Five years ago Microsoft's switched from big-bang Windows releases every few years to Windows 10 twice-yearly updates. The company has now reflected on all the ways that feedback from fans has shaped Windows 10 during that period.
Ahead of the first Windows 10 release in 2015, Microsoft introduced the Windows Insider Program, which attracted one million Windows fans in 2014, grew to 10 million users by 2017, and in June last year had gained 16.5 million participants.
Windows Insiders are a small but influential army of Windows 10 fans who help shape the operating system that powers 900 million devices today.
SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free PDF)
In 2014, testers provided feedback via Microsoft's near real-time telemetry system, codenamed 'Asimov', which came from tools used in Xbox development processes. Back then, participants submitted complaints and opinions via the 'Windows Feedback app', which these days is called the Feedback Hub.
After the disastrous Windows 10 version 1809 rollout, Microsoft has been honing the tool to ensure it doesn't miss low-volume but high-impact bugs reported by insiders. The 1809 experience has led to massive changes in how Microsoft approaches its twice-yearly major feature updates.
And late last year, Windows Insiders lost their 'Chief #NinjaCat', Dona Sarkar, to another department at Microsoft.
So, lots has changed in the past five years and Microsoft this week paid tribute to the millions of Windows 10 insiders who've helped shape the OS in that time, highlighting the top features it gained thanks to Windows Insider feedback.
The first feature is emoji, kaomoji and symbols, which Windows Insiders from around the world wanted easier ways to type. Kaomoji – Japanese emoticons such as /ᐠ。ꞈ。ᐟ\ – were introduced in version Windows 10 version 1903, and in Windows 10 20H1 users gained more kaomoji options to share with friends.
The second is OneDrive Files On-Demand, which Microsoft finally released in 2017, three years after it first started testing it with Windows Insiders but then dropped before the first Windows 10 release.
The feature allowed users to access all files in the cloud without having to download them and consume local disk space.
"When you turn on this feature, you'll see all your files in File Explorer. New files created online or on another device appear as online-only files, which don't take up space on your device. When you're connected to the internet, you'll be able to use the files just like any other file on your device," Microsoft said today.
This feature helped shape Microsoft's recent efforts to supercharge File Explorer with Windows Search, which now gives users local and web search results that appear on the fly in a drop-down menu. Unfortunately, though, Windows 10 users complained that the new File Explorer Search Box was "completely unusable". Even with this week's improvements, it's still been branded a "crummy" experience.
Microsoft also addressed the Feedback Hub and Windows Insiders' input that led to Collections, which tries to weed out duplicate reports and noise to focus on issues that matter.
"Collections bring similar feedback together in one place. The little stack of cards icon next to the feedback's title shows it's a collection, and we're continuing to work on creating more collections as new feedback comes in," said Microsoft.
While Microsoft's new features always attract complaints, the post highlights the many features where fan feedback has helped improve them.
Other major features Microsoft credits insiders with shaping include dark mode for Sticky Notes, the new Chromium-based Edge, system-wide 'night-light' settings, the Windows Sandbox, the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), and the new Windows Terminal for command-line users.
There are also dictation and text predictions, touchpad gestures, the Your Phone app, Notepad improvements, better screenshot capabilities, and the return of PowerToys.
If anything, the post illustrates Microsoft's efforts to reshape itself in a world in which it lost the chance to dominate mobile, but remains a dominant force among developers and IT pros.