I grew up on Windows and have used it throughout most of my life. However, Windows 8 marked the beginning of a long decline that has now culminated in the bloated mess that is Windows 11: a desktop operating system that spies on its users, forces unwanted apps and advertisements upon them, and increases e-waste through forced obsolescence of otherwise good hardware.
Telemetry (a.k.a. Spying)
Telemetry is the polite name for the data that software collects about you and your computer, and sends back home to its publisher. Windows has a lot of telemetry. Some of it can be disabled easily through the Settings app; a lot of it can't.
Did you know that your Windows computer tells Microsoft which applications you have installed? I suspect most people don't, even though Microsoft isn't exactly shy about it. Your list of installed applications is part of the "Required" diagnostic data set. Microsoft doesn't allow this to be turned off through Settings, but it can still be disabled using a guide if you're a little tech savvy. Guides like this have become increasingly essential as Windows' telemetry has grown over the years. Unfortunately, these guides aren't a permanent solution because Microsoft likes to deploy new telemetry through Windows Updates (which are both mandatory and automatic). Keeping up with it is a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole.
But perhaps worse than telemetry is the idea of connecting your Windows computer to your Microsoft account. Microsoft began encouraging users to do this in Windows 8 by presenting it as an option during installation. Then in Windows 8.1, they tried to trick users into thinking it was the only option by hiding the alternative at the bottom a different form. Now in Windows 11, using a Microsoft account actually is the only option. If you don't want your operating system connected to Microsoft's cloud, you're out of luck.
Unwanted Apps and Ads
Windows has always had a few non-essential extras, whether it's games like Solitaire or redundant tools like Windows Messenger. However, Windows 8 began the tradition of installing outright trash like Bing Travel. We're at the point now where it's considered totally normal to waste time uninstalling unwanted apps from a fresh Windows installation. And even then you aren't safe because, once again, Microsoft can deploy more unwanted apps through Windows Updates—including ones you previously removed.
Then there's the advertising. As recounted by Dan Delimarsky, we've seen:
And let's not forget about ads in the Lock Screen! Imagine paying for a product that shows you unwanted advertisements…
Lastly, there's the forced obsolescence. Beginning with Windows 11, an 8th-generation CPU (or newer) is required… despite the fact that 7th-generation CPUs were still on the market less than a year before its release. Now these old CPUs are just about worthless because they have no upgrade path. The average consumer doesn't know how to upgrade computer parts and isn't going to bother. I wouldn't blame them.
Microsoft states that this CPU requirement is for security reasons, presumably so that BitLocker can be enabled out-of-the-box. Full-Disk Encryption is great—but it doesn't warrant dropping support for older CPUs when they could simply be grandfathered in without BitLocker. The end result is that most consumers will have to throw their old computer away in order to upgrade to Windows 11 when, realistically, it would run well enough on even a 4th-generation CPU.
Microsoft can get away with these consumer-hostile measures because they have a captive audience. Alternatives like Linux and MacOS simply aren't the same, and very few Windows users would ever consider switching; Microsoft can largely do whatever they want. It seems like Windows' best days are long behind it now, and based on current trends, I don't see it improving any time soon. Even if it did, I don't expect I'll go back. You can pay me to use Windows, but I won't do it for free.