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A quick look back at the origins of the Xbox Insider Program that started 10 years ago today

xbox one

In September 2014, Microsoft officially announced the Windows Insider Program. It was created to let anyone check out early builds of Windows to try them out and give feedback to Microsoft before those features and improvements were released to the general public. It's a program that continues to this day.

However, before the official launch of the Windows Insider Program, Microsoft was already offering a select group of people who owned an Xbox One console a way to try out early versions of the console's upcoming software updates. That began 10 years ago today, on February 20, 2014.

While Microsoft previously released public beta tests for upcoming Xbox 360 updates, this was the first time the company used this method to invite users to try out updates for the Xbox One. The official reveal from Microsoft announced that a select few Xbox Live users would be invited into this program.

Microsoft never revealed how it picked those lucky few Xbox One software testers. However, the people who were chosen were given access to a private forum where they could offer feedback on those updates. The first such beta version included a revamped friends app, improvements in the console's party chat features, and more.

After that, Microsoft began bringing in more people to test upcoming Xbox One software updates, and it eventually became known as the Xbox One Preview Program. It remained an invite-only program for a while, and those folks got to test out new dashboard updates, a way to purchase backward-compatible Xbox 360 games directly from the Xbox One, and more.

In March 2016, Microsoft announced that the Windows Insider Program would merge with the Xbox One Preview Program later that year. In November 2016, Microsoft said that the Xbox One Preview Program would be renamed as the Xbox Insider Program. It also canceled the invite-only method of joining the program, allowing any Xbox One owner to participate.

In November 2016, Microsoft announced that Xbox Insider Program members would get system updates to the Xbox One console for the first time. It also revealed that testers could pick one of four "rings" for updates. The Alpha ring members would get the "cutting edge" updates but could also experience more bugs and would also remain invite-only. The Beta ring got fewer updates, but they were more stable, while the unnamed third and fourth ring users would get even fewer updates with fewer bugs than the Alpha and Beta rings.

Xbox Insider Program users got the first access to some major updates, including the first public testing of Xbox Game Pass in December 2017. Also in 2017, the third and fourth rings finally got actual names: Delta and Omega, respectively. Microsoft also added a Skip Ahead variant of the Alpha Ring in 2017 for people who want to access even earlier updates than they could on the standard Alpha ring.

In 2024, the Xbox Insider Program continues to offer both Xbox One and now Xbox Series X and S console owners a way to try out new features before they are released as part of Microsoft's regular updates for those devices. Insiders can also try out new features on the Xbox Windows gaming app via the Insider Program. On occasion, Insider members get invited to play upcoming Xbox games in preview versions before they are generally released.

As with every type of software testing program, we expect the Xbox Insider Program to evolve and change in the months and years to come. Indeed, it was recently announced that release notes for the Insider updates will soon move from the Xbox Wire page to the Xbox support site. However, there are no indications the program will be ending anytime soon.

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