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Microsoft's new ad target: Windows 7

The software maker will let advertisers offer themes on the Windows desktop, but pledges to users that it's up to them whether they want to accept the branding.

Seizing what is perhaps its most valuable advertising real estate, Microsoft said on Friday it has launched a pilot program to sell ads on the Windows desktop.

Advertisers can buy the right to offer various themes that customize the desktop image and that promote various gadgets and even custom sounds for the Windows 7 operating system. Microsoft stressed, however, that users will choose which, if any, of the customizations they want to download.

The Windows Personalization Gallery offers a desktop branding experience for users throughout the operation of their Windows 7-based PC, including backgrounds, slide shows, borders, and application audio elements.

Microsoft's pitch is that the program will allow consumers to connect with brands they particularly like.

"The new Windows Theme Experience and Windows Personalization Gallery in Windows 7 allow consumers to customize their technology to reflect the things in life they are most passionate about," Microsoft vice president Darren Huston said in a statement. "These are great examples of Microsoft innovation and technology coming together to enable top global brands to reach audiences in new and interesting ways."

Microsoft said that the advertising program is a test that will run through October of next year. Early partners include Porsche, Infiniti, and Ducati, and Microsoft itself is participating.

"Microsoft is a key partner in our global advertising strategy; they constantly provide new ideas and opportunities which are tailored to our brand and exciting for our customers," Infiniti marketing director Jon Brancheau said in a statement. "The Windows Personalization Gallery and Windows Theme Experience are unique offerings that will provide Infiniti with a new set of tools to integrate our brand elements into the lives of consumers everywhere."

Twentieth Century Fox, another early advertiser, will use the Windows desktop to promote its movies.

"People connect emotionally with films and the stories they tell," vice president Bettina Sherick said in a statement. "These are the same people who personalize their digital experience. We are thrilled to be able to bring our film properties to consumers and let them engage more deeply with the stories that move them."

Microsoft said that the themes are available globally from Microsoft's Web site.

"We pride ourselves on listening to our clients and developing the most innovative, accessible and relevant products based on their feedback," said John Nicol, general manager, Last Mile Innovation, Microsoft Consumer & Online.

Although new to Windows, sponsored themes have been common in other PC experiences, such as instant-messaging programs.

So, Windows 7 users, what do you make of this?

In addition to the usual collection of pretty pictures, Microsoft is now selling businesses the option of offering sponsored desktop themes for Windows 7. CNET