Windows 11 will be getting a significant new feature update sometime this month, and Microsoft is taking the opportunity to make some changes to its Windows Insider public beta program. The company outlined its plans in a blog post, along with a new logo (it looks like people but also hearts, neat).
Microsoft’s plans primarily impact the Dev channel, which will be “a place to incubate new ideas” but will more importantly be a place where Microsoft tests competing versions of features to see which one gets the best response. Some of the features might make it into the consumer version of Windows soon, some might make it eventually, and some may disappear never to be seen or heard from again.
For context, the Insider Preview program has three channels, each of which represents a different stage of Windows development. The Dev channel is updated frequently and previews not-always-stable, not-always-finished versions of new fixes and features, some of which are uncovered by external developers before Microsoft is ready to talk about them. The Beta channel is where near-final versions of features are tested before being tweaked for public release, and the Release Preview channel generally gets the exact same builds of Windows that are released to the general public a few days or weeks before everyone else.
The company stresses that the Beta and Dev channels will be “parallel active development branches but previewing different things,” and because of this, there may actually be Windows features that show up in the Beta channel before they make it to the Dev channel. For current Dev channel users who would actually prefer to be on the Beta track going forward, Microsoft will provide an off-ramp for channel switchers before totally bifurcating the builds. After this, switching will become more difficult and may require a full reinstall of Windows.
As for whether this is a change for the Windows Insider program, that depends on what era of the Insider Program you’re comparing it to. More recently, especially throughout Windows 11’s development cycle, the Dev channel has mostly been a pre-beta channel, more frequently updated than Beta but primarily used for testing features that would eventually make their way to the public more or less intact. But in the early days of Windows 10, the Dev channel was frequently used to test features that never made it to the public version of Windows or were significantly delayed or changed along the way.
So the Insider Program isn’t changing so much as it is reverting to the way it used to be. But Microsoft says that more people are using the Windows 11 preview builds than used the Windows 10 versions, so it’s worth reiterating the original intended purpose of each channel for the people who weren’t there at the dawn of the Windows-as-a-service era.