How to Pick the Right Windows 10 Beta Channel

Image: Microsoft
Image: Microsoft

I never liked the idea of “rings” for beta releases — especially for Windows 10. I always thought it was easier for regular people to understand the concept of a beta when it was split into “channels,” much as you’d find in your favourite web browser, rather than a “fast” and “slow” ring.

And that’s exactly what Microsoft is now doing. You’ll only find rings in its first person shooters — a Halo joke I’m not sorry for one bit. Otherwise, Windows 10’s Insider Preview program is moving from rings to channels, and you’ll get three to pick from if, or when, you decide to help Microsoft beta-test new versions of the operating system.

For those unaware, Microsoft previously offered three different “rings” you could sign up for via Settings > Update & Security > Windows Insider Program. While most people who didn’t want a buggy OS stuck with the “Release Preview” option, you could also opt for a slightly more seat-of-the-pants “Slow” ring or the “like Veruca Salt, I want every feature right now” option, otherwise known as the “Fast” ring.

Screenshot: David Murphy

In an effort to simplify what these different types of release builds mean, Microsoft is shifting to offering three separate “channels” you’ll be able to sign up for later this month. Spoiler: They’re not that different from the rings you’ve been using. So much so, in fact, that Microsoft will automatically move you from a ring to the appropriate channel that matches the experience you’re looking for.

The three channels — Dev, Beta, and Release Preview — look like this:

Graphic: Microsoft

So, if you’re on the “Fast” ring, you’ll stay on the new Dev channel. If you’re on “Slow” ring, you’ll live on the Beta channel. Your “Release Preview” experience, if that’s what you picked before, should stay the same from ring to channel.

The key difference this time around, however, is that Dev channel users will experience builds that “are not matched to a specific Windows 10 release,” writes Microsoft Principal Program Manager Lead Amanda Langowski.

“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. Insider feedback here will help our engineers with major fixes and changes to the latest code.”

In contrast, Beta channel testers will be playing around with versions of Windows 10 that are tied to a specific, upcoming release. That, and the new “channels” are designed for the quality of an experience that you want — buggy and fresh, reliable, or complete stability.

“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,” Langowski writes.

Confused? You shouldn’t be. When in doubt, stick with the “Beta” channel for the best mix of fresh features and reasonable stability. And, as always, make sure you’ve backed up your critical files before you enroll in any beta, lest you find yourself facing a cataclysmic Windows 10 issue. (It can happen!)

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