All you need to know
The Windows Insider program allows you to get a glimpse of what Microsoft is working on and new features that will be introduced in Windows, both Windows 11 and Windows 10. However, it is not for everyone, and you definitely shouldn’t install an Insider. Preview on your work computer.
What is the Windows Insider Program?
The Windows Insider Program gives the general public access to the changes and new features that Microsoft is developing. The program benefits a lot of people: Microsoft uses a large number of testers to help identify and fix bugs, and to see if people like the changes, developers can check the changes before they appear in the live version of Windows so they can schedule updates for their programs, and enthusiastic early adopters can have fun battling with pre-release hiccups all day long.
The Windows Insider Program really isn’t for everyone. Preview builds of Windows are usually much buggier than officially released builds. That alone makes them ill-suited for day-to-day use, but the fact that features and changes will often come and go makes it even worse.
However, not all preview versions of Windows are the same. There are three separate “channels” available to Windows Insiders.
What are the different channels?
The Windows Insider Program is divided into three channels, the Developer Channel, the Beta Channel, and the Build Preview Channel. Microsoft uses the term “theft” to describe membership and use of Insider builds of Windows. Here’s a brief idea of what flying in each channel might look like:
The developer channel
The Developer channel is the “Bleeding Edge”. It’s the most frequently updated Insider channel and therefore tends to be the most unstable. New features appear fairly regularly and disappear just as frequently, while Microsoft tests brand new code and features on a larger scale. You’ll need to be comfortable working around bugs, and you should only choose the Dev channel if you’re technically inclined, otherwise you’ll probably have a miserable time.
You should not choose it as your daily driver unless you really need to work with the latest updates.
The Beta Channel
The beta channel tends to be more stable than the developer channel. Beta channel updates are more reliable, and you probably won’t spend as much time working around bugs in the operating system or the software you install on it.
Microsoft says the beta channel is specifically designed to help them gather user feedback on updates and new features, so any issues with the code can be ironed out before they go live.
The release preview channel
The Release Preview channel is the most stable channel in the Insider program. The features in the Release Preview channel have all gone through fairly extensive testing and should be introduced in the live version of Windows. You could probably use the builds in this channel for your day-to-day operating system without too much difficulty, but there’s no way of knowing for sure whether existing third-party software will be fully compatible.
How to register for the Windows Insider Program
Warning: Once you sign up for the Windows Insider Program, the only reliable way to get back to the live version of Windows is to reinstall Windows. You should prepare for this in advance. It may be prudent to create a system image to fall back on if you don’t like using insider previews. If you can, you should run Insider Previews in a virtual machine.
Microsoft has simplified signing up for the Windows Inside program. Head to the Microsoft Insider Preview pagescroll down, then click “Register”.
To note: You must sign in to the Microsoft website with the same account that you have associated with your Windows PC.
Take note of the warnings on the next page – there is a real possibility that you could lose data currently on your PC. After doing this, check the box and accept the terms and conditions.
Next, you need to go to the Windows Insider Preview window in the Settings app on Windows 10 or Windows 11.
Click the Start button, type “Windows Insider Program” in the search bar, then press Enter or click “Open.” You can also open the Settings app and go to System > Windows Update > Windows Insider Program.
Click “Get Started”, then follow all the steps. You will first need to link an account and then select the channel you wish to use.
Click on the next prompts and restart your computer. The Windows preview you selected will be installed.
Unsubscribe after joining
Joining the Windows Insider Program is much easier than leaving it. You can exit on Microsoft website at any time, but it won’t actually remove the Insider Build from your PC. Rolling back to a stable version of Windows is a bit more complicated.
If you signed up for the Dev Channel, the only way to revert to a stable version of Windows is a full reinstall. If you created a system image, you can also use it to restore your PC to a stable version of Windows.
RELATED: What you need to know about creating system image backups
You have two options if you are in the Beta channel or the Release Preview channel. The first is to reinstall Windows using a new image or a recovery image, as if you were participating in the Dev channel. The second option is to configure your computer to disable new Insider updates once the current Insider Preview goes live – eventually the current build you’re testing will become the stable build. This is not ideal if you want to revert to a stable release nowhowever, as it can take months for a preview to go live.
The difficulty of reverting to a stable version of Windows only reinforces a key point: the Windows Insider program is not for everyone. If you just want to try it, use a virtual machine or a computer you don’t care about. Installing preview builds of Windows on your daily work PC is a hassle waiting for you.