Microsoft Switching from Ring Model to Channels for Insider Preview Builds

Recently, Microsoft has announced some changes to the way new builds are released to all Windows Insiders. Microsoft has been using ring model for over 5 years. Now they are switching and converting existing Ring Model which was based on the frequency of builds to Channel Model which is based on the quality of the builds. Additionally, similar model will be followed for Microsoft Office and Edge programs as well.

The idea behind this changes is to make it clearer for existing Insiders to choose the experience that’s right for them, and also for new Insiders to pick the right channel when they join. The Windows Insider community is quite large and has been playing very important role for Microsoft. Now, Microsoft is planning to align how all Insider programs work better together across Microsoft.

Switching the Focus to the Quality

Initially, Windows Insiders were asked to join one of two rings based on the frequency of when new builds would be delivered to their devices — Fast or Slow. 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 versions of Windows joined the Slow ring. And, in early 2016, Microsoft introduced the Release Preview ring for the Insiders who wanted to receive early access to servicing updates on released versions of Windows 10.

According to Windows Insider Blog:

Over the years, we’ve adjusted how we’ve used the rings as we have evolved the way we build and release Windows 10. Originally, we flighted builds from a single product release. Now, we’re innovating on features in multiple product releases at the same time. In the middle of 2019, Insiders were running builds from 3 different releases (at various stages in our development cycle) with the Fast ring being on 20H1, the Slow ring on 19H2 code, and the Release Preview ring on 19H1 code. We began to realize that we were “outgrowing” the original concept for rings.

As we continue to evolve the way we release Windows 10 and the diversity of Insiders we serve is greater than ever, it is critical that Insiders have a flighting option that is tailored to their needs. We believe the best way to do this is to shift focus from frequency to quality. Insiders can pick a channel that represents the experience they want for their device based on the quality they are most comfortable with. Our intention is to ensure Insiders will continue to receive frequent updates no matter which channel they’ve chosen.

Switching from Rings to Channels

By the end of this month, the Fast ring will be converted to the Dev Channel, the Slow ring will be converted to the Beta Channel, and the Release Preview ring will become the Release Preview Channel. Here is what that mapping would look like:

1. Dev Channel

This channel is ideal for highly technical users. Insiders in the Dev Channel will receive builds that are earliest in a development cycle and will contain the latest work-in-progress code. These builds will have rough edges and some instability that could block key activities or require workarounds.

These builds are not related to any specific Windows 10 release. 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.

2. Beta Channel

This channel is ideal for early adopters. Insiders and IT Professionals in the Beta Channel can check out upcoming Windows 10 features, while still getting relatively reliable updates that are validated by Microsoft.

As a part of the Beta Channel, Insiders will see builds that will be tied to a specific upcoming release, like 20H1 previously.

3. Release Preview Channel

Insiders 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 are supported by Microsoft. The Release Preview Channel is where companies preview and validate upcoming Windows 10 releases before broad deployment within their organization.

Microsoft Office Insider Program Changes

Similar to Windows 10, an Office Insider can make a choice as to which experience, they want and have it. It is like the same thing between Windows and Office. Insiders still need to opt into each Insider Program separately, but this experience might get improved over time.

Table showing similarities between channels for Windows and Office Insider Programs.

How the changes will happen?

For Windows Insiders, the move to channels will be easy. If your device is currently receiving flights, Microsoft will automatically move your devices based on your current ring to the new channel that best corresponds with that experience. You won’t have to take any action for this change to happen.

Fast ring = Dev Channel

Slow ring = Beta Channel

Release Preview ring = Release Preview Channel

However, Insiders can always adjust these settings by going to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Insider Program if they want to change channels and try out new experiences.

IT Professionals can manage the Beta and Release Preview Channel builds using their typical Windows Update for Business or Windows Server Update Service management tool, or through the use of Azure Marketplace virtual machines (VMs).

And if you’re not yet flighting, we suggest you give it a try. You can get started by going to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Insider Program and choosing the channel/experience that best suits your needs. The transition to channels will start showing up on the Windows Insider Program’s Settings page in builds later this month.

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