Modernising Desktop Management – Part 3
Modernising Desktop Management – Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise
In the second part of this series, I outlined how Windows 10 is different to its predecessors. It has introduced a new servicing model, along with a new deployment methodology, and even a new licensing model.
In this third part, I am going to talk about how Microsoft 365 Apps for Enterprise (formerly Office 365 ProPlus) and how Microsoft Office has changed in the last 10 years.
In June 2011 Microsoft released Office 365 to the world. At the time it was built on the 2010 versions of common Microsoft Office products, including Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft SharePoint Server, Lync Server, and the Office 2010 Professional Plus client. It was not Microsoft’s first foray into hosting their productivity suite for customers, prior to this they had provided the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) which was built on the 2007 versions of those same productivity tools.
What had changed was the way that Microsoft planned to work with the new capabilities. Microsoft provided a few simple licensing options that covered both the cloud hosted versions of the services and covered on-premises CALs. One of the biggest changes, was the first release of the Subscription licensed Office client built on a technology called “Click-to-Run” which meant that users could download and start using those tools more quickly than using the traditional MSI process. It also changed how updates were deployed for the Office client, now bug-fixes and security updates were released in a combined single package, where before admins could be very selective on which updates were installed.
Now, 8 years later, Microsoft have continued to evolve Office 365 at a pace that few could match, new features and capabilities are added to the service almost weekly, and new updates are made available for the Office client on a monthly cadence.
So why are all these changes important?
The first, and most significant change Microsoft made with the release of Office 365 was to change how organisations licensed their users for the Office client.
Before Office 365 the licenses were all device bound, so if a user had two desktop PCs they also needed two licenses of Microsoft Office, but if they had a desktop in their office, and then a laptop they carried with them then one license could be purchased. For other scenarios there were more caveats that existed depending on usage.
With Office 365, Microsoft moved to a per-user subscription model for licensing Office, now a licensed user could license up-to 5 PCs with a full version of Microsoft Office, making it much easier to track and manage Microsoft Office licenses, now in general if the end-user had a license assigned in Office they could use the Office client on their key devices without any additional considerations or licenses to be purchased.
Initially this caused issues on organisations that leveraged Virtualised desktops or VDI to provide licenses because the per-user licenses were not available, however with the 2013 release cycle of Office 365, Microsoft introduced the Shared-Activation model which allowed for temporary activation of the Office 365 ProPlus client on non-persistent devices, which did not count to a user’s activation count.
Along with these, Microsoft also included Client Access Licenses for on-premises versions of Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint Server, and Microsoft Lync Server (now Skype for Business Server), which became a common method for organisations to license their users for these products, before they were ready to take the leap into consuming the online versions of these services.
Click-to-run was one of the most significant changes to how Office was installed on a PC. Instead of downloading one installer ISO and then adding to that 50+ update packages (which always added significant time to the install), it was possible to download the latest release of Microsoft Office with all the patches integrated in one download.
The other significant change with Click-to-Run, was the use of App Virtualisation technologies, these provided two major capabilities: end-users could start using the apps while the installation was still in progress, and the latest version could coexist with an older version of Office if compatibility was required.
With these major changes, the process of installing Office on an end-user device is much more predictable, the install will take the same time to complete on a device, it is up-to-date from the moment the install starts, and the user can start using it within the first 10 minutes of the install.
The early releases of the 2010 version experienced several issues, typically due to plugins needed to run alongside Microsoft Office, but they did indicate the direction Microsoft was moving, now the latest releases of Office ProPlus are only available as a Click-to-Run packages.
The final big change Microsoft made with Office 365 ProPlus was the change in how updates are released. Before the Windows team made these changes, the Office team started releasing cumulative updates for Office ProPlus. No-longer was it possible for IT Admins to selectively chose which fixes are installed on their endpoints, the only question is a matter of when it is installed. For some organisations, it is necessary to hold-back an update because it breaks a business-critical process, this forces them usually to update both the Office client, and the offending feature that caused the breakage. Ultimately the benefit this provides to the business is that security fixes are deployed more quickly, consistently, and with a lower burden to an organisation over the longer time.
To help organisations manage the way that updates are delivered to their end-users Microsoft have created “Update Branches” that are used to denote the place in a business that a set of features, and fixes is made available to end-users.
What do these channels look like, and which should you use for your end users?
The Monthly channel is the first public release of end-user ready software. It is released on a Monthly cadence, and it will include security updates, along with new features for the Office client.
The Monthly channel release is only supported by Microsoft until the next Monthly channel version is released to the public, and end users must update to the next version to receive any further patches.
The monthly channel will incorporate all feature, security and bug features from the previous Monthly channel release.
Microsoft would recommend this channel to early adopters, including IT teams and trainers to see what new features are being developed, and to test the workloads against non-production workloads if possible.
Semi-Annual (Targeted) Channel
The Semi-Annual (Targeted) Channel, is intended for business early adopters, these will be users in your organisation that are forgiving of minor bugs on occasion but that are willing to help identify changes in the Office client that might affect the greater user base in an organisation.
The Semi-Annual (Targeted) Channel is released twice a year, usually in March and September. It is supported by Microsoft for a total of 6 months (within the channel) with security and bug fixes released every month.
The Semi-Annual (Targeted) Channel is based on an incremental update from the previous Monthly Channel release.
Microsoft Recommend this for pilot users and application compatibility testers in the organisation to identify bugs and updates required by other apps that interact with the Office ProPlus client.
The Semi-Annual channel is the common channel that most users in an organisation run.
The Semi-Annual channel is released twice a year in January and July, 4 months after the version was released to the Semi-Annual (Targeted) Channel. It is supported my Microsoft for a total of 14 months with security and bug fixes released every month.
The Semi-Annual Channel is based on an updated version of the Semi-Annual (Targeted) Channel release after 3 months with all the security and bug fixes included.
Microsoft recommend this version for most end-users within an organisation, and while it is not always possible to move users to the latest version as soon as the next Semi-Annual Channel release is made, there are at least two versions of the Semi-Annual channel supported by Microsoft at any one time.
Long-Term Servicing Channel
While not officially a Microsoft designation or channel, this is ultimately what the “year name” release versions (Office 2016, and Office 2019) are. These releases are available using the Volume License keys an organisation can purchase and assign to specific devices. Licenses for these versions must be purchased separately in retail or Volume license channels and are not the same as Office 365 ProPlus included as part of an Office 365 subscription.
A new “Year Name” release of Office Professional Plus is released by Microsoft roughly every 3 years. It is based on a version of the Semi-Annual Channel release available at the time. It is supported by Microsoft for 5 years in Mainstream support (security and bug fixes) and an additional 3 years of extended support (security updates).
Microsoft recommend the use of the Office Professional Plus in very limited circumstances. Typically, business critical processes or applications that use the Office APIs to perform automated functions. It is not recommended for every-day users as it is always behind the Office 365 ProPlus releases the day it is made generally available to the public.
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