On September 30, 2014, Terry Myerson, who was then Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft, announced the birth of Windows 10 and the Windows Insider Program. On the very next day, October 1, the first-ever public preview of Windows 10: Technical Preview build 9841 was released.
A lot has changed over these first five years. When the program was started, it was meant to be a test program to be taken seriously. From Terry Myerson’s blog post:
The Windows Insider Program is intended for PC experts and IT pros who are comfortable using pre-release software with variable quality. Insiders will receive a steady stream of early builds from us with the latest features we’re experimenting with.
Gabe stepped down less than two years later, on June, 2016, and Dona Sarkar took over the Insider team. The program’s focus started to change quickly and dramatically. During Gabe Aul’s tenure, feedback, criticism and testing were taken seriously. Under Sarkar, the Insider Program concentrated instead on infamous ninja cat and taco hat jokes, creating new smileys and other activities quite far from the original idea of the program. At the same time, the Insider Team’s style and presence on social media, and its connection with Insiders, rapidly went from fostering and reacting to feedback to boldly muting all criticism and making jokes. This was for instance how they announced a Bug Bash, official Insider team campaign to find the bugs:
That’s a tweet from an official Microsoft team responsible for a preview test program intended for PC experts and IT pros. The official Bug Bash webcasts then devoted their first half hour of coverage to ninja cat and taco hat jokes.
This, as we all know, backfired in October 2018 with the catastrophic failure of release of Windows 10 version 1809. In fact, the rollout of version 1809 was halted and cancelled only a few days after its initial release, when it became clear that quite a number of users had lost their personal data after that upgrade. The rollout resumed on November 13, 2018, over five weeks after it was halted.
The reason for this catastrophe was simple: with surprising arrogance, Dona Sarkar and her team decided there was no need to release 1809 first to the Insider Release Preview ring. Previously, this had been a final test for new Windows 10 versions prior to public release. Too keen to release 1809 in a hurry, the team just ignored its own tried-and-true best practices.
The 1809 circus clearly had its consequences. My guess is that someone higher up in food chain told Dona and her team to clean up their act, there must have been quite a lot of evaluation talks behind the closed doors. Whatever the reason, the Insider team, its lead Dona Sarkar, and all key team members immediately cleaned their social media accounts. All hype about 1809 was removed. Also, all ninja cat and taco hat jokes ended overnight. The tweet shown in the previous screenshot is for instance no longer included in the team’s official Twitter account.
The team has become more cautious, which is of course only positive. New versions are not released before the team is sure they’ll work. Take version 1903, finally cleared for commercial deployment just last week:
— Kari ?? (@KariTheFinn) September 27, 2019
I have been a Windows Insider from day one. My five Insider years have had their ups and downs; I have tested and used all Insider builds, although I must admit that there have been half a dozen or so builds which I have only tested and used on virtual machines. For me, missing language packs is a big No-Go, on my physical machines I simply need a few of them. In two or three builds, language packs have been missing. Likewise, I’ve had two builds which I was completely unable to install on physical devices, doing testing of them on virtual machines only. My first really big issue was a three week fight just this month to get new Insider builds upgraded or at least clean installed, more about that here: Insider stories – Winning the fight takes the match to a draw
My Insider journey also got me the Windows Insider Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award on July 1, 2017. I got it because of my voluntary work on forums, millions of views of my tutorials and videos. I lost the MVP a year later because of a few tweets criticizing the Insider Program and its team lead. I still do tutorials and videos, that has not changed, but as the team has made quite clear, criticism is not tolerated. Since then, I have not received any response to my direct, indirect and social media feedback. Dona Sarkar has blocked me on social media, and the rest of the Insider team and its key members have either blocked or muted me.
Do not take this wrong! I am as keen a Windows Insider as I was when I joined the program five years ago. I am proud to be an Insider, and proud of what I do to make Windows better. I do not care if my feedback is received or not, for me it is enough to know I give feedback. Thus, I want to wish the Windows Insider team and the Insider Program a happy 5th Anniversary.
As for myself, I’m already keenly awaiting the next Fast Ring build!
Author: Kari Finn
A former Windows Insider MVP, Kari started in computing in the mid 80’s writing code for VAX / VMS systems. Since then, he’s worked in a variety of IT positions. He specializes in Windows image capture, customization, repair and deployment as well as Hyper-V virtualization. Kari is a proud Team Member at number #1 Windows site TenForums.com.