Preview Windows Insider Builds In An Azure Virtual Machine

Introduction

This article demonstrates how to create and use an Azure Virtual Machine (Azure VM) to preview the latest Windows Insider builds to try out the new features in Windows. This article starts with the introduction of Windows Insider builds. After that, the article will guide you through the process to create the Azure VM and install the latest build from one of the channels. The purpose of this article is not to explain what Virtual Machines are but to know how to use them to preview Windows Insider builds.

Windows Insider Builds

To get windows latest updates you will first need to install a Windows Insider Preview build on your device, this process is also known as flighting. As a Windows Insider you are able to install as many builds on as many devices you want. With each new update you will see a new build number, and this is used by the Windows team to let you know which features or fixes were made in this update. There are Major and Minor builds, the latter are cumulative updates with small bug fixes from a major build already released. In Major builds the build number is increased by one or more while in Minor builds is increased by decimal points.

Why would it be better to install these builds on a Virtual Machine?

If you have read the Program Agreement you know installing Windows Insider Preview builds on your primary home or business PC could be risky. Not only due to possible instability in the Operating System (OS) with Work In Progress from the Windows engineering team but also due to clean installations that are required in some cases to change from one channel to another. Clean installations will erase all of your files, settings, and applications, so usually users back up everything before doing a clean install.

Therefore, having everything backed up in the cloud is a great idea but what if we could go one step further.

That is where Virtual Machines come in place. You can throw away this device whenever something is broken for you (of course letting the Windows team know about the error you had in the Feedback Hub), whenever you have finished testing the new features or just whenever you feel you no longer need it. Besides, you can have more than one Virtual Machine with different builds from different channels without having to worry about clean installations.

To install the Windows Insider Builds Preview builds you can always download the appropriate ISO to install the builds with an in-place upgrade or with a clean install. Nevertheless, Azure has in its Marketplace a Virtual Machine which let you install the latest Insider Builds without downloading the ISO file. Users are still responsible for installing any updates that may be made available.

Creating the Azure Virtual Machine

First, sign in to the Azure Portal and search for Windows Preview 11 as shown in Figure 1.

Search Windows 11 Preview in Marketplace
Figure 1.

You will notice this is a resource from the Marketplace dedicated to Windows Insider Previews for Windows 11. You can also use the Windows 10 Preview if you prefer to get Windows 10 builds.

Once you click on create, shown in Figure 2. Fill all required fields from the wizard. A few fields from it are shown in Figure 3 and Figure 4.

Windows 11 Preview description
Figure 2.

Suggestions:

  • Create a new resource group for your Windows Insider resources. Simply so as not to confuse this virtual machine with the ones you have in production.
  • Give a representative name to know this Azure VM is used for Windows Insider Preview builds and even the channel you are in (only if you do not plan to change the channel over time, if this is not the case use tags).
  • Choose a region near you, as latency will be lower.
  • Verify the selected image* correspond to a Preview.

*Note: If you need an Arm64 then you need the Windows 11 Preview arm64 resource from the Marketplace.

  • Select at least a B2s size machine (2 cores and 4 GB RAM)
  • It may seem obvious but choose a strong password and do not share it.
  • Select inbound ports, the less you allow the more secure your machine is. Open only what you need. For this article, RDP is the only port allowed.
  • Depending on your usage, choose an OS disk type.
  • Reduce your Azure Virtual Network, by default this could be wide for your needs.
  • You can enable Auto-Shutdown.
  • Make sure Automatic by OS (Windows Automatic Updates) is selected in Guest OS updates from the Management section. This option allows you to find the Windows Insider Preview builds.
  • Give a tag to your machine, like environment or even the channel.
  • If you plan to delete your machine and re-create it later, it would be great to download the template for automation.

Windows 11 Preview wizard (same as Azure Virtual Machine wizard)
Figure 3.

Second part of Windows 11 Preview wizard (same as Azure Virtual Machine wizard)
Figure 4.

Once you filled up all required fields a validation message is shown at the top (Figure 5).

Last step, Validation of Windows 11 Preview wizard (same as Azure Virtual Machine wizard)
Figure 5.

Click create and wait for the resources to be created.

Troubleshooting VM

After the resources are deployed verify your machine OS. If your OS is already Windows 11 continue to the next section. If not, then continue reading.

