Pros, and the many cons @ AskWoody (2024)

Pros, and the many cons @ AskWoody (1)

ISSUE 19.49.F • 2022-12-05 • Text Alerts!Gift Certificates

In this issue

MICROSOFT 365: Microsoft Insider: Pros, and the many cons

Additional articles in the PLUS issue • Get Plus!

PUBLIC DEFENDER: Bankrupt technology: How FTX crushed $4O billion to bits

SUPPORT: Randy’s remedies: Oops! — I called the scam number

PATCH WATCH: It’s time to install Windows 10 22H2

Pros, and the many cons @ AskWoody (2)

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Microsoft Insider: Pros, and the many cons

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By Peter Deegan

Microsoft pushes its Insider versions of Office software very hard, promising the latest features faster than the public at large receives them.

But it doesn’t mention the downsides of using beta software, the confusing and ever-changing labels, and the real reason why the company promotes the Insider editions of Office and Windows so strongly.

Anyone can become an Office or Windows Insider. Microsoft pushes the various levels of test software for Office and Windows with phrases such as “Get the scoop on our newest builds and features” and “Help shape the future of Office.” As usual, that’s stretching the truth, hiding the real purposes of Microsoft’s Insider program.

There are situations where a new Office feature is so compelling that you want to jump in early. I’ll explain how to “jump in, then out” of Insider.

Insider options or channels

Microsoft gradually stretches beta testing to several levels (“Channels”), and thus to more and more people. “Channels” is Microsoft’s name for the various stages of release from Beta through Preview to either Monthly or Semi-Annual.

Don’t worry if you’re confused, because Microsoft has changed the names of its testing programs so many times. Here’s a quick guide:

Insider — open for anyone to join

  • Beta — better known by the previous name “Fast”
  • Preview — Current Channel (Preview), formerly “Slow”

Public — automatically updated for all customers

  • Monthly Channel — aka Current Channel. Microsoft 365 consumer plans have only this option.
  • Semi-Annual Channel — A choice for Microsoft 365 business, enterprise, government, and education users or their IT managers.

The Preview channel is close to the next public release and therefore should be quite stable. As the name suggests, this level is intended to allow IT administrators to try out what’s coming in the next public release so they can prepare accordingly.

Microsoft will sometimes refer to a feature being “GA” (General Availability), which sounds great until you hit the fine print — the feature appears only for certain Microsoft 365 plans.

Insider is for Microsoft’s benefit, not yours

From Microsoft’s point of view, more people in the Insider program is better for the company. It’s an enormous pool of unpaid software testers who take all the risks that using beta software entails, without cost to Microsoft.

Having wide beta testing is not just a good idea, it’s also essential to the development of good software. The problem is that Microsoft doesn’t always listen to the feedback it gets. Paul Simon said it in the late sixties: “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

Individual bug reports aren’t always recognized and combined as a flaw that needs fixing. That’s an increasing problem as Microsoft reduces human staffing and overrelies on “AI” to fill the gap.

Feedback from testers can be ignored for no other reason than that it goes against the accepted corporate wisdom. There are two infamous examples of this problem.

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The dreaded Clippy is perhaps the classic example of Microsoft’s inability to manage feedback. Microsoft tried to rewrite the history of the Clippy disaster several times, either as a means to polish the corporate image or via revisionism from the people involved (“it was ahead of its time” being the favorite excuse).

The Clippy debacle would have been entirely avoidable if Microsoft had listened to its beta testers. The main problem with Clippy wasn’t the twee character, or even its suggestions — it was that Clippy would not go away. Any “Don’t show this again” option usually didn’t work, and the little bugger kept popping up over and over again. Office testers reported this complaint many, many times but were ignored, with the inevitable result that Clippy made it into public release. I wrote an article abut three methods of killing Clippy back in 1999; it was described as “There’s no better homicidal how-to on the Web.”

