Back in 2005, Microsoft mentioned in a Thinkweek article the idea of an ad-driven Windows. Ina Fried summarized quite well what was discussed in that article in a section titled “Plan Extends to Windows.” Seemingly only an idea back then, new evidence shows that Microsoft has done more than simply *think* about placing ads in Windows.
While recently doing a bit of research, I ran across a Microsoft employee’s mention (screen shot below) of an incubation project they were involved with sometime between 2005-2008. Code named “Madison” (not to be confused with the SQL 2010 code name), it appears an actual prototype has been created for advertising in Windows. Prior to writing this article, I mentioned my findings to Mary Jo Foley from ZDNet and she quickly made an observation I hadn’t thought of — the code name “Madison” obviously stemming from “Madison Ave.” in Manhattan. To quote Wikipedia, “[s]ince the 1920s, the street’s name has been synonymous with the American advertising industry.”
(Yes, that says “madision” but that’s almost certainly a grammatical error)
The implications of this prototype are staggering, but not necessarily all bad.
On one hand, this could be a way for Microsoft to offer Windows on-the-cheap for many individuals — namely, those who either can’t afford Windows or don’t want to pay for Windows in the first place (i.e. pirates, yarrr!). In theory, you could use a “Windows Ads Edition” or something where you’ve basically opted for ads to stream to you in exchange for your usage of Windows. Another possible scenario is for this prototype technology to perhaps replace (or maybe become a component of) Starter Edition. After all, with Microsoft’s recent job post looking to fill a position on the “Windows SKU team,” it’s pretty clear that Microsoft is planning Windows 8 SKUs — thus implying a SKU-secured future for Windows — so why not the possibility of a “Windows Ads Edition?” I don’t think too many people would use such a thing by choice, and for those who did choose to, Microsoft’s marketing would have to be crystal clear to spell out why you wouldn’t simply be using an ad-ridden version of Windows.
Also, when bringing ads into the equation, I can’t imagine they would riddle every SKU with ads, but how could Microsoft really expect to make a significant ROI based on a model where ads are being shown to people who are looking to circumvent – or simply cannot afford the cost of – Windows in the first place? With that in mind, perhaps it would have nothing to do with SKUs at all. Perhaps it would consist of a technology designed to run under certain variables in *any* SKU of Windows where the obvious candidates would lie amongst all unactivated, non-genuine, and pirated copies. The thought of that gets shaky when considering all the headaches Microsoft would face from those screaming “invasion of privacy” or “anti-trust measures!” They would have to be clever about monitoring ad traffic, of which there’s absolutely no way Microsoft could successfully convince businesses to fork over cash for ad views without being able to show some semblance of accurate numbers… unless it’s a PPC thing, and then Microsoft has to face dealing with potential click fraud amongst the other obvious deterrents, such as ad blocking software, host file modification to block ad servers, or even full-blow file modification/replacement to remove the ad-driven functionality in its totality.
Naturally, this all just boils down to Microsoft looking to cash in on a BIG money-making industry with the most visible product they have. The most popular application in the entire world. Potentially, every Windows user would be a lead just waiting to turn a profit for whoever pays to advertise in Windows. And if Microsoft went the route of making this a technology that wasn’t limited to any particular version of Windows, they could even scale it back to XP via a simple update (but I see XP being obsolete by the time ads ever make it into Windows).
Thinking even grander, imagine if Microsoft created an ad platform in Windows that was so successfully facile to the end user that the price of ALL versions of Windows was little to nothing at all. Now, that may sound ridiculous, but that’s the kind of forward-thinking that — if they could pull it off — would bring them many more users and drastically drop certain costs of developing Windows, such as the cost of anti-piracy measures. If they could figure out a way to make ads extremely relevant, non-evasive, yet have them yield high click-through rates — in a perfect world — that would be a version of Windows accessible to nearly everyone.
But I’m a realist. I don’t think such a scenario would ever come to fruition. Honestly, between unhappy users who want nothing to do with ads and potential legal woes that would inevitably face Microsoft, I see the headaches mounting for actually implementing ads in Windows. What do you think? Do you think Microsoft will ever bring such an effort to Windows? How would you feel about actually using an ad-implemented Windows? I don’t think I would mind too much, but the implementation of them would have to be nothing short of genius.