Over the past few years, Microsoft seems to be blending a more open development approach with a hint of its successful Windows 7 marketing while also expanding the number of its programs it offers to eager testers and early adopters.
Before the seemingly unnecessarily secretive Windows 8 development period headed by former Windows lead Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's operating system was affectionally referred to as the system "made by me."
The early 2009-2010 marketing of Windows 7's "made by me" campaign centered around a notion that the operating system was designed by the people and for the people who used Windows. In actuality, Microsoft used a limited closed beta program to back its marketing that Windows 7 was created by listening to customer feedback.
Almost ten years later, Microsoft seems to be leaning on that old notion that its programs are being developed in conjunction with the people who use them the most by introducing Insider and Preview programs across its spread of hardware and software solutions.
Unlike the 2007 Windows 8 beta program, Microsoft's new Insider and Preview programs are much easier to participate in and come with a more organized approach for providing the company feedback.
Being a Microsoft Insider typically comes with the implicit and explicit understanding that users, customers, and testers are being given early access to a program intended to eventually reach more general availability. With early access, it becomes incumbent on the participant to offer feedback either through open communication or gathered telemetry to help Microsoft engineers develop and shape the outcome of a product.
Anyone interested in becoming an Insider can now do so with a wide selection of products such as Windows 10, Xbox One (consoles/hardware), Office, Skype, and Azure.
Windows 10 Insider Program
The Windows 10 Insider Program includes access to early builds, updates and bug fixes for both Windows 10 on PC and Mobile devices. The program also extends to developers who can get their hands on early Windows SDKs and mobile emulators as well as hardware developer kits as well as early access to the Windows IoT Core.
To get started, either Bing or Google Windows 10 Insider or follow the link here. Anyone meeting the minimum software and hardware requirements and are willing to own a Microsoft account can sign up for any of the above programs.
As the Skype team puts it, "Be the voice of millions of customers." The Skype Preview program is a multiplatform experience that spans both commercial and casual use. Users can participate by downloading the various Skype preview apps across iOS, MacOS, Android, the Web, Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile.
The Skype for Business customer programs provides you early access to new products and features. It enables your organization to get a sneak peek at what's coming and to test out the new features in your own environment and give feedback before we release product builds to the general public.
Xbox Preview Program
Perhaps the funniest of the group (depending on how excited one can be about Office and Skype) is the newly minted Xbox One preview program. Now gamers can do more than complain about game development; they can complain the layout, animations and missing features of the Xbox One experience.
Similar to other Insider programs, users are given early access to builds of the operating system planned for release to the general public. Input from Insiders has helped bring features such as Backward Compatibility, Background Audio, dashboard redesigns and much more to the Xbox One experience today which have seemingly helped regain consumer trust in the product.
Microsoft also recently opened a quieter Insider program designed to help guide hardware construction of 1st party equipment which also includes Xbox One, One S, (probably Project Scorpio) and any future gaming consoles. The invite to this program is a bit more exclusive and requires an email invite, secret handshake, and some other cloak n' dagger processes.
Office Insider Program
Last but not least of the consumer facing programs is the Office Insider Program. While perhaps the least attractive of the sneak peaks is early access to shaping the next set of updates that millions of users around the world will get their hands on.
By becoming an Office Insider, you can get early access to the latest Office innovations. Your feedback goes directly to Microsoft product teams and will help make Office even better for users worldwide.
To opt into the program users only need to have one of the many Office apps found on Windows Desktop, Mac, Windows Mobile, Android, and iOS.
Each of the above programs come with their own set of stipulations, but anyone opting into any of the options should be aware that updates are a major part of participation.
Typically, each program receives an update a month with some exceptions such as Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile often getting two or three in a month, at times.
Becoming an Insider has its benefits and downsides but overall they help shape lives of millions.
Let us know in the comments below which if any Insider programs you are in or thinking about participating in the future.