Understand Windows Insider Program for Business options

The Windows Insider Program for Business provides features that help IT plan for and deploy GA builds when they arrive.

The Windows Insider Program, which Microsoft introduced in 2014, lets IT try out new features in the upcoming Windows release before Microsoft makes them generally available. Microsoft added the Windows Insider Program for Business in April 2018 to provide organizations with tools to better prepare for upcoming releases.

Windows Insider Program for Business

Microsoft designed the Windows Insider Program for Business specifically for organizations to deploy preview builds from Windows 10 and Windows Server to participating employees for testing before they are GA.

IT pros can register their domains with the service and control settings centrally rather than registering users or configuring machines individually. Individual users can also join the Windows Insider Program for Business on their own, independently of IT’s corporate-wide review.

Microsoft designed the Windows Insider Program for Business specifically for organizations to deploy preview builds from Windows 10 and Windows Server to participating employees for testing before they are GA.

The preview builds don’t replace the channel releases because IT doesn’t deploy the new builds across its organization. They’re simply earlier Windows 10 builds IT teams can use to prepare their organizations for the updates.

The Windows Insider Program for Business preview build releases make it possible for IT to implement new services and tools more quickly once the GA release is available. The previews also help IT ensure that Microsoft addressed data security and governance issues in advance of the release.

The Windows Insider Program for Business allows administrators, developers, testers and other users to see what effect a new release might have on their devices, applications and infrastructures. Microsoft includes the Feedback Hub for IT pros and users to submit reactions about their experiences, make requests for new features and identify issues such as application compatibility, security and performance problems.

Microsoft also offers the Windows Insider Lab for Enterprise, a test deployment for insiders who Microsoft specially selects to test new, experimental or prerelease enterprise security and privacy features. The lab provides insiders with a virtual test infrastructure that comes complete with typical enterprise technologies such as Windows Information Protection, Windows Defender Application Guard and Microsoft App-V.

Getting started with the insider program

Microsoft recommends organizations sign up for the Windows Insider Program for Business and dedicate at least a few devices to the program. IT pros must register their users with the service and set up the target devices to receive preview builds.

Microsoft also recommends that organizations use Azure Active Directory work accounts when registering with the service, whether an organization registers users individually or as part of a domain account. A domain registration makes it easier for IT to manage the participating devices and track feedback from users across the organization. Users that want to submit feedback on behalf of the organization must have a domain registration, as well.

IT can install and manage preview builds on individual devices or on the infrastructure and deploy the builds across multiple devices in the domain, including virtual machines. Using Group Policies, IT can also enable, disable, defer or pause preview installations and set the branch readiness levels, which determine when the preview builds are installed.

Microsoft’s three preview readiness branches

IT can configure devices so the preview builds install automatically or allow users to choose their own install schedules. With mobile device management tools such as Microsoft Intune, IT can take over the preview readiness branch settings, assigning each user one of three preview deployment branches.

Fast. Devices at the Fast level are the first to receive build and feature updates. This readiness level implies some risk because it is the least stable and some features might not work on certain devices. As a result, IT should only install Fast builds on secondary devices and limit these builds to a select group of users.

Slow. Devices at the Slow level receive updates after Microsoft applies user and organization feedback from the Fast build. These builds are more stable, but users don’t see them as early in the process compared to the Fast builds. The Slow level generally targets a broader set of users.

Release Preview. Devices at the Release Preview level are the last to receive preview builds, but these builds are the most stable. Users still get to see and test features in advance and can provide feedback, but they have a much smaller window between the preview build and the final release.

Is the Windows Insider Program for Business for everyone?

An organization that participates in the Windows Insider Program for Business must be able to commit the necessary resources to effectively take advantage of the program’s features. To meet this standard, organizations must ensure that they can dedicate the necessary hardware and infrastructure resources and choose users who have enough time to properly test the builds.

An organization’s decision to invest in these resources depends on its specific circumstances, but deploying a Windows update is seldom without a few hiccups. With the Windows Insider Program for Business, IT can avoid some of these issues.