It has been 480 days, 20 June 2012, since Microsoft announced plans for an early access program for Windows Phone enthusiasts.

That info comes courtesy of Robert McLaws (@robertmclaws) and a program he wrote called WP8 Enthusiast Program Alerts to keep track of the number of days since the program was announced.

To say that the pace of releases from the Windows Phone team for OS updates have been glacier would be a small understatement.   The most recent public release is the GDR2 update and as of a few weeks ago, as I wrote about on this site, it had only been rolled out to 60% of Nokia Lumia Windows Phone handsets worldwide.

On top of that The Nokia Lumia 820 and 920 on AT&T in the US just got GDR2 last Thursday – two weeks after the expected delivery date.

Now blame for these delays are thrown at everyone involved and it would be hard to get a 100% accurate answer to know who exactly is creating these delays.  However, since we typically hear that the update is RTM’d by Microsoft and Nokia it is hard to place them at the top of that blame list.  After the update is RTM’d it heads to the carriers for testing and that is where the delay really seems to kick in. In fact, Nokia has a page on their support site that tracks the updates approval process by the carriers.

Take the GDR2 update for example. Nokia announced it was good to go on 15 August and stated that most of the updates should be out NLT the end of September. It was on that day that 40% of Nokia Lumia handsets worldwide  had not received the update.

But enough about all the delays because we may never see this improve however, this weeks announcement of the early access for developers has fired up the Windows Phone enthusiasts base.

The reason for the increased energy with this new program is simple – techie folks love to have early access to bits that are not out in the general public.

Microsoft’s Windows private beta programs were like the holy grail of the tech world. Everyone wanted to be in on those early peeks of the next version of Windows.  Microsoft turned that enthusiasm into an entire website called Connect that made it easy for someone to get in on early testing versions of all kinds of Microsoft products and services.

Microsoft has not made this Windows Phone early access program open to the general public however, it is very straight forward to get access to it.

All any Windows Phone user has to do is go to the Windows Phone App Studio site, sign in with the Microsoft Account they are using on their Windows Phone and then register for Windows Phone App Studio access. Once that is done just go download the Preview for Developers app from the Windows Phone Store, install it and accept the terms. Once you have opted in just go to your Windows Phone settings and check for an update on your phone. The GDR3 bits will be downloaded at this point and you can install them on your handset.

Anyone involved in the Early Access program for Windows Phone also has the ability to provide feedback and get assistance as needed in the Windows Phone Preview program forums.

Amongst the Windows Phone enthusiasts I interact with on Twitter there have been a few defections to the new iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c. The typical reason given is the timeliness of OS updates not the lack of apps as so many mainstream tech sites want to still point out as an issue.

This early access program may help stem the flow of the enthusiast Windows Phone crowd but if something is not done to innovate the platform and get updates out quicker than it could have a much broader impact.

Time will tell and we will be keeping an eye on it.