Microsoft is launching a new Canary Channel for exceptionally experimental builds of Windows 11 (and Windows 12?) in a major Windows Insider Program overhaul

Canary 11

Microsoft has detailed some of what it has planned for Windows 11 over the coming year, including big changes to the Windows Insider Program. As well as "rebooting the Dev Channel from the ground up", the company is also launching a new Canary Channel where we could see the first signs of Windows 12.

The idea of Canary builds will be familiar to many web browser users who like to be on the cutting edge. The likes of Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge have Beta, Dev and Canary builds offering varying degrees of stability and experimentation. Now Microsoft is updating the Windows Insider Program so it will have four channels -- Release Preview, Beta (22000 series), Dev (23000 series), and Canary (25000 series).

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In a blog post entitled "What's coming for the Windows Insider Program in 2023", Microsoft's Amanda Langowski celebrates 9 years of the Program and explains what is changing.

She says:

This year, we are continuing that evolution to better support delivering continuous innovation to Windows 11 by rebooting the Dev Channel from the ground up, to become the best place for Insiders to try out new long-lead features and experiences in development. We are also creating a new Canary Channel, to support preview builds of platform changes, similar to what was previously flighted to the Dev Channel. We are excited to roll these changes out and give folks more options to preview builds, but it does require a few initial tactical adjustments.

So what's in store for the Canary Channel? Microsoft says that this is the channel for "highly technical users", and it is where the company may experiment with major changes to the Windows kernel, new APIs and more. There is the promise that this channel gives the opportunity to "preview the latest platform changes early in the development cycle", but the warning is that "these builds can be unstable and are released with limited to no documentation".

Microsoft explains:

The builds released to the Canary Channel will have higher build numbers than the Dev, Beta, and Release Preview Channels – starting with 25000 series builds. Insiders previously in the Dev Channel were already receiving these builds and to ensure they continue to receive new updates going forward, we will be moving these Insiders to the Canary Channel starting today. Insiders moved to the Canary Channel will receive notifications of this migration in the OS and via email and can take steps to clean install to pick a different channel if they choose.

Windows Insider Program 2023

While the company will continue to publish blog posts about new Dev, Beta and Release Preview releases, this will not be the case for Canary builds.

We've become used to Microsoft hiding features and options away in Insider builds of Windows 11 (often unlockable with ViVeTool), and this is something that's set to continue:

We control the state of individual features and experiences included in the builds released to Windows Insiders across the channels. We do this with Controlled Feature Rollout (CFR) technology. This allows us to roll out features in stages to monitor quality and your feedback in addition to trying out different variations of features (often referred to as "A/B testing").

With this level of control over individual features and experiences, we may release a build to the Dev Channel with a feature enabled but intentionally disabled in a build released to the Beta Channel or Canary Channel. We will enable features in the builds when we are ready to do so. We will only communicate about features that we are purposefully enabling for Insiders to try out and give feedback on. 

Summarizing the new Insider channel structure, Microsoft shares details of each:

  • [NEW!] Canary Channel: Ideal for highly technical users. Preview the latest platform changes early in the development cycle. These builds can be unstable and are released with limited to no documentation.
  • [REBOOTED!] Dev Channel: Ideal for enthusiasts. Access the latest Windows 11 preview builds as we incubate new ideas and develop long lead features. There will be some rough edges and low stability.
  • [Unchanged] Beta Channel: Ideal for early adopters. These Windows 11 builds will be more reliable than builds from our Dev Channel, with updates validated by Microsoft. Your feedback has the greatest impact here.
  • [Unchanged] Release Preview Channel: Ideal if you want to preview fixes and certain key features, plus get optional access to the next version of Windows before it's generally available to the world. This channel is also recommended for commercial users.

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