The IT Pro Guide to Microsoft Insider Programs

Among the regular maintenance tasks IT pros perform is assessing and rolling out new versions of their enterprise staples. The Microsoft Insider Programs give IT pros and managers a way to preview, test and assess multiple enterprise-critical software programs.

Richard Hay, Senior Content Producer

June 19, 2020

8 Min Read
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Many IT organizations are looking for any angle to gain an advantage as they work to stay up to date on the latest software enhancements and new features. For any enterprise connected with the Microsoft software stack, the available Microsoft Insider Programs provides a way to do just that, via early access to upcoming updates for major Microsoft software products such as Windows, Office and the new Edge web browser. The early access allows IT departments more time to evaluate and use the new versions of the tools and services and make an informed plan for rolling them out across the enterprise.

The method to take advantage of these Microsoft Insider Programs is straightforward. Start in the IT department, then designate a handful of IT techs to join these programs and use the software each day in your organization's operating environment and while performing their normally assigned duties. This will allow a methodical approach and evaluation concerning compatibility of software such as unique line of business (LOB) applications with the enterprise’s own hardware.

Each Microsoft Insider Program contains built-in feedback tools, and business customers’ feedback tends to get prioritized in resolving any incompatibilities. Organizations should take advantage of this increased access to software engineers and support teams to address and resolve any challenges that are encountered in the preview software.

One benefit in many of these Microsoft Insider Programs is that updates are shipped across multiple channels. Each channel has a different level of risk associated with it depending on where it is in the development cycle. Early channels will be buggier, while those closer to the release stage will be more stable. This will allow inhouse insider programs to be limited in those early stages and then slowly broadened to encompass more end users and devices close to final release of the preview software.

Here are the three main Microsoft Insider Programs that enterprise organizations can explore.

Windows Insider

This was the first insider program from Redmond and it led the way as other divisions within Microsoft decided to open their own preview programs.

Over the last five and a half years, it has gone through a few changes and tweaks to its ring-based system of distribution. The Windows team recently decided to adjust their own approach to sync up with the other insider programs offered across Microsoft. While the rings (Fast and Slow) were tied to the frequency of releases, the new channel approach will focus on quality instead.

There are three different channels for the Windows Insider program; each is aimed at a different level of tolerance for new features:

Dev Channel (formerly Fast Ring)

  • Who is it for? IT pros and support technicians.

  • What are the benefits of the channel? Users will have the earliest public access to enhancements, new features and under-the-hood changes to the operating system. For enterprise testers, this is the prime opportunity to identify compatibility issues with both hardware and software and provide feedback to eliminate those issues early in the dev cycle.

  • What are the drawbacks? The builds will have rough edges and some instability

Beta Channel (formerly Slow Ring)

  • Who is it for? IT pros, support technicians and key department personnel across the enterprise. This is good for early adopters who want to test-drive the builds and identify potential end-user support issues.

  • What are the benefits of the channel? Feedback has the greatest impact here. The features and enhancements are locked down with only minor adjustments and fixes planned for them. Updates are distributed approximately once per month via cumulative updates for bug fixes and stability, and the updates are validated by Microsoft.

Release Preview Channel (formerly Release Preview Ring)

  • Who is it for? IT pros, support technicians, key department personnel across the enterprise and designated early adopters to prepare for full migration.

  • What are the benefits of the channel? The most stable pre-release version of the upcoming update. Focus is on bug fixes and stability. Perfect opportunity to broadly test compatibility with hardware and software.

Windows Insider Program, Windows Insider Program for Business, Windows Insider Program for Developers

Office Insider

The first thing to know about the Office Insider Program is only those organizations using Office 365 and Microsoft 365 can join; enterprises that are not subscribers to the cloud-based service need not apply.

Access to these early preview channels can be managed by tenant administrators within the respective Office 365 or Microsoft 365 service portals. There are two different channels for the Office Insider program; each is aimed at a different level of tolerance for new features:

Beta Channel

  • Who is it for? IT pros and support technicians.

  • What are the benefits of the channel? Users can try the earliest builds and get first looks at new.

  • What are the risks of the channel? It’s frequently updated, so keeping track of what’s changed is a lot of work. Also, it’s unsupported by Microsoft.

