The Windows Insider Program's Slow ring is becoming a joke

When Microsoft first announced Windows 10 on September 30, 2014, a new age was born. Windows-as-a-service meant that we're going to get regular feature updates, and the Windows Insider Program was how we were going to test these Technical Previews, as they were called at the time.

And we loved it. We still do, in fact. Sure, some might feel that the Insider Program has lost its way in the mix of ninja cats, tacos, build teaser images, inconsistent communication, and being told to shove our complaints up our Feedback Hub, but face it; you love it; we love it.

The creation of the Windows Insider Program not only provided a way for us to get constant early access to new features, but it built a community of like-minded individuals that all care about the future of Windows 10. Sure, we complain a little, or a lot, but it's because we care, right?

Upon its launch, the Windows Insider Program consisted of two rings: Fast and Slow. The reasons for this were obvious. The Fast ring is for if you want to stay on the cutting edge of new features, and the Slow ring is if you want to wait until the builds are a little more stable.

The program has evolved

Since then, things have changed a lot. The Release Preview was added as a third ring. Rather than testing a new feature update, this ring is meant to test cumulative updates, or anything else that's destined for production. Then, Skip Ahead was added as a subset of the Fast ring, allowing users to skip to the next development branch.

The face of the Insider Program has changed as well. Originally, it was Gabe Aul, and in mid-2016, he passed the button to Dona Sarkar. Lately though, if you want to find active members of the Insider team on social media, you'll want to seek out Jason Howard and Brandon LeBlanc.

Builds in the Fast ring have become a lot more frequent, with a goal of weekly flights, while the Slow ring is meant to be monthly. Microsoft actually never even talks about the Release Preview ring, so there's no official word on what the latest Release Preview build number is, or what's new in it. And Skip Ahead is stagnant for the time being, since it's not quite time to start flighting builds from the next feature update, codenamed 19H1.

So it's pretty much still Fast and Slow

Indeed, it's pretty much just the Fast and Slow rings that matter, but unfortunately, the Slow ring hasn't been active in some time, and it's pretty ridiculous at this point. For one thing, Redstone 5 has been in development since February and there still hasn't been a single Slow ring build, which means that there are also no ISOs for those that want a clean installation.

But we can go back further than that. According to Brandon LeBlanc's Flight Hub, the first Redstone 4 (later the Windows 10 April 2018 Update, or 1803) build in the Slow ring was 17025, and that was released on November 1. The next was build 17074.1002, on January 19, which is a far cry from the monthly goal. It was another month and a half before build 17115 was seeded to the Slow ring on March 9, and that was right around when RS4 development was wrapping up, so they came more frequently after that.

ISOs were a worse story, as there was absolutely nothing new between build 17025 on November 15 and build 17115 on March 13. In fact, there hasn't been a new Windows Insider ISO since build 17127 was released on March 27, which means that you can't even download the RS4 RTM build, 17134.

So, here we are today, with exactly one of the four rings of the Windows Insider Program getting any new builds at all, and Slow ring Insiders stuck on version 1803, unless they want to go all in on the Fast ring.

There...might be some hope

At Microsoft's Build 2018 developer conference, the Insider team announced that it's aiming to fix all of this. It's going to be servicing Fast ring builds to make them ready for the Slow ring. That means that if a Fast ring build is a bit too buggy to meet the threshold for the Slow ring, the team will update it before release. For example, if the Fast ring gets build 17692, the Slow ring might get 17692.15 or something.

But this announcement was a month and a half ago, and there's still no sign of a new build in the Slow ring, or new ISOs for download. In fact, there have been six Redstone 5 builds of Windows Server, and not a single Slow ring build or ISO. Indeed, the Slow ring seems to be left behind everything else.

So what's the point?

This is the question that it's all leading up to: what's the point? The Slow ring isn't just slow; it's completely stalled, and has been for some time now. The lack of ISOs leaves users going to sketchy third parties to download software for a clean installation, and that's not safe.

One must wonder why the Slow ring continues to exist, while other rings are being added. Yes, the quality threshold for Slow ring builds is much higher than that of the Fast ring, but every other branch of development has been able to do this without issue, and Microsoft used to be able to do this in the past for Windows 10.

We're now roughly three months from the RTM build of Redstone 5, which should end up being version 1809. That means that at best, there will be two Slow ring builds before those last few weeks when the team is finalizing it and builds get more frequent.

It seems like at this point, the Slow ring isn't being utilized at all, and should probably just be abolished. Since that isn't likely to happen, let's hope that the team keeps its promise of servicing builds for the Slow ring, and that the next development cycle will be more consistent because of that.

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