Throughout the history of Windows, Microsoft has regularly kept its operating system up to date. Since the launch of Windows 10, that's come in the form of monthly security patches and more significant 'feature' updates twice a year. 

In the case of the latter, Microsoft needs people to test early builds before they're released to the general public. In recent years, that's been members of the Windows Insider Program (or Programme), a select group of people who have opted in to providing feedback on early builds of the next update. 

However, this is by no means an exclusive club. Anyone and everyone can sign up to the Insider Program and provide feedback that could inform Microsoft's next move when it comes to Windows. Here's everything you need to know. 

What is the Windows Insider Program?

Microsoft officially describes the Insider Programme (or Insider Programme as it's known in the UK) as 'a community of millions of Windows' biggest fans who get to be the first to see what's next'. The big thing for most people is the ability to test early builds of Windows 10, with Microsoft encouraging you to provide feedback on what works and what could be improved. 

Signing up also gets you access to exclusive Microsoft events, contests, sneak peeks, podcasts, articles and blogs. It's designed to act as an online community of like-minded people, but how involved you get is up to you. 

At its core, the Windows Insider Program is split into three channels:

  • Dev Channel - New updates will arrive here before anywhere else, but they're also most likely to have bugs and glitches. With that in mind, we'd recommend not using signing up for this channel on your main device
  • Beta Channel - This is the one Microsoft recommends to most people signing up. It offers a more reliable update experience, but still lets you shape what the final version will be like
  • Release Preview Channel - Near-final versions of updates arrive here, so they're much more stable than the other two channels. Still, there's a chance for Microsoft to make last-minute tweaks based on your feedback, and it's still available here ahead of general release

All Windows 10 devices are eligible, but it's worth updating your device to the most recent version before joining the Insider Program. It's completely free to sign up, and you can opt out at any time. 

How to join the Windows Insider Program

The process of joining the Insider Program is relatively simple:

  1. Sign in with your Microsoft account on the Windows Insider website and follow the instructions. This stage be from any device you like
  2. Make sure the PC you'd like to sign up with is using the same account. Open Settings and check the email address at the top of the page if you're not sure
  3. Head to Update & Security and  choose 'Windows Insider Programme' (or Program in the US) from the left pane
    Windows 10 Insider Program
  4. At the top of the screen, choose 'Get started' and then 'Link an account'. Click the relevant account and click 'Continue'
    Windows 10 Insider Program
  5. After a few seconds, you'll be asked to choose which channel. Go with the one you think is most appropriate and click 'Confirm' -  we're choosing the Beta Channel for the purposes of this tutorial
    Windows 10 Insider Program
  6. Hit 'Confirm' on the next screen and then click the prompt to restart your PC
    Windows 10 Insider Program
  7. Once your device has restarted, that's it! Any updates that become available will be displayed under the 'Windows Update' tab

How to leave the Windows Insider Program

Microsoft makes it even easier to opt out of the Insider Program at any time:

  1. Head to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Insider Program
  2. Under 'Stop getting preview builds', click the toggle to turn it on
    Windows 10 Insider Program

This will stop you getting early builds of the next major update that comes around. If you've already installed one that you don't like, go to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery and choose 'Go back to the previous version of Windows 10'. See more in our separate tutorial on how to opt out of the Windows Insider Program.

The Windows Insider Program was the easiest way to download the 20H2 update early, and it looks to be a similar story for the upcoming 21H1 update