The Windows Insider program is changing, and here’s why it should

Kip Kniskern

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Earlier this week, Microsoft announced that the Windows Insider program’s second leader, Dona Sarkar, is heading to a new role in the company. That leaves the program searching for new leadership, and likely for a new direction.

It’s a momentous time for Windows. Not only has Microsoft moved on from Windows as the backbone of the company, focusing more and more on Azure and services and enterprise and the next generation of computing, but things are changing even within Windows. Last week Microsoft unveiled “Windows 10X,” a new flavor of Windows built especially for dual screen devices and built on “WCOS.” The Windows Core Operating System is reportedly designed to bring Windows into the next generation of computing devices, whether that’s HoloLens or the Surface Hub or Neo or Duo or who knows what next.

Microsoft has held a company line on Windows 10X being a variant of Windows 10 for dual screen devices “only,” but if dual screens and Windows 10X were to take off (granted, a somewhat unlikely proposition), and even if they don’t, bringing a lighter touch to full on Windows 10 could be in the cards. That means not only testing to see what’s broken, but also testing to see what the some 17 million Windows Insiders prefer if there were to be a new look for Windows.

Not only that, but the state of the Windows Insider system, with what used to be a fairly straightforward series of rings, has somehow become a quagmire. There’s Skip Ahead and Fast and Slow, but now Slow isn’t Slow Ring, it’s testing a different version altogether, and there’s a major feature release cycle and a minor bug fix cycle, only the bug release cycle has new features, too, and oh we still have nearly six months to go before 20H1 is released, but all the major features have already been announced (or so we’re hearing), so do we begin on 21H1 already, really?

Microsoft and the Windows Insider Program have come a long way in five short years. Even though it doesn’t seem possible to release a build on the same schedule more than two weeks in a row, we now have a reliable way of tracking changes where it used to be like pulling teeth to even find out what got changed build to build. Sure, there’s still too many taco hats and not enough real information about how Windows is made and changed, but we’ve come a long way.

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Windows is undergoing a transformation, with new hardware form factors, the rise of gaming as a top line service, a general move to the cloud and computing “where you are” and away from being locked to a PC desktop. Microsoft is embracing the idea of its services running on any device and any platform, and Windows itself is running everything from Linux to next generation command line interfaces, not as an afterthought, but as first class citizens.

The Windows Insider Program is going to have to make changes too, to keep up with everything that’s going on with Windows and beyond. We wish Dona Sarkar and everyone involved in the Windows Insider Program all the best, but here’s hoping that like Neo and Duo and Windows 10X, the Windows Insider Program embraces bold forward thinking change.