Microsoft has significantly grown its user base of dedicated Windows testers in recent years. At the launch of Windows 10, nearly two years ago, the software giant had around 5 million testers through its Windows Insider program. Windows Insiders could be your neighbor down the street, your boss, or the barista that makes your coffee in the morning. Anyone can sign up to test Windows 10, and now 10 million people are helping Microsoft refine and improve its operating system.
It wasn’t always like this. Microsoft developed Windows 7 and even Windows 8 in relative secrecy, punishing people who leaked early builds of Windows and keeping features hidden for months. Microsoft has now embraced its fans who want to experience the bleeding edge of Windows development, even if there are many rough edges and bugs along the way.
In a LinkedIn post highlighting Microsoft’s cultural shift, Yusuf Mehdi, who worked on the disastrous Xbox One launch, reveals that the company has changed its approach as a result of the feedback on its latest console. “My learning is that you cannot create fans, you have to earn them,” explains Mehdi, detailing how he now goes into every new product meeting with a simple question: “How are our fans going to react?”
Embracing fans and opening up a development process to public scrutiny hasn’t been easy for Microsoft. There’s a delicate balance of surprise new features, and the problem of having something out in the wild that’s too buggy for even the hardcore fans to work with. Some would even accuse the software maker of receiving free labor, especially in light of the company laying off a huge number of its testing team for Windows in recent years. Despite the concerns, the Windows Insider program seems to be succeeding. Microsoft has embraced a culture of listening to feedback, and it has now managed to convince 10 million people to have a voice in something that more than 400 million people use every day.