Since the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft has experimented with various ways to advertise its apps and capabilities. Most of these have been ill received for one reason or another — many people fundamentally don’t like it when you give yourself the power to push advertising to their desktops in new and exciting ways — but MS may have actually come up with an ad concept that isn’t a terrible idea.
Specifically, it put ads for the online version of Office in Wordpad.
Wordpad, in case you’ve never used it, is the basic word processor that Microsoft ships for free with all versions of Windows since Windows 95. It can’t open documents created in Microsoft Word, lacks a spell checker, thesaurus, pagination functions, footnotes and endnotes. In fact, it’ll just be easier to show you what it can do:
If you don’t see a familiar-looking icon on that ribbon, chances are that Wordpad can’t do the thing you want it to (though it can edit RTF documents with features that it can’t itself create). Microsoft is reportedly testing some small user notifications telling people they can use the online version of Microsoft Office applications for free. To be clear, this isn’t the same thing as Office 365 — MS also has entirely-online versions of its applications that you access via Outlook.com.
Rafael Rivera (@WithinRafael) announced the discovery on Twitter:
BREAKSCLUSIVE: Microsoft WordPad is getting a new feature! An ad for Office web apps!
Screenshot shows 6 experimental variants.
vso/tfs id 23834136
variants 1-6 pic.twitter.com/TdYOuKkLZc
— Rafael Rivera (@WithinRafael) January 20, 2020
Here’s what the image actually looks like:
Truthfully, I can’t say I mind these ads. First of all, Wordpad’s feature set is a fraction of what you want in a word processor. People like to complain about the endless bloat of modern applications, but a functional spell checker is a core feature as far as I’m concerned.
Even a quick glance at the online version of Word shows a much more robust set of features than Wordpad has ever provided. You have the option to save your work locally in a .DOCX file or to upload it to OneDrive. Having tested the online version of Word this afternoon, I’d much rather use it than Wordpad.
Finally, there’s the fact that Microsoft is putting these ads in a place where it actually makes sense to find them. If you are attempting to use Wordpad, you’re probably desperate for a solution. Showing people they can use a simplified version of Office for free by advertising it in Wordpad is actually a smart move. It’s where MS is most likely to find its customers.
Microsoft has always faced challenges when it comes to explaining new products and services. People tend to prefer things continue to work the way they always have and resist learning new methods. It’s difficult to communicate the changes to a product as vast as a modern OS in a way that’s easy for ordinary users to follow. I’ve said before that I didn’t have a problem with the intrinsic idea of Microsoft advertising products and services to Windows users, but that I objected to the way the company went about doing it.
Embedding a small text notification in a highly relevant application to notify people they have a better free option available online is the right way to handle this kind of thing. It’s certainly preferable to cynically scaring people over their browser choice, embedding random ads in the Start Menu, or resetting their application defaults upon upgrade. Anyone stuck using Wordpad who doesn’t want to use Office in any shape or form should investigate LibreOffice as an alternative product.
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