Follow-up: The Windows Insider Program has lost its way

Soooo… That went out of hand.

Feel free to skip the following 5 paragraphs until after the first break if you don’t care about history and don’t need some context.

Whenever I write a post on this website, it is with the feeling that perhaps 10 people will read it. That’s not what happened with the previous story I wrote.

My tweet about it topped any of my other tweets in popularity. It actually started like any other story on July 19th, and went almost unnoticed through July 20th (a full 24 hours!), and then, on July 21th, it suddenly “exploded”. Relative, of course, it’s not as big as the word makes it sound.

The story didn’t go unnoticed anymore, even not for the people it was about. But apparently, I also pissed of some people. Saying that I “don’t like the fact that it has a personality”, that I’m “[whining] about stupid stuff” or generally can’t take any form of criticism and couldn’t be bother more to make an actual point instead of hoping to win an argument by insulting others.

I’m not here to call these people out, they’re just examples, and I don’t mind their comments either. That is, some of them, for those whom only answer to insult, I’ve got little respect (on the other hand, they did highlight exactly what my point was, so thanks for that). You’ve got positive feedback, and negative feedback. Deal with it. As well as anyone should deal with the fact that my story was mostly negative feedback, I’ve got positive stories coming as well but at least it was constructive and backed by arguments, and get ready to get more of that (both pro and contra, tho). Feedback is to me just as important as it is to Microsoft. That’s the reason we’re all here in the first place.

Now, before going on, I’d like to point out that I’m not a “bitter cynical dude” or think that the “Windows Insider Program doesn’t rock” (that’s implied). Because I’m not, and it absolutely does. Feel free to look up “ChangeWindows”, there is a reason I built that website, and that website is the reason you’re reading this right now. I care.

With that out of the way, why are we here? Well, I’d like to clarify some of the points made in the previous story that possibly could have sparked above mentioned comments and even respond to some of them in a more extensive way than a 140-character micro blog. Let’s start with the most personal stuff first.

Twitter me a tweet

First of all, this wasn’t an attack on Dona Sarkar, nor the team at her side. I’ll also reiterate that the comment about what she tweets has nothing to do with her personal content, it was solely about whatever she tweets about the Windows Insider Program (or related to it). It is just that the content posted since she took over (again, about the Windows Insider Program) isn’t as informative as what Gabe Aul used to do (especially in the early days of the program).

Don’t get me wrong, there are also helpful tweets that tell us whether or not we can expect a build for that day or days. And that’s something I applaud, something Gabe didn’t do. Problem is, beyond that and answering basic questions, every now and then, we got some information that wasn’t related to timing, but purely how Microsoft handled feedback (see previous story) and that’s something I miss. I perhaps don’t mind the less formal Windows Insider Content, it’s just that the ratio formal-to-informal is off. The same goes for blog posts.

Engineering Windows 7, Building Windows 8

Speaking of which… It probably doesn’t need any extra explanation that I miss the “series” we used to have like “Made by you” or “Windows 10 Team profile” (I get that at one point, you’ll probably run out of people to talk about). I don’t see a clear reason to stop with that kind of content and fair enough, this is something that went beyond Gabe Aul his time as the head of the Windows Insider Program. If anything, I hope these 2 things are what Dona Sarkar was talking about when she commented that they would “bring [some of it] back”.

Just for some perspective: during the “public” part of Windows 7’s and Windows 8’s development, Microsoft kept a blog called “Engineering Windows 7” and “Building Windows 8”, respectively. These 2 blogs got 67 posts over the timespan of 26 months and 90 posts over the timespan of 15 months, also respectively. How did Windows 10 do? 179 posts over a timespan of 34 months. Doesn’t sound too bad until you take into consideration that the vast majority (give or take 3 posts for both) of those 67 Windows 7-posts and 90 Windows 8-posts were in-depth explorations of the OS, while 127 out of the 179 blogs on Windows 10 where “just” build announcements, leaving only 52 more posts, including other announcements, only a few of these where in-depth articles on Windows itself. Some of these 67 and 90 posts are also announcements of new updates like the RC and RTM for Windows 7 and the 3 Previews for Windows 8, but substantially, it is nothing.

