run Windows games in Linux with minimal impact to performance.
It’s not perfect, but as a PC gamer, the main reason I’ve stuck with Windows 11 is because of the PC games – and if Linux will allow me to play those games, it looks like Microsoft may have finally pushed its luck too far.