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Windows Insider Channels

29 June 2020

I know we mainly look at Excel, Power BI and Office products, but for those of us on a Windows Operating System, it is important to stay on top of the way Microsoft releases new Windows builds to us all.

Microsoft has recently announced that they are transitioning and converting their current “ring” model, which is based upon the frequency of builds, to a new channel model that instead concentrates on the quality of builds and better supports parallel coding efforts. 

The aim is to make Windows consistent with Office programs, as well as Edge and Teams in the future.  The intention is to not only make it clearer for existing Insiders to choose the experience that’s right for them, but also for new Insiders to pick the right channel as they join.

It’s hard to believe that Microsoft began flighting Windows 10 Insider Preview Builds over five years ago.  Back then, Windows Insiders were asked to join one of two rings based upon the frequency of when new builds would be delivered to their device, either “Fast” or “Slow” (plus one):

  • Insiders who wanted updates the fastest and were comfortable with some rough edges joined the Fast ring
  • Insiders who would rather wait for more polished and stable updates joined the Slow ring
  • Since early 2016, the Release Preview ring has also been introduced for Insiders who wanted to receive early access to servicing updates on released versions of Windows 10.

Originally, the aim was to flight builds from a single product release.  However, as the pace of innovation grew, Microsoft realised the development model had moved on.  In the middle of 2019, Insiders were running builds from three different releases (at various stages in the development cycle):

  1. Fast ring being on 20H1
  2. Slow ring on 19H2 code
  3. Release Preview ring on 19H1 code.

The original ring concept had been superseded.  Microsoft realised that as they continued to evolve Windows 10, it was critical that Insiders had a flighting option tailored to their needs.  Therefore, the focus has shifted from frequency to quality.  Insiders may now select a channel that represents the experience they want for their device based upon the quality they are most comfortable with.  The frequency of updates will remain unchanged no matter which channel is chosen.

In late June, the Fast ring will become the Dev Channel, the Slow ring will become the Beta Channel, and the Release Preview ring will become the Release Preview Channel.

In more detail:

  • Dev Channel: this is intended to be ideal for highly technical users.  Insiders in the Dev Channel will receive builds that is earliest in a development cycle and will contain the latest work-in-progress code from our engineers.  These builds will have rough edges and some instability that could block key activities or require workarounds. 

These builds will not be matched to a specific Windows 10 release.  New features and OS improvements in this channel will show up in future Windows 10 releases when they are ready.  They may be delivered as full OS build updates or servicing releases.  Insider feedback here will help Microsoft’s engineers with major fixes and changes to the latest code

  • Beta Channel: this is intended to be ideal for early adopters.  Insiders and IT professionals in the Beta Channel will be able to check out upcoming Windows 10 features, whilst still receiving relatively reliable updates. 

As a part of the Beta Channel, Insiders will see builds that will be tied to a specific upcoming release, like 20H1 previously.  Feedback will still be of great importance here, since it will help Microsoft identify key issues and fix them before a major release

  • Release Preview Channel: Insiders and IT professionals in the Release Preview Channel will have access to the upcoming release of Windows 10 prior to it being released to the world, with advanced quality updates and certain key features.  These builds will be fully supported by Microsoft.  The Release Preview Channel is the one recommended by Microsoft for  companies seeking to preview and validate upcoming Windows 10 releases before broad deployment within their organisation.

As the new concept rolls out, Microsoft has stated it reserves the right to rename, reclassify or add new channels as it sees fit.

These new channels are intended to align with Office, where new channel names were recently announced.  Now, those on the Insider programme may make a choice as to which experience they want and have it mean the same thing between Windows and Office.  It should be noted that Insiders still need to opt into each Insider Program separately, but this may change in the future.

For Windows Insiders, the move to channels will be easy. If your device is currently flighting, Microsoft will automatically move your devices based on your current ring to the new channel that best corresponds with that experience.  No action is required.

If you are not yet flighting, it is something you can always consider.  Simply go to Settings -> Update & Security -> Windows Insider Program and choose the most appropriate channel / experience.

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