Another prominent example of Microsoft’s resistance to feedback was the compulsory full-screen Start menu in Windows 8. Microsoft was so convinced of its rightness (“touch screens are the future”) that they didn’t provide a simple option to see the familiar desktop instead (a registry change was necessary). Customers had to use a third-party solution that overrode the default menu, wait for the Windows 8.1 “Go to the desktop instead of Start” option, or wait for Windows 10 — in which the entire concept was dumped.

None of this is unique to Microsoft. All software companies have problems managing beta testers’ feedback and keeping in touch with what customers truly want. What’s different is Microsoft’s huge scale. There are thousands of Insider testers, incredibly complex and interconnected software, and an increasingly close-minded corporate culture. Quite the recipe.

More announcements for the same thing

Public Insider and Preview releases means Microsoft can announce the same feature more than once.

Instead of just one revelation, Microsoft gets at least three opportunities to promote the same thing. There’s an announcement when a feature is seen by “Insiders,” then another when the same thing reaches the Preview level, and finally an announcement of Public availability. That’s just the start of the repeated media and forum discussions.

Problems using Insider software

There are many downsides to using beta or Insider software. Beta software might have bugs, incomplete features, or other problems, but it is closer to what the public will eventually see. Some issues are mentioned by Microsoft, but others are not. The difficulties apply more to the earlier “Beta” channels than the more refined “Preview” levels.

Instability — Insider software is usually unstable in two different ways. Because the program hasn’t been fully tested, it might crash unexpectedly, with the potential loss of data (e.g., Word crashing without a document being saved). New features might also be unstable, meaning they can change or even disappear entirely.

Less privacy — Being a Microsoft Insider means there’s less privacy and more tracking of your software use, telemetry that goes back to Microsoft for analysis. The company says that such information is combined and anonymized. It’s up to you whether to accept that assurance.

Poor documentation — Too often, Microsoft gives little information to Insiders about new or changed features, leaving these testers to puzzle it out. It’s hard to use something that’s not fully explained. Sometimes buttons appear with no mention in the Insider Release Notes. Or there’s only a brief, incomplete reference to something new.

I’ve often wondered whether this is deliberate (to see how intuitive a feature is) or just a failure of documentation.

Support — There are inevitable support problems when using test software. If there’s a problem with Office, is it a new bug in the beta version, or is it found more widely? Even though a bug doesn’t seem to be related to recent Insider changes, it may nevertheless be connected. Third-party support might be reluctant (or downright refuse) to help if you’re using Insider software, though this is more a problem for Windows Insiders than Office Insiders.

Compatibility — There can be compatibility problems if a shared document includes a new or changed feature that isn’t available to another user who is sharing the document. The most common example is new functions in Excel, which result in worksheet errors in the other user’s older version of Excel.

Productivity — The time (and trouble) lost in updating the weekly Insider beta releases isn’t as bad as it once was. But updates can still interrupt your work, usually at the Time of Maximum Inconvenience™. Those interruptions come out of your hide, not Microsoft’s.

Gradual release of cloud-based features

Microsoft can now limit the availability of a new feature via a connection to their servers. Perversely, this means that all Insiders might have the same software version/build but not every Insider will see the same new features, at least not at the same time. New features might be limited to a gradually increasing percentage of users (at first, 20%, then 40%, up to 100%) or by region (possibly because the feature is, at first, supported only in English).

There’s nothing you can do if you miss out. Insiders must wait until the feature appears, either after a software update or when Microsoft opens it up to more people.

Microsoft now has a stock paragraph to explain this rollout policy: “It’s probably us, not you.”

Use virtual machines

The best — and recommended — way to test software is with a virtual machine (VM). Use a VM to make a separate operating system “box” that works within your computer. Test software can be run in a VM without troubling your regular software and setup.

The alternative is to run Office Insider on your main computer, with a VM on standby and with Office public release (Current Channel) installed as a stable backup.