Current Channel (Preview)

  • Who is it for? IT pros, support technicians and key department personnel across the enterprise.

  • What are the benefits of the channel? Well-tested features that are much more stable compared to the beta channel. Microsoft offers technical support to users who encounter issues during testing and use. The channel is updated with new features and bug fixes approximately once a month.

Office Insider, Office Insider for Business

Edge Insider

In late 2018, Microsoft announced their intention to build a new web browser based on the open-source Chromium rendering engine. This was a significant shift because previously Microsoft’s web browsers (Internet Explorer and legacy Edge) were embedded in the operating system, so major browser updates only happened with new releases of the operating system in which they were embedded. Microsoft never offered any type of pre-release testing for those browsers, so creating the new Edge based on Chromium and its testing channels was a big change for the company.

Preview releases became available in early 2019 for testing; a stable build of the new Edge was released in January 2020.

The Edge Insider Program provides three testing channels and one stable channel that can be used side by side on any system. They are independent of each other with their own credentials, browser history and favorites

The new Edge supports multiple user profiles in each channel so testers can have a personal and a work profile alongside each other in the same channel with auto-profile switching as an option for separating browsing histories.

Just like the other insider programs listed here, the four testing and release channels have different risk levels.

Canary Channel

  • Who is it for? IT pros and support technicians.

  • What are the benefits of the channel? Early access to upcoming features and enhancements – this build is updated daily during the week with early access to new features and functionality.

  • What are the risks of the channel? This will be the most unstable channel and is not recommended for end user systems.

Developer Channel

  • Who is it for? IT pros, support technicians and web developers. While the builds in this channel are more stable than the Canary channel builds, access should probably be limited to key IT personnel and web developers.

  • What are the benefits of the channel? This build is updated weekly and generally has more stable features that have been tested already in the Canary Channel and by the Microsoft Edge team. Web developers can test new technologies to insure compatibility with web applications and services.

Beta Channel

  • Who is it for? IT pros, support technicians and key department personnel across the enterprise. Consider expanding access to this channel to key individuals in IT, development, support, etc.

  • What are the benefits of the channel? This build is updated every six weeks and will be the most stable build in the testing channels. The well-tested features are much more stable compared to developer and canary channels.

  • What are the drawbacks of this channel? Since there is a six-week delay between updates, the new features and functionality will lag in this channel much more than the canary and developer channels.

Stable Channel

  • Who is it for? The entire enterprise, if testing in previous channels did not identify any compatibility concerns for line-of-business tools and services.

  • What are the benefits of this channel? This is the production channel and is released every six weeks following a release candidate in the Beta channel. The releases are the most stable.

  • What are the drawbacks of this channel? Since there is a six-week delay between Beta channel and releases into Stable, features will lag. Keep that in mind as deployments are considered but this should be the build widely deployed for end users due to its stability.

Microsoft Edge Insider, Microsoft Edge for Business

Note: All these Microsoft Insider Programs have tools and templates to assist business and enterprise users in managing the deployment of these preview builds.

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About the Author(s)

Richard Hay

Senior Content Producer, IT Pro Today (Informa Tech)

I served for 29 plus years in the U.S. Navy and retired as a Master Chief Petty Officer in November 2011. My work background in the Navy was telecommunications related so my hobby of computers fit well with what I did for the Navy. I consider myself a tech geek and enjoy most things in that arena.

My first website – – came online in 1995. Back then I used GeoCities Web Hosting for it and is the result of the work I have done on that site since 1995.

In January 2010 my community contributions were recognized by Microsoft when I received my first Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award for the Windows Operating System. Since then I have been renewed as a Microsoft MVP each subsequent year since that initial award. I am also a member of the inaugural group of Windows Insider MVPs which began in 2016.

I previously hosted the Observed Tech PODCAST for 10 years and 317 episodes and now host a new podcast called Faith, Tech, and Space. 

I began contributing to Penton Technology websites in January 2015 and in April 2017 I was hired as the Senior Content Producer for Penton Technology which is now Informa Tech. In that role, I contribute to ITPro Today and cover operating systems, enterprise technology, and productivity.

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