The Windows Insider program is integral to Microsoft's ability to freshen up Windows 10 with bi-annual feature updates, the most recent of which was the May 2020 update. Without the program, pushing out major updates twice a year would be a bit ambitious (too many bugs pass through as it is). However, participating in the program has not always been straightforward, but that is about to change.
Well, somewhat, anyway. In part to make things less confusing, Microsoft is transitioning away from "Rings" to "Channels" with clearer language on what each of the tiers entails. This also involves a change in the way updates are pushed out.
"As we continue to evolve the way we release Windows 10 and the diversity of Insiders we serve is greater than ever, it is critical that Insiders have a flighting option that is tailored to their needs. We believe the best way to do this is to shift focus from frequency to quality," Microsoft explains.
Starting sometime later this month, both the Fast and Skip Ahead Rings will morph into the Dev Channel. This is intended for "highly technical users" and is where testers can be the first to access the latest builds at their earliest in the development cycle.
One important distinction this brings over the previous Rings is that builds pushed out in the Dev Channel are not tied to a specific Windows 10 release. It basically entails a mishmash of features and tweaks that are in development, which could arrive in the next Windows 10 update or the one after that (or not at all).
Going forward, the Slow Ring will become the Beta Channel. This is the appropriate tier for early adopters, and it entails test builds that are tied to upcoming Windows 10 releases. So for example if you were to join the Insider Program later this month and jump into the Beta Channel, you would receive test builds for the 20H2 update that is scheduled to arrive this fall.
Finally, the Release Preview Ring will become the Release Preview Channel. As with before, this tier will consist of more polished test builds just ahead of public launches. It is most appropriate for companies and OEMs that want to validate their hardware and software for major updates that are right around the corner. These builds are also the only ones to be fully supported by Microsoft.
This is a smart retooling of the Windows Insider Program. I suspect most people who opt in will jump aboard the Beta Channel, since it provides an early look at actual future updates, and will be more stable than the features tested in the Dev Channel.
If you are interested in joining, you do so by going to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Insider Program, and then follow the prompts.