Editorial

Microsoft staggering Windows 11 preview features within an Insider channel is just silly

Windows 11 logo on the Bloom wallpaper with an angry emoji on the left and a thinking emoji on the r

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how despite liking the idea of the Windows Insider Program, I feel like it needs improvements. While that article focused primarily on the need for the program to become proactive rather than reactive, I want to expand the original premise a bit more to talk about an annoying rollout pattern that Microsoft usually follows in the Windows Insider Program.

Although this is not new, it was accentuated recently when Microsoft rolled out the tabbed File Explorer in build 25136 for those on the Windows 11 Dev Channel. While the new app interface is supposed to be in preview for the channel, Microsoft noted that it has decided not to make it available for everyone on the ring - you can still toggle it on by force via this guide.

Just to emphasize, this means that even though you might be on the Dev Channel, you might not receive the feature for sometime while others on the same channel would. Microsoft's official reasoning for this staggered rollout is that:

We are beginning to roll this feature out, so it isn't available to all Insiders in the Dev Channel just yet as we plan to monitor feedback and see how it lands before pushing it out to everyone.

I'll be frank, this makes absolutely no sense to me. The Dev Channel is supposed to be about testing preview features before they become available to other channels or even the public, not in the same channel.

Windows 11 build 25136 running File Explorer with tabs

Microsoft, on the other hand, wants to compartmentalize the Dev Channel into two more categories so some Dev Channel Insiders can test a feature before it becomes available to other Dev Channel Insiders, huh?

It's even more annoying because when people sign up for Insider previews, they know that they will get pre-release features that might be unstable and that they shouldn't install Windows 11 builds on a primary machine. Despite agreeing to these conditions, people still might not receive all the capabilities present in a build.

My friend, colleague, boss, and Neowin co-founder Steven Parker echoed the same thoughts on his personal Twitter account to highlight this problem and while I have always found this staggered rollout annoying, it was nice to see other people agreeing with us too. That's actually what gave me confidence to write this piece today.

I don't want to sound entitled, it's just a matter of (a lack of) transparency and flawed logic for me. A staggered rollout only makes sense across channels. For example, Dev Channel Insiders receive the tabbed File Explorer and it gets promoted to Beta after initial testing, then to Release Preview, and eventually the general public.

However, under the current release pattern, channels are further split as an apparent form of A/B testing, which shouldn't be there considering Microsoft could achieve the same purpose by collecting metrics from other channels which don't have the tabbed File Explorer.

Microsoft wants to see "how it (tabbed File Explorer) lands", but why not do the same comparison by rolling out the interface to everyone on the Dev Channel and then comparing it to other channels which don't have it? I have no idea.

A Windows 11 desktop on a laptop with Windows 11 Insider Preview Written next to it

This isn't a one-off thing either, Microsoft has been doing this for quite some time. Even when I was writing some Closer Look pieces, there were times I had to join screen-sharing sessions with my colleagues to access their machines on the same build and channel just because Microsoft had decided to stagger the rollout of some features I was writing about.

Again, it's not a matter of entitlement, I am happy that Microsoft decides to roll out features in preview to the public. It's just annoying that even after joining a preview program while knowing all of the caveats, there's really no guarantee that you'll receive what you signed up for just because Microsoft is seemingly doing some A/B testing in the same Insider channel rather than it being done across different channels.

Maybe there's a different and better reason behind this variant of staggered rollout but Microsoft definitely isn't being transparent about it.


What are your thoughts on Microsoft splitting a single Insider channel based on some randomized process to decide who gets certain features despite sharing the same build? Let us know in the comments section below!

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