The answer to this question all depends on your perspective.
A slide presentation from last month (direct download link from Microsoft's Channel 9 website) that was presented to OEMs at WinHec 2016 reveals some changes that are coming to the Windows 10 Start Menu and they seem to have everyone debating the difference between ads and promoted apps.
The 55 slide briefing covers several areas focused on helping OEMs understand how they can work with Microsoft and Windows 10 as they build new hardware.
Among the slides are two that are specifically about the layout of the Windows 10 Start Menu on Current Branch, OS Version 1511 Build 10586, and the upcoming Windows 10 Anniversary Update that is likely to arrive in late July.
The first slide address Promoted apps on the Windows 10 CB Start Menu:
As you can see above, the current version of Windows 10 which was released as the November Update, designates five medium size tiles on the Start Menu that are used to highlight apps from the Windows Store.
This setup has actually been the norm since last July when Windows 10 was originally released on 29 July 2015.
The second slide in this presentation addresses the changes that are planned for the Windows 10 Anniversary Update that is due out in late July of this year:
The green tiles in the above slide shows the doubling of these medium size tiles for promoting apps from the Windows Store in the next major update to Windows 10.
So those are the facts laid out based on the presentation made at WinHec in April however, the reaction has been quite over the top it seems on social media and tech blogs/sites.
Some are using the terms promoted apps and ads interchangeably which I think is a mistake because when I read the word ads I think of banner ads or similar size graphics being used and that is certainly not what Microsoft is doing here. Do you remember back to when the first preview versions of Microsoft classic games such as Solitaire, Minesweeper and Mahjongg were released with actual banner ads in them? Those were ads but that is not what Microsoft is up to with these Start Menu changes.
On the other hand, when I see the term promoted apps I view that as exposing popular and/or relevant ads through these tiles in an effort to increase engagement in the Windows Store.
Microsoft has put a lot of work and effort into the Windows Store and while it is far from perfect it is intended to be one of the primary delivery mechanisms for apps to run on Windows 10. That is why Microsoft has recently released the Desktop App Converter (Project Centennial) to help Win32 and .NET developers quickly work towards adding their desktop apps to the Windows Store.
It is also why they are investing in the various bridges to help transform apps from other platforms into Universal Windows Platform apps that can easily be made accessible on all Windows device screensizes.
The most recent example of this is the release over this past weekend of the new Instagram app that was a port of the iOS version that was just released last week.
So if your a glass half empty type of person then this likely looks like ads to you and not much else will change that perspective. On the other hand, if you see things as a glass being half full, then this is a positive step in bumping up Store engagement and working to increase its usefullness for Windows 10 users.
For those who do not want these tiles on their Start Menu just Right Click on the Live Tile and select either Uninstall or Unpin from Start.
Problem solved in less than 5 seconds for each promoted app tile.