A comprehensive view of the current Insider Program options

by Gustave M.3 months ago

Recently, the insider program team at Microsoft introduced Skip ahead, a new option for the insiders that not many people seem to understand its goal. It has become apparent over the past year that the insider program became more complex than the original plan, a simple preview builds page in settings with a check for updates button (remember that old page in build 9841, the first build sent to insiders on October 2014, with no progress bar when a build downloaded? Time does seem faster these days, it was nearly 3 years ago!). If you’re an insider these days, you have more options, and if you’ve been living under a rock since build 9841, or simply new to the Insider program, the change and the number of options might confuse you a bit at first, across all platforms. So let’s dive right in.

The “rings” of the Insider program.

 

This is by far the most option packed page available for Windows Insiders. If you open your Insider Program settings, (under Settings, Updates and recovery/security, Windows Insider Program) you’ll see something looking like this:

While those options do have a little bit of description about them, some are missing important details and tidbits we’ll discuss here.

First, let’s talk about the “What pace do you want to get new builds?” section of this page. This section allows you to pick the cadence of builds you’ll get over time (we’ll refer to them as rings). At the time of writing, there’s currently 2 or 3 options available to you depending on the Operating System build you’re running on.

Insider Release Preview ring: This ring is only displayed for Windows Insiders running a stable version of the operating system, that is released to non-insiders/consumers on the market. This ring generally will offer you 3 types of content: Regular pre-release cumulative updates, those cumulative updates are always hot-fixes or slight improvement for the current Operating System build you’re running, those patches are often if not always stable for your computer but also pretty boring most of the time if you’re an enthusiast. You may ask then, why picking this ring, and what are the other 2 contents I can get off this ring? While pretty boring build wise, this build is one of the few rings always giving you the most up to date preview first party applications from Microsoft. You’ll be one of the first to try out new apps versions such as Groove Music, Calculator (yes calculator can have preview features), Movies & TV, Store, Skype, and so on and so forth. Those apps updates during the past year contained many things from actual features to new UI design and bug fixes. Many insiders value those app updates and may find a benefit with this ring, while not getting the latest development Windows builds (which some consumers may find unstable for their own taste), you’ll get most of the time bleeding edge app updates. Those updates are generally weekly. The third type of content you can get from this ring is actual full Windows builds, those are generally out to the Insider Release Preview ring when Microsoft feels like one build of the development branch may be ready to be available as a General Availability update to consumers around the world. So far, no full builds that came to this branch didn’t get released to Production.

(Windows Insider) Slow ring: This ring is displayed to all insiders regardless of the current operating system version you’re currently using. It offers a generally monthly cadence for Windows builds from the Development branch and is thus more unstable than the Insider Release Preview ring. You’ll get from this ring builds approved by Windows Insiders in the fast ring, which doesn’t contain as much bugs as the regular Fast ring builds and will contain new features of the next Operating System release as well as app updates (though not as often as the Insider Release Preview ring from experience). You may pick this ring if you still want to try builds from Microsoft development branch, ahead of everyone else but you’re afraid of bugs affecting your computer usage or workflow.

(Windows Insider) Fast ring: This ring is also displayed to all insiders regardless of the current operating system version you’re currently using. It offers a generally weekly cadence for Windows builds from the Development branch and is thus more unstable than any other ring. It may include breaking bugs that may certainly affect your workflow, but you’ll also get bleeding edge features to try out and file feedback about to Microsoft. Most enthusiasts prefer this ring. This ring however, contains only preview builds by default, unless if it’s the early stage of the next windows release and the previous windows release has been shipped to consumers, you won’t get app updates as often as the other rings because Microsoft wants you to test the inbox apps that will ship with this build to consumers, to make sure they are stable enough and don’t contain major bugs. Which leads us to talk about the other section you can view on the Windows Insider Program in settings (only available and working on desktops)…

The content types of the Insider Program

 

Now let’s talk about the “What kind of content you would like to receive?” section of this page. This option at the time of writing only got introduced recently to Windows Insiders for Desktop, after a lot of complaints of users wanting both the latest builds with the latest features and the latest app updates on the fast ring. Remember, we noted before that the Insider Fast ring didn’t get as much app updates as the other rings, this option remedies this problem. There’s two different options for you to pick from:

Active development of Windows: this option is the default one, everything we noted previously about rings apply to it. It allows you to pick any ring you want, from Release Preview to Insider Fast, but when Microsoft reaches a certain point in the development of windows, you’ll start getting builds of the release branch instead. As the time of writing, this option currently gives to insiders builds from rs3_release, this means you’ll get the preview builds that will eventually become the next version of windows that will ship shortly after. This option helps Microsoft test the builds and gather feedback for what will eventually ship to consumers. This is why you won’t get any app update, because Microsoft needs to be sure what ships by default in this version, is actually stable and working.

Skip ahead to the next Windows release: this option is a new one, rumored to only appear when Microsoft will enter the stabilizing phase for the next shipping version of windows. By picking this option, you’ll always get builds from the Development branch, and not the release branch, which means you’ll most likely get more buggy builds of Windows, but with more under the hood changes as most developers check in their changes into Windows. At the time of writing, this option gives builds from rs_prerelease. This option also brings a more requested option by Windows Enthusiasts, the ability to receive more frequent bleeding edge app previews. You’ll get almost the same updates as any other ring + the benefit of bleeding edge Windows builds from the Development branch, this also means you’ll get more buggy software, but if that’s your thing, feel free to pick this option. This option will also only allow you to pick the Insider Fast ring, no other ring will be available to you with this option.

 

Overall the Insider Program current options are getting rather complex, since the start of the year. It is definitely more complex than what Microsoft describes on both its official Insider website and in settings, and I hope this post actually cleared some confusion about what most of these do. It also shows how much Microsoft cares about many types of Insiders, and hears back what options they want and how many customization they want over what content they receive, this is definitely a welcome change over the original plan, with a single button in settings and no option, but still confusing for most people, due to the way these are described.

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