Image: Microsoft

Microsoft is kicking off a couple of changes to its Windows Insider program that could help users better choose and navigate the right builds.

In a blog post published Monday, the software giant said that it’s transitioning the present Ring model for builds to a Channel model. Beyond the name change, the new model will focus less on the frequency of each build and more on the quality. The goal is to help existing insiders and new joiners select the build experience that’s right for them.

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People who join the free Windows Insider program receive regular updates, or builds, with the latest changes that Microsoft is planning for Windows 10. By working with these prerelease builds, insiders can share feedback with the company to help it fix bugs and smooth over the rough spots before an update hits the general public.

In the current model, Microsoft offers three rings: Fast, Slow, and Release Preview. The Fast ring is for Windows Insiders who want updates the fastest and are willing to put up with more bugs and glitches. The Slow ring is for those who’d rather wait for more stable updates. The Preview Release ring is the most stable of the three and is geared toward people who want to get an upcoming major Windows update before it’s released to the public.

The problem with the Ring method is that it forces Microsoft to work on multiple product releases for Windows 10, all at the same time. Plus, the Ring builds are based more on frequency than quality, another aspect that makes the process more challenging.

“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,” Microsoft said. “We began to realize that we were ‘outgrowing’ the original concept for rings.”

The new method will instead use a Channel model with a clear transition from the current rings. The Fast ring will become the Dev Channel, the Slow ring will become the Beta Channel, and the Release Preview ring will become the Release Preview Channel. The new channels are described as follows:

  • Dev Channel. Right for highly technical users, these builds will offer the latest work-in-progress changes eyed for future releases of Windows but will have rough edges and some instability.
  • Beta Channel. Best for early adopters, these builds will offer upcoming Windows 10 features aimed at a specific release and will be relatively stable as validated by Microsoft.
  • Release Preview Channel. Geared for people who want stable and validated releases, these builds will include upcoming changes to Windows ahead of their public launch and are supported by Microsoft.

Image: Microsoft

The new names also match up with recent changes to the naming scheme for the Office Insider Program. People testing new builds of Microsoft 365 can choose from a Beta Channel or a Preview Channel.

Current Windows Insiders need do nothing; these changes to the Insider builds will automatically take effect. Those who join the Windows Insider Program will be able to choose which of the three Insider settings they want to use. To join the program directly in Windows 10, go to Settings and then Update & Security. Select the setting for Windows Insider Program and click the button to Get Started. You’ll then be prompted to select a channel.

Depending on the channel you choose, you’ll likely want to receive the builds on a computer separate from your main or production machine, such as a test PC or virtual environment.