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Microsoft is Changing the Windows Insider Program

Posted June 15, 2020 | Windows | Windows 10 | Windows Insider Program

In the first major change since Amanda Langowski took over, the Windows Insider program will adopt a new release model based on quality.

I know. I laughed out loud when I read that the first time too. But stick with me here.

“We are transitioning and converting our current ring model, based on the frequency of builds, to a new channel model that pivots on the quality of builds and better supports parallel coding efforts,” Langowski writes. “In addition to this change, Insiders will also find similar offering names and expectations across Windows and Office programs and soon Microsoft Edge and Microsoft Teams.”

I had kind of forgotten that the rings system was originally based on the frequency of build releases, since Microsoft had changed it so much that none of the rings actually map to that anymore. But with the Insider program now capable of testing three completely different things—the next version of Windows (Slow ring), the next version of Windows after that (Fast ring), and just app and servicing updates (Release Preview), I do agree that it’s outgrown the ring system. Or at least stopped even pretending it makes any sense anymore.

The new system will feature three channels instead of rings. But aside from the name changes, it seems to work much like the most recent rendition of the rings system.

The Dev channel will replace the Fast ring and provide highly technical users with the earliest access to new features. These builds will not necessarily map to any particular Windows 10 version. Instead, “new features and OS improvements in this channel will show up in future Windows 10 releases when they’re ready and may be delivered as full OS build updates or servicing releases.” Which means, of course, that they can map to a particular coming Windows 10 version, but whatever.

The Beta channel will replace the Slow ring and is aimed at users who want a more reliable peek at coming new features. These builds are tied to a particular Windows 10 release, so I assume we’ll see the 20H2 testing move into the Beta channel any day now.

The Release Preview channel replaces the Release Preview ring, and it will still provide access to the next version of Windows 10 “with advanced quality updates and certain key features.” The new bit? These builds are supported by Microsoft, so companies that wish to preview and validate upcoming Windows 10 releases before broad deployment within their organization can now do so safely.

Two interesting additional points. Microsoft is leaving open the possibility of adding more channels in the future; I wonder if this means we’ll see a channel for WIndows 10X. And these channels will align with Office so that testers in both can align their experiences accordingly.

PCs enrolled in the Windows Insider program will be moved to the corresponding channel automatically, so there’s nothing to do.

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