And now I don’t care what you’re saying, but Windows 7, and especially Windows 8, are both notorious for being developed behind closed doors (thank Vista for that). And to me, it is not a good sign when something that is being “developed out in the open” isn’t talked about nearly as much as these 2 versions. This has nothing to do with not liking fun. This has to do with what many Insiders expected. I’m pretty sure many of us, especially those who signed up on day one (the people that follow Windows as close as they can), were expecting the Windows 10-blog to jump over the Windows 8-blog in just a couple of months. It didn’t. It hasn’t even passed the Windows 7-blog, despite having been active for 1 year more than it.

But on this point, I would like to comment in length on a tweet someone send at me during a discussion on Twitter:

First of all, I dare to say that he would have argues against “slamming for geek” early in the dev-cycle if we were at that point in it. His main argument in this and another tweet is that only the early part of the dev-cycle should be used to talk about the “geek” stuff and that the later part of the dev-cycle can only be used to talk about “Tuning and UX”. Beyond the fact that that is clearly nonsense, behold the Engineering Windows 7 and Building Windows 8 blog mentioned above for clearly proving otherwise. For a matter of fact, even the initial wave of Windows 10 builds (up until 10240, and perhaps even 10586) had its focus on geek stuff as well.

Point is: there is no point in time where we have to stop talking about what’s behind it, because that doesn’t make sense. Such a mindset would have locked out any discussion about Fluent, Timeline, Edge 16, etc. as that’s already part of the UX, and not the early dev-cycle. Idem ditto for MyPeople back in the day with Redstone 2 (until it got delayed, of course). If you’re not willing to talk about the technicality of it in certain points of a dev-cycle, than perhaps you don’t understand software development, certainly not the modern way to do it (as a service, and guess what Microsoft wants Windows to be?).


Now, about the Insiders4Good program, which I’m well aware of that it lays close to Dona Sarkar’s hearth and probably that of many others. And guess what, I too actually follow this program (be it less active than the main WIP). But here is the thing: what is it doing in the Insider Program? Are people that participate in it supposed to be Insiders? Is this supposed to be a group exclusive to Insiders? That’s what the name implies. Heck, it was previously known as “WINsiders4Good”, so that implies Windows Insiders (as opposed to Windows AND Office, Bing, Skype, etc.). Now, even “Insiders4Good” still implies Windows Insiders, just not in the name, since it is part of the Windows Insider Program.

[The] Winsiders4Good program certainly deserves a place in Microsoft, but I don’t get why there has to be a connection to the Windows Insider Program where there isn’t.

But what is it doing there? This brings me back to my “exclusive” argument. Why limit it to Insiders? And if it’s not, why does the name imply that it is? And more importantly, if it isn’t even only for Insiders, what’s it doing in the Insider Program in the first place? It feels to me that this program should stand on its own, not as part of the Windows Insider Program, but somewhere besides the Windows Insider Program and all the other programs Microsoft has. I’ve said it in the previous story: I do believe there is a place for the Insiders4Good-program, but I also believe that the Windows Insider Program is not that place. Which would also result in a rebrand, of course. Right now, it feels like Microsoft is limiting what this program could do, just because of its place within Microsoft and what its name implies.

See picture as depicted below

Ninjacat Unicorn by SilviShinyStar on DeviantArt.

Onwards to Ninja Cat. And Taco hats. And T-rexes. And bacon. Apparently, a lot of people took my previous story like I don’t like fun. I do. For a matter of fact, I don’t even mind there being a mascot like Ninja Cat. I like that the Windows Insider Program has a “soul”. My problem lies in that this is getting taken too far to the point where it becomes distracting to what the Windows Insider Program is. It’s like going to Disneyland and everybody only paying attention to the guy with the Mickey-costume and nothing else.

