7 ways to make Windows 11 less annoying

I told you last year that Microsoft would crank up the Windows money-making machine. Here's how to turn off the ads, upsells, and cross-sells.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor
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I don't really want to do the "I told you so" dance, but after a couple of my ZDNET colleagues complained recently about "ads" in Windows 11 ... well, may I just say I tried to warn you.

Also: Windows 11 FAQ: Upgrade guide and everything you need to know

Last year, I wrote "Here's why Windows PCs are only going to get more annoying." This is the key part, right here:

Increasingly, Microsoft is treating Windows as a giant billboard where it can promote and cross-sell other products.


This really shouldn't be a surprise, of course. If you're a humongous global software company selling a mature product in a market that's no longer growing and where there's significant downward pressure on the price of the product, you need to start looking elsewhere for the revenue that will keep that business unit relevant.

And if you don't believe me, then listen to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who wrote the following, in a memo that was never intended for people outside of Microsoft to see:

Adoption of Windows 11 will both provide better experiences for users and monetize our applications and services more effectively. We have significant room to improve the adoption and monetization of key high-value services on Windows PCs, including Gaming (Game Pass on PC), OneDrive ("Backup your PC"), consumer productivity (M365 consumer subscription) and advertising through the browser and feed.

Personally, I think of most of these features as upsells or cross-sells, not advertising. They're similar to what you might see when TicketMaster tries to sell you insurance for your concert tickets or Pottery Barn offers their co-branded credit card when you're trying to check out.

Also: Windows 11: Do these six things right away after you finish setup

Regardless of what you call them, though, there's no doubt that collectively they represent a basket of annoyances for people who use Windows PCs. And, at the risk of repeating myself, they'll only get more annoying.

You can, of course, switch to an alternate platform. But if you're otherwise happy with your Windows PC, there's a better way. In this post, I show you how to eliminate (or greatly minimize) the annoyance factor on a Windows 11 PC.

1. Silence account notifications

When you sign in with a Microsoft account, it's easier for Windows to try to cross-sell you on services like Microsoft 365. On the other hand, there are some significant advantages to using a Microsoft account, such as automatic encryption of all data on the system drive, and the ability to recover your account if you forget your password.

If you prefer to set up Windows with a local account, a badge appears at the top of the account menu, urging you to "sign in to your Microsoft account."

To make that notification go away, go to Settings > Personalization > Start and turn off "Show account-related notifications occasionally in Start."

2. Turn off OneDrive backup

This is another feature that has actual value while still giving Microsoft a golden upsell opportunity. Every Microsoft account gets 5 GB of free online storage that syncs automatically using File Explorer. You can increase that allotment with a paid Microsoft 365 account, for as little as $1.99 a month (the prices are similar to what you pay for Apple's iCloud and Google Drive storage).

The biggest problem with Microsoft's cloud storage in Windows is that it defaults to automatically setting up the OneDrive Backup feature. That setting changes the location of the Desktop, Documents, and Pictures folders from the local user profile to OneDrive. Your data is still stored locally but is backed up to the cloud.

Also: How do I get OneDrive under control?

That might be a good thing if you're a casual computer user and you don't have a backup strategy. But if you have more than 5 GB of data in those folders and accidentally turn on the OneDrive Backup feature, you'll run out of space immediately, which can be a rude surprise.

To restore those files to local-only status, right-click the OneDrive icon in File Explorer, then click OneDrive > Manage OneDrive Backup and slide the switches for all the backed-up folders to the Off position.

Don't be alarmed when you discover that those local folders are empty. Your files are still on your PC, in the corresponding cloud-synced folders. In File Explorer, click OneDrive, open each folder you see, and move its contents back to the local folder.

3. Uninstall third-party app shortcuts 

When you set up Windows 11 for the first time, the Pinned Apps section at the top of the Start menu is filled with icons representing apps you might not want. Most are from Microsoft, but you'll also find a selection of third-party apps. On a test account I set up for this article, the selection of third-party apps included Spotify, Grammarly, and Luminar Neo (an "AI photo editor"). These are only shortcuts, and they use almost no actual storage space.

Thankfully, the sprinkling of app shortcuts is at worst a minor annoyance and is nothing like the dark days a decade or more ago, when crapware was epidemic on Windows PCs. To banish an unwanted app shortcut from the Windows 11 menu, right-click its icon and click Uninstall. It won't come back.

4. Turn off recommendations

Microsoft insists it will only suggest apps that its algorithms think you'll like, presumably using its AI-based tools. If you'd prefer to shut that algorithm up, go to Settings > Personalization > Start and turn off "Show recommendations for tips, shortcuts, news apps, and more".

5. Hide ads in Microsoft Edge

This is one Microsoft product loaded with actual advertisements, which appear on the default Microsoft Start page, in between a bunch of clickbait news stories and other bits of unwanted content.

If you don't like that approach, you can choose a different browser

Also: How to tighten your security in Microsoft Edge

To keep using Edge without the annoying ads, open a new tab, click the gear icon in the upper right corner, and turn the Content setting to Off.

6. Remove ads from the Widgets feed

In its default configuration, the Windows 11 Widgets page uses the same ad-drenched feed as Edge. The option to remove news (and advertisements) from the feed is finally available in released versions of Windows 11. If you want the useful stuff (like quick access to real-time weather info), try customizing the Widgets pane. Press Windows key + W to open the pane, click the gear icon in the upper right corner, click "Show or hide feeds," and then slide the "My feeds" switch to Off.

If you'd rather not be bothered by Widgets, you can hide the icon so it won't appear accidentally when you hover over its icon. Go to Settings > Personalization > Taskbar and turn the Widgets switch to Off.

7. Hide Windows Copilot

Microsoft's signature AI feature is branded as Copilot. Technically, the Windows Copilot feature is still in preview, but that hasn't stopped the company from integrating it tightly into Windows, in the form of an icon that appears at the extreme right side of the taskbar. If you're not interested in playing with this ChatGPT variant, go to Settings > Personalization > Taskbar and turn the "Copilot (preview)" switch to the Off position.

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