Beware going down the Windows beta-testing rabbit hole

Many tech geeks like to try out new Windows (and Office) features before they officially arrive. But beta testing can get confusing if you don't know what you're doing.

maze confused insure future

If you’re a normal geek, you likely play around with various operating systems and releases. Often, I find that trying out various betas can not only leave you confused about what’s been officially released, it can also confuse your computer.

I typically use a mixture of virtual and actual machines for my beta testing, and I often use the laptop I have at home for betas. (At work it’s too important to have a machine run possibly non-stable code.)

This leads to interesting situations at home, where I have an older laptop that works great for typing up Computerworld post and remote accessing various servers, workstations, and cloud services, but is not good enough for Windows 11.

The other day, just for fun, I adjusted a registry key to see whether I could get Windows 11 — even though it wouldn’t officially be supported. Didn’t work. Upon investigation, I realized the registry-bypass method only works when you manually download the Windows 11 ISO and running the resulting .exe file. 

So, I tried a different computer and used the registry-key method to manually install Windows 11 21H2. Then I checked to see whether it would be offered 22H2. Note: I’ve not seen anything solid indicating Microsoft is blocking 22H2 on devices that have gone around the hardware requirement, but I it was not offered to me.

First beta tip:  If you use the registry-key method to install Windows 11 on an unsupported computer, plan on manually installing feature releases when they arrive.

Next, I wanted to try Windows 10 22H2 before it came out so I could see if whether there were major changes. I opted into the Insider program to get it ahead of time, did my research, then tried to get back to the normal release channels. Note: If there is a normal release that’s newer than the insider version you’re on, you might be able to get out of the Insider track without having to reinstall your whole system. But prepare yourself for a full reinstallation should you get stuck. That said, when I woke up the next morning and logged into my laptop, I found it had installed Windows 11 22H2.

Now, here’s where things got odd. When I checked the update history in Windows Update, I found that “Update for Windows Feature Experience Pack for Windows 10 20H2 for x64 based systems (KB5000967)” was waiting to be installed. Yet, I clearly had a Windows 11 system. Then, when I went to launch the snipping tool for a screen grab, I got an error message: the application was not registered. Obviously, I now had a confused system.

I quickly went into the Windows Update settings and chose to roll back to the prior feature release — even though I wasn’t quite sure what I’d end up with. On reboot, I wound up with Windows 10 22H2 (and no longer on the Insider channel).

Second beta tip: Be prepared to reinstall your operating system when working with betas. Make sure you have a backup (or Windows 10 or 11 media on a bootable flash drive) and know how to reinstall WIndows.

Office beta releases can also be … entertaining. If you want to opt into Office betas, check whether you’re on a Microsoft 365 subscription that lets you choose different release versions. At the office, I choose to stay on the Semi-Annual enterprise version (so I remain on a stable release version of Office). But you may want to play around with betas at home.

You can opt into Insider versions by clicking on File>Account and reviewing what you have. Note, however, that any Office version with a year in the title is a perpetual version, making it ineligible for Insider testing.

If you’re trying out an Office beta, you’ll want to monitor the Insider blog to review what changes you might see. And remember, with any Insider beta testing, Microsoft doesn’t push out new features to everyone at the same time. You might find something highlighted in the blog that you don’t yet have. As Microsoft explains it, “Features are released over some time to ensure things are working smoothly. We highlight features that you may not have because they’re slowly releasing to larger numbers of Insiders. Sometimes we remove elements to further improve them based on your feedback. Though this is rare, we also reserve the option to pull a feature entirely out of the product, even if you, as an Insider, have had the opportunity to try it.”

Third beta tip: Be patient. Sometimes the feature you want to test isn’t offered to your computer.

Even if you are not involved in the insider/beta releases of Windows or Office, we will all need to be more patient. Even released versions of Windows are subject to the “dribble” release process now. Between Microsoft 365’s “dribble changes” and Windows moments, the new normal is a staged rollout. KB5018483, for example, “adds Task Manager to the context menu when you right-click the taskbar. This feature rolls out in the coming weeks.” (This update will be included in the normal cumulative update to be released on Nov. 8.)

The bottom line is that beta testing can be tricky. And even if you don’t actively participate in the beta programs, you will see changes to your system over time. The only question is whether you want to be on the bleeding edge, or trailing behind and waited for more-tested code.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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