I get why they do this. It’s for the same reason any mascot exists. It attracts people, but like I said in the previous story: I’m not sure these are the people that belong in the Insider Program, that these are the people Microsoft truly wants in it. Whenever I scout any of the boards where people go to to ask for help and they have some basic issue that you as an Insider should be able to solve all by yourself, then I’ve got to ask the question if the Insider Program is the place-to-be for that person. Same goes for people talking about the stability, or rather lack of stability, and blaming Microsoft/the Windows team for it, or the fast pace at which builds are released. Note that there is a difference with asking whether an instability has been fixed, etc.

Ninja Cat has a place in the Windows Insider Program, I’d say just not as prominent as it does right now. But it has one. Everything else? Let’s take that Taco hat as an example. Last podcast we actually got some… uhm… “backstory” on why that taco hat was there. And you know what, I don’t mind it being there. Again, my problem lays with it being a distraction. Personally, to me, it would perhaps have been much more fun if that taco hat was there, in the podcasts, but would never get acknowledged, anyone just goes by their business as if it isn’t there while we do have something to grin about without it taking time that could be spend on things most Insiders (especially those from the early days) came for. And if not that, at least stop trying to make a meme out of every little silly thing.

How Ninja Cat is being used within Windows as an Easter egg. Emojis aren’t that serious to begin with, this is perfectly fine, although I do not understand how a cat with glasses equals a cat with a tattoo of a fish and a cup of coffee... and no glasses. Image from the Emojipedia blog.

I don’t mind some mindless fun. It helps relax. And whenever it pops up somewhere in a corner, like a silly little thing to grin about, that’s fine. But when a program that was advertised as the Windows Insider Program starts to pay overly much attention to it, it becomes problematic. Mindless fun, small Easter eggs for us to find, a mascot, I’m all for it. But don’t take it too far.

What could possible happen if you take it to far? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it attracts people that shouldn’t be in the Insider Program. Allow me to let someone who actualy tried to argue against my point explain it to you:

I’ve got no numbers to back this up, and I’m sure that he doesn’t either, but it certainly feels like his point on non-geek Insiders in the Fast Ring (or any ring at all) is where we’re heading. But unless he hasn’t read the Windows Insider website when he signed up, he should know that that’s the exact thing that Microsoft advices against. Non-geek people shouldn’t be in the Insider Program.

The Fast Ring receives Insider Preview Builds more often than the Slow Ring. It’s for advanced Insiders who want to explore new features even sooner — and don’t mind dealing with the bugs and other issues that come with these builds.
-From the Windows Insider website.

Are you truly trying to tell me that “non-geek” people are “advanced Insiders”, are you telling me that “non-geek” people don’t mind dealing with major bugs and issues that may result in you needing to reinstall your device, perhaps even from a point where booting into your OS isn’t an option?

The answer to that question should be no. Problem is that the Windows Insider-website isn’t Microsoft’s only outlet and if you would solely look at Twitter, what can pretty much be seen as the prime communication channel for the program at this point, you will clearly see 2 conflicting messages between Twitter and the Insiders website. A cat isn’t what a normal (“non-geek”, if you will) person associates with a program that may result in that person losing everything he has on his or her device. It is too inviting and when non-geeks get into this program without knowing what they are truly up for… That can only result in all kind of bad situations.

Bottom line

So here is why I, and many others, are here: to try out the latest in Windows, to discuss it, to find and report bugs, to share ideas, to talk with other Insiders and to help others if they are experiencing issues or have general questions. Especially that last one for me personally (*cough* ChangeWindows *cough*). And these are the areas I’d expect the Windows Insider Program to evolve in. But it hasn’t for most parts of it. The Feedback Hub’s bug-and-suggestions-reporting-capabilities is vastly superior to the tool we used to have in the early days with build 9841, but there is still much left to desire.

For testing out the latest and greatest, there is of course Windows Update. There isn’t really a “platform” needed for that on its own (from an Insiders perspective, I dare to say that the people responsible for Windows Update dare to say otherwise if I wouldn’t specify the point of view). But the truly lacking part of it all is the part where I think the Insider Program should have shined from the beginning: an actual place to talk with each other and share ideas (rather than just upvoting them or duplicating it with our own spin to it in the Feedback Hub), ask questions, help each other out and have just general discussions with other Insiders and equally important: literal Insiders: the people that work at Microsoft.

