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How to choose the right Windows 10 release channel

Individual users and IT administrators alike are confused by the options Microsoft offers for Windows 10 updates. Here’s help choosing the best update method for yourself or your business.

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Once upon a time, making a choice about how you updated Windows was easy: Let Microsoft decide. The company had a release cycle, and you went along for the ride.

Those days seem so quaint now. Today there are multiple versions of “rings” and “channels,” with what seems like impossible-to-understand nomenclature. Should you update Windows 10 according to the Semi-Annual Channel? Should you opt for the Insider Fast Ring? Or should you simply throw up your hands and do nothing, and let Windows 10 update whenever Windows 10 wants to update?

We feel your pain, and we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll explain how to handle Windows 10 updates and how to choose the right release channel for you.

We’ve divided the piece into two sections, one for individuals and one for IT admins. So hunker down and get ready to master the ins and outs of choosing the best way of handling Windows updates.

Individuals: Choosing a Windows 10 release channel

Let’s start off with the basics. If you have absolutely no interest in getting the latest Windows 10 updates before they’re released to the general public, you don’t need to do anything. Windows will update itself automatically, without your intervention. You’re all set.

(Note: If you want to defer normal Windows 10 updates, or customize the way it updates, check out “How to handle Windows 10 updates.”)

However, if you like getting sneak peeks at new features before they’re released, you’ve got some decisions to make and work to do. You’ll first have to sign up for the Windows Insider Program, which will let you install early versions of the latest Windows updates, known as Insider Preview Builds.

Before doing that, though, think long and hard about it. These early updates can be buggy and can harm your system. The features they introduce may not work properly, or may not work at all. The overall operating system itself could become unstable, as could any applications running under it. Windows may crash or freeze. So it’s best not to install Insider Preview Builds on your primary PC. You’d be safer using a second or third PC, or even running Windows 10 as a virtual machine and updating it there.

That being said, here’s how to do it if you want to go ahead with it.

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