I just wanted to play Solitaire. Get a few games with a program that has been included for free with nearly every desktop operating system since 1990. Instead, I ended up slamming any search term I could think of into Microsoft Bing via the Microsoft Edge browser.
I know this setup sounds like it was written by a clickbait generator, but it’s real. How on earth did I get here?
It turns out Solitaire on Windows isn’t totally free anymore. It’s now freemium. Sure, you can play without paying, but you’ll have limited features to work with. And worse, you’ll have to watch ads periodically. If you want to use different card backs and not have sudden, loud videos play between every third or fourth game, you better buy a premium pass.
Thankfully, I found another, slightly more absurd way. Now, Microsoft hates me. With one simple trick, I can enjoy Solitaire for free, ad-free. And it’s not what you’d expect (using a deck of cards like a normal person).
Back to the beginning
Computer-based Solitaire programs are almost as old as Windows itself. The first OS to include one was Windows 3.0 in 1990. Microsoft included it for educational purposes. The company thought Solitaire would help teach users how to use a mouse and become accustomed to a computer with a graphical user interface.
It was perhaps a little too effective. Solitaire and its more complicated cousin Minesweeper were the subjects of much worrying back in the 90s about lost productivity. Turns out a lot of people hated their jobs 30 years ago too. That article is a wild ride and well worth your time.
Solitaire has been included in every edition of Windows since 1990. However, Solitaire got a major update when Microsoft rolled out Windows 8 in 2012. With that OS, the company introduced the freemium Microsoft Solitaire Collection, the one this story is about.
Microsoft’s idea was to again use Solitaire for teaching. This time, the plan was to acclimatize users to Windows 8’s menu system. I’ve stolen the images from the article to show you a quick comparison.
It didn’t work quite as well the second go around. People didn’t like Windows 8. And generally, people also dislike getting blasted with ads while trying to play a game. Although presumably, some people enjoyed the Xbox network integration. You can rack up “Gamerscore” by solving Solitaire puzzles. Modern life is amazing.
Microsoft updated the collection’s interface for Windows 10, which is where we are today. I used it extensively when writing card game fanfiction and have been using it all the time since while listening to music or podcasts.
Boy those ads get on my nerves. At least with social media ads, intrusive and annoying as they may be, clear efforts are being made to provide me with relevant content. I wish they wouldn’t do this by encroaching on my privacy, but at least they’re thinking about me.
Microsoft is not using the data it harvests from me to serve up relevant Solitaire Collection ads. The video ones are mostly for other casual video games (such as a Santa-themed Bejewelled clone shown to me in April) or consumer products like Dove soap. The embedded ads meanwhile tell me about how senior citizens like myself are eligible for free invisible hearing aids or offer solutions to clean up foot fungus. This must be all they have to work with.
Content aside, the video ads are remarkably intrusive. I like to listen to podcasts or music while playing, so sudden loud ads make for a horrible user experience. I opted to open the volume mixer and mute only Solitaire. Problem solved, right?
Hell no. The game opens multiple instances of itself when it realizes you’ve muted it. The ads play in full volume once again.
Regardless, I stuck with the program.
It has the best graphics I’ve ever seen on Solitaire software. That’s an admittedly low bar. I’ve been playing around with Linux recently, and Ubuntu’s Solitaire client pails in comparison visually.
Other alternatives have drawbacks as well. The Solitaire apps I’ve used on Android have all asked for way more permissions than I feel are necessary. And playing with real cards can be frustrating. There is obviously no undo button, nor can you filter out unwinnable games. In solitaire, that’s most of them. I spent more time shuffling than I did playing.
The ads are the only real issue. If only there was a way to remove them…
How to play Solitaire for free
I stumbled upon such a way while researching my series on Internet Explorer’s rise and subsequent downfall. It turns out, Microsoft is so desperate to get people to use Edge and Bing that they have gamified the experience for those with a Microsoft account.
Every time you search for something on Bing you get three points. But there are also little quizzes for you to do. You also get rewards for daily use. If you buy things from the Microsoft store, you’ll earn points from that as well.
Best of all, you can redeem these points for the premium version of the Microsoft Solitaire Collection. The points add up quickly, and it only took me a few days to earn enough to get a month of free solitaire. There are other prizes too, but who cares?
I’m bingeing on Bing so I can mindlessly move cards while listening to podcasts. I’m listening to podcasts while I make my searches too. And for the first time in months, I don’t have to constantly pay attention to the Volume Mixer.
Solitaire: an unexpected case study in today’s internet
The only problem is that Microsoft has trained me in Pavlov’s style to think “Bing” any time I need to look something up. It usually doesn’t work because I don’t normally use Edge. I only fire it up to do my dailies. Still, I’ve thought about Bing more in the past month than I have in years.
What a bizarre way to use a computer. I now have a daily ritual in which I look up inane things on a third-rate search engine in a fourth-rate browser. All so I can play the Cadillac of Solitaire software without having to spend money or watch ads.
There’s a comment to be made about the monetize-and-gamify-everything culture of the contemporary internet. But I’m just too tired to make it.
I just want to play Solitaire.