Granted, a refresh of the Insider website was announced earlier and such a community website will be part of it. If you would truly take a step back and look at what the Windows Insider Program was made for, than it is hard to deny that THAT isn’t what it was meant for in the first place. We’re here to improve Windows foremost, to ensure that the millions of people that will get the next update in a couple of months have the best possible experience, to ensure that Microsoft is aware of every flaw and/or mistake that slipped into Windows and to make sure it gets fixed in time, everything beyond that comes second. The “fun” part of it all surely has its place, but second, not first.

Here is the thing. There are plenty of people out there who are just fine with how the Windows Insider Program is today (and I’m on my turn fine with them being fine with that). Those are the people who don’t need/want to know about the technicalities of it all. But I do, and many share that opinion with me. You can dismiss all you want and say that I do not understand what this is all about, that I’m “clueless”, and to that I say: you’re wrong. I’m well aware what it is all about, and a serious insight into Windows was what we were promised, its what we should naturaly expect if we looked back at previous versions of Windows and the early months of the program lived up to that. That went backwards as the program progressed, and even worse: it’s a step back for Windows 10 as a whole. With Windows 7 and 8, Microsoft had blogs solely dedicated to giving us inside stories of how features came to be, how they responded to feedback, etc. I repeat: With Windows 8. You know, that version of the OS well known for how much they ignored feedback.

You can go out of your way and write a response to my story, and I’m fine with that. But dismissing the problem all together is ignorant. You can tell me that I’m “someone [who hasn’t] embraced the #ninjacat mindset”, but to that I say: mindset? Mindset of what? Such a comment basically proves the point. Saying that it is “not accurate from someone” with that mindset is equally stupid. What’s someone’s mindset going to change about the fact that Microsoft isn’t talking about what they promised to talk? What is a mindset going to change about the lack of an actual place to discuss things beyond the Feedback Hub (which is a great place for feedback, but not for discussion)? Whatever said mindset can possibly be.

And if there is anyone out there who thinks that I’m alone in this: it’s time to wake up, because there are plenty of people out there who share this opinion. The previous article wasn’t written because I was frustrated by the way things were going, it was written because I saw more and more comments from other people on various platforms who think the Insider Program is becoming something it shouldn’t be and I shared that opinion. I’m not asking anyone to agree with me, let alone for the full 100%, but if you do not agree and proceed to say that I’m just wrong all together because I don’t have a “#ninjacat mindset”, then you’re part of the problem.

In the end, it is kinda ironic that some of the people that disagreed went on the offence as if it is something personal instead of saying “Hey! I disagree.”. All the previous story — much like this story — did was provide feedback, the thing that the Windows Insider Program is all about. The way some people responded to the previous story pretty much just confirms what I was talking about, going on to complain that this isn’t the time to talk about it, that the “tech-bits” should only come in the early dev-cycle (when there is nothing to talk about) as if technology is only at play when there are no user-facing features is just mindlessly stupid.

Feedback isn’t always positive, perhaps it sometimes even makes you feel bad. If that happens, talk about it, take a look at it. We aren’t Windows Insiders to praise the Windows team for everything it does, we’re Windows Insiders to help that team built the best Windows they can, only giving positive feedback and shutting down anything that is negative won’t help them achieve that goal.

A story like this from a small blog like mine doesn’t get 65+ likes and 50+ retweets (and that’s only my own tweet, many more tweeted about it) on Twitter and over 3.5K+ reads, another 1.6K+ views from a Russian translation (because someone took the time to translate that story) and a relatively large thread on Reddit (with the general consensus being “agreed”) just for the fun of it. Perhaps it means that there really is an issue here worth to be taken a look at, and with that, I’m just glad to hear that at least something is going to be done about it.

I’ll leave it to Callum Moffat to summarize what I think is wrong at this point:

And I’ll leave it to Dorlan Quintero to sum up my general feeling about the program:

Final note: notice how I did not discuss my points made about the Feedback Hub, achievements, etc. That’s a story for another time.

O… and one last thing:

Dear Lynx/max_sunset. Get out. Thank you.

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