I believe due to the fact I picked a smaller size than the one I suggested, Windows 10 was installed on my Azure Virtual Machine as shown in Figure 6, and after trying to RDP into the Azure VM I got disconnected.

Unexepected Windows 10 in Azure Virtual Machine
Figure 6.

As a general practice, I tested the connection and realize network was fine (Figure 7).

Network connectivity test
Figure 7.

A few minutes later, the OS changed to Windows 11 (Figure 8) without any user action, and I was able to connect to the Azure VM.

Windows 11 installed after a few minutes
Figure 8.

Connect to the Azure Virtual Machine

Click on Connect and download the RDP (only if you allowed the port you will be able to connect with this method), if you did not allow the port, update your Network Security Group rules.

Once you are connected, use Windows button + R and type winver to run the windows command or search it in the Windows menu. This command shows you the OS build you are in (Figure 9).

winver command output
Figure 9.

At the time of this post, the latest build from the Windows Release Preview Channel is Windows 11 Build 22621.754 (KB5018496), notice this build is visible in the settings (Figure 10).

Windows Release Preview build in Windows Update menu.
Figure 10.

Something interesting about this resource from the Marketplace is that it let you find Windows Insider Previews without the general process of Windows Insiders to register the device. However, it is highly recommended to follow that procedure anyway to get the builds from one single channel.

Follow Windows Insider Documentation to register the device

As this is shown in the documentation, in this article it is not shown in detail.

Privacy & security > Diagnostics & feedback > Turn on Send optional diagnostic data

Windows Update > Windows Insider Program > Sign in with the email you are registered to Windows Insider Program

Troubleshooting registration

If you did not have any problem, you can skip this section. However, in this section I showed how the cloud saved me from creating a new Virtual Machine. If you are interested keep going.

Similar to the Troubleshooting VM section I got another error (Figure 11).

Error message due to size of the VM
Figure 11.

If you have chosen a smaller size for your VM like me, do not worry. It is not necessary to delete everything and start over. Thanks to the cloud you just need a few clicks. Go back to the Azure Portal and change the size of your machine as shown in Figure 12 to at least a B2s size. At this point, I realized it is necessary to have at least 2 cores and 4 GB of RAM as described in Windows 11 System Requirements.

Select the right size for the Azure VM (at leat B2s)
Figure 12.

Then, re-connect to the Azure VM and get back to Windows Update as in Figure 13. From this point you should be able to follow Windows Insider Documentation.

Follow Windows Insider Program (click on Get started button)
Figure 13

Why did I keep the troubleshooting sections in this article instead of recreating a new bigger Virtual Machine without the OS and hardware issues? I found them useful to show you some of the mistakes and incidents that may happen to you if you did not choose at least a B2s size and to prove advantages of using a Virtual Machine in the cloud.

Install a Windows Insider Preview build in one channel

After you have signed in and you have chosen a channel you will be able to get the latest builds from that channel.

Once you restart your Virtual Machine, the Windows Insider Program wizard looks like Figure 14 with the channel that you have selected. In this case the Windows Dev Channel.

Once restarted, you see the channel and your account in Windows Insider Program menu
Figure 14.

Then, check for new updates, you may need to install previous updates like the ones shown in Figure 10, before getting the latest build from your channel, this could include several restarts of your Azure VM. (If you cannot re-connect to the Azure VM after the restart is normal, it may take a few minutes until you can re-connect again).

Once all of them were installed (excluding the KB5018496 that was from the Release Preview Channel), after checking for Updates, new builds appeared in the Windows Update menu as shown in Figure 15.

Windows Insider builds from the channel you have selected
Figure 15.

At the time of this post, the latest build from the Windows Dev Channel is Windows 11 Insider Preview Build 25231Notice Build 25231.1000 at the top of Figure 15.

This proves the importance of signing in with your Windows Insider account, despite the resource from Azure Marketplace gets some Windows Insider builds by itself. By signing in and choosing a channel you get the updates from that channel. Here as an example, the ones from Windows Dev Channel, but if you are new to the Program it is recommended to start with the Windows Beta channel.

Summary

In this article, I discussed how to create and use an Azure Virtual Machine to preview the latest Windows Insider builds. The step-by-step guide to set up the Azure VM was provided in the article. Furthermore, the importance of using a Virtual Machine in the cloud was mentioned along the article and proved with the troubleshooting sections. After this article, you should be ready to create as many Azure VMs for as many Windows Insider Preview builds you want.


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