Microsoft is getting ready to publicly test major new Windows features even earlier. While the software giant has been previewing changes to Windows for nearly a decade, a new Canary channel for Windows Insiders will allow anyone to try out “hot off the presses” builds of Windows that include major changes to the kernel, APIs, and other big parts of Windows. It feels like this new Canary channel is preparation work for Windows 12, which Intel and Microsoft have both been hinting at recently.
“The new Canary Channel is going to be the place to preview platform changes that require longer-lead time before getting released to customers,” says Amanda Langowski, Microsoft’s head of the Windows Insider program, in a blog post today. “Some examples of this include major changes to the Windows kernel, new APIs, etc.”
We’ve seen Microsoft test underlying platform changes to Windows before that eventually shipped in a future version of Windows. Microsoft tested some display changes to Windows 10 preview builds before Windows 11 was announced, and the changes only ended up shipping in what became Windows 11. Likewise, x64 emulation for Windows 10 on Arm was tested early on and only ever shipped in Windows 11.
The new Canary channel is designed to preview versions of Windows that have just been built in Microsoft’s labs, and the releases will be more frequent than the current Dev channel but also less stable as a result. Microsoft only recommends this channel for highly technical users as new features will be early in the Windows development cycle.
“The builds that will be flighted to the Canary Channel will be ‘hot off the presses,’ flighting very soon after they are built, which means very little validation and documentation will be done before they are offered to Insiders,” says Langowski. “These builds could include major issues that could result in not being able to use your PC correctly or even in some rare cases require you to reinstall Windows.”
While there will be limited documentation, Microsoft will provide blog posts for Canary channel releases only when new features are available in a build. Microsoft won’t be releasing daily builds of Windows like it does internally, but the Windows team “may ramp up releasing builds more frequently in the future,” according to Langowski.
Microsoft would usually test some of these major Windows changes in the current Dev channel for Windows Insiders, but that channel is now being rebooted. The Dev channel will be used to preview the latest Windows 11 builds with new features instead. Existing Dev channel testers will be automatically migrated to the Canary channel to ensure they keep getting updates to the 25000 series of builds (the current build is 25309) that have already been released over the past year.
There are now four Insider testing rings that Microsoft will use to preview future changes to Windows:
- Canary channel – includes the latest platform changes early in the development cycle. Builds can be unstable and designed for highly technical users.
- Dev channel – includes the latest Windows 11 preview builds with new features. Builds can be low stability with rough edges and designed for enthusiasts.
- Beta channel – includes Windows 11 builds that are more stable than Dev channel. Builds have updates validated by Microsoft and are designed for early adopters.
- Release Preview channel – includes a preview of fixes and new features that are about to be released publicly. Builds are high stability and designed for commercial users to preview changes about to be rolled out or get access to the new version of Windows before it’s generally available.
If you’re currently in the Dev channel and are automatically moved to the new Canary channel, you’ll need to perform a clean install of Windows 11 to switch back to the Dev channel. Microsoft now recommends current Beta channel users should switch to the Dev channel if they want to preview the latest Windows 11 features early.
This new Canary channel feels like preparation work for future versions of Windows. “Some of the changes we try out in the Canary Channel will never ship, and others could show up in future Windows releases when they’re ready,” says Langowski.
Microsoft reportedly shifted back to a three-year release cycle for major versions of Windows last year. That means the next major version of Windows could be due in 2024. Microsoft hasn’t publicly acknowledged its Windows development changes, but reports of the new timeline emerged just weeks after Microsoft started shipping its 25000 series of Windows builds that are now the foundation for this new Canary channel.
Both Intel and Microsoft now seem to be preparing for the as yet unannounced Windows 12. Intel has been reportedly mentioning Windows 12 internally for its next-gen CPUs that will likely launch in 2024. Microsoft hasn’t announced any plans for Windows 12, but the company has been hinting that future versions of Windows will focus on AI improvements.
“As we start to develop future versions of Windows we’ll think about other places where AI should play a natural role in terms of the experience,” said Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s head of consumer marketing, in an interview with The Verge last week. Windows chief Panos Panay also claimed at CES earlier this year that “AI is going to reinvent how you do everything on Windows.”