Confusion reigns: what’s going on with the Windows Insider Program?

Windows Insider

Yesterday, Microsoft further muddied the waters of Windows Insider testing with the release of Windows 10 Insider version 19H2 to the Release Preview Ring. A number of Insiders, including our own Laurent Giret and Paul Thurrott (premium content), came away more confused than ever. There’s a number of issues at play here, including that Microsoft hasn’t done a stellar job of explaining itself. Let’s take a closer look:

Issue #1: pick a name and stick to it

Can we finally just admit that Windows 10 version naming has gotten completely out of control? May 2019 Update, 1903, 19H1, blah blah blah, why do we need so many names for the same thing? Microsoft has been understandably reluctant to use a version number like 1903 (March 2019) too early and painting themselves into a corner if things get delayed (and how many versions of Windows 10 actually shipped the month denoted in the version number? not many). So why use them at all, or the “marketing name” (my term for the likes of “May 2019 Update”) that do nothing good and just confuse things. Microsoft moved to the “20H1” naming etiquette and it works: doesn’t commit too much, is descriptive, short, and to the point, and there’s basically no reason to use anything else. Isn’t it time to settle on a naming structure after 4 years of this nonsense?

Issue #2: It’s a major/minor release cycle now, can we just admit it?

Enterprise users have long been aghast at the proliferation of feature releases for Windows 10, and Microsoft finally seems to have listened, making 19H2 a minor release cycle, although they couldn’t resist sneaking some features in amongst the security and performance fixes. Yet Microsoft continues to dance around the change, never quite coming out and saying (or sticking to a regimen of “no features in the fall”) that we’ve entered a major/minor release cycle. It’s fine, we get it, just relax and admit it!

Issue #3: Now we’ve gone and messed up the Rings, too

Microsoft just can’t get out of its own way when it comes to naming. With the advent of the Insider program, a perfectly good naming scheme using a Ring analogy came about: Fast Ring for the adventurous ones (and oh wait, Skip Ahead for those who want to be faster than fast!), Slow Ring for the cautious, and Release Preview for enterprise type testers who just wanted a head start on deploying new features. Then 19H2 came along and messed everything up, comandeering the Slow Ring for its minor release cycle testing, and making a mess out of Fast and Skip Ahead Rings in the process. Again, by embracing a major/minor release cycle, H2 releases could have their own rings, leaving H1 Skip Ahead, Fast, and Slow alone, with perhaps even a new use for Skip Ahead, see below.

Issue #4: A/B testing is here to stay

The issue of A/B testing with Windows Insiders continues to frustrate testers, especially when one of the promises of the Insider program has been to get access to new stuff first. In fact, I argued that point some months ago. Yet, it’s time this time for Insiders to come to grips with the idea that A/B testing is here to stay. It’s simply too valuable a tool for Microsoft engineers. However, as I said, the Insider program is never going to be a controlled experiment, and Insiders are going to find ways to get the latest bits somehow. So why not embrace the Skip Ahead Ring, make it a sandbox for cutting edge Insiders, with access to all the latest features? There would still be plenty of Insiders left in the Fast and Slow Rings for A/B testing, and everyone would be happy.

Help!

Someone at Microsoft needs to come in and clean up this program. Like many initiatives that grow a little too big, too fast, it’s getting unwieldy, confusing, and well not quite as much fun as it used to be. We’re going to continue to be avid Insiders, and sincerely want to help, but we need more than taco hats and ninja cats. It’s time for some adult supervision.

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