In modern Windows, there’s Hyper-V or my preference, VMware WEorkstation Pro. Mac users can get Parallels to run Windows or macOS VMs.

Reporting bugs

When reporting problems, be polite and keep to the specifics of the problem. Just the facts, ma’am.

Microsoft is an enormous, soulless, corporate behemoth, but inside there are real humans who mostly care deeply about their work and making Microsoft software/services better. Unlike Microsoft the corporation, its staff have feelings. They do not deserve the horrible abuse that is included in some bug reports. Don’t take frustrations out on the people who are just trying their best.

Get in and out of Office Insider

It’s easy to switch Microsoft Office 365 Channels. In any Office for Windows app, go to File | Account | Office Insider | Change Channel. Choose from the two Channels, “Preview” or “Beta.”

Pros, and the many cons @ AskWoody (5)
Figure 1. Insider selection in Office for Windows

With Office for Mac, go to the Help menu in any Office app, and then select Check for Updates. In Microsoft AutoUpdate, go to Advanced, then select the Channel.

Use of Insider versions of Office counts toward the sign-in limit of five devices per Microsoft account.

Jump in, then jump out

Sometimes Microsoft adds something of real interest, something so useful that you can’t wait to try it.

Some recent examples have been dynamic arrays and the Lambda() function in Excel. Designer in PowerPoint generated a lot of interest as well as interesting slides. Adding stock data types to Excel 365 in 2018 had many people eagerly joining Insiders.

Feel free to jump into an Insider channel to try out something new, and then return to the public Current Channel when the feature is broadly available. Reinstalling Office software isn’t very difficult or time-consuming these days, and all data is preserved.

It’s a different story for Windows Insiders. Switching between different Windows release channels requires a total reinstall of Windows, which isn’t done lightly.

I say all this as a long-time sufferer user of Office beta software. I use the early versions because it’s my job to keep up (if not ahead of) Microsoft Office. Most people are better off using regular Office or the almost-ready Preview releases.

Pros, and the many cons @ AskWoody (6)Join the conversation! Your questions, comments, and feedback
about this topic are always welcome in our forums!

Peter Deegan is the author of Windows 11 for Microsoft Office Users, Microsoft 365 for Windows: Straight Talk, Eye-Catching Signs with Word, Christmas Cheer with Office, and others. He is the co-founder and editor in chief of the Office Watch site and newsletters since they started in 1996.

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Here are the other stories in this week’s Plus Newsletter


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Bankrupt technology: How FTX crushed $40 billion to bits

By Brian Livingston

The world’s fifth-largest cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, was valued by investors at $40 billion in early 2022 but wound up in bankruptcy last month and is now almost worthless.

FTX, short for “Futures Exchange,” launched its service in 2019 and minted its own digital token with the ticker symbol FTT. With almost 250 million FTT units available to the public, FTX’s CEO and majority owner, Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF, as he’s known) had a net worth of $26 billion in early 2022.


Pros, and the many cons @ AskWoody (9)

Randy’s remedies: Oops! — I called the scam number

By Randy McElveen

The fact that you got tricked into calling a scammer’s phone number does not mean you’re stupid. It means the world has gotten stupid.

I remember the vacuum salesman coming to the door when I was a kid. Of course, my mom and dad let them in. They were just people doing their job. They showed my parents what this new vacuum could do, and my parents made a decision to buy a vacuum or not. If they said no-thank-you, the salesman didn’t put a padlock on our old vacuum. He didn’t set any booby traps in our front yard as he left. He just told my parents to have a great day and moved on to the next house.


Pros, and the many cons @ AskWoody (10)

It’s time to install Windows 10 22H2

By Susan Bradley

Unless you have a pressing need to stay on 21H2, Windows 10 22H2 has proven stable enough to be my new recommended version for Windows 10.

However, I can’t say the same for Windows 11 22H2. I’m still tracking numerous issues with it and thus do not recommend it.

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