Over the last year, my understanding of how upgrading Office 365 works has evolved dramatically. Some of my key takeaways from planning how to deploy Office 365 desktop apps to 50,000 users are:
- You need to understand this page, bookmark it, and visit it at least monthly: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/officeupdates/update-history-microsoft365-apps-by-date I’ll refer to it as the Update History Page. I’ll explain this page throughout this article.
- You need to understand the difference between a Version and a Build. A Version has a specific set of features. That Version will have a specific build number when it is first released. Versions that are supported for more than a month (every version other than Current Channel) have new builds released EVERY MONTH. These builds never introduce new features, but include security patches and performance enhancements. Only new Versions introduce new features.
- You need to understand the Version naming convention and the different formats the Build Number make take. Versions are named using a YYMM format. So a version number of 2006 indicates June 2020. A version number of 1803 is March of 2018. Except that the release date can lag by a month. For example, the June 2020 release came out July 14th, 2020. Furthermore, don’t call version 2007 (July 2020) “Office 2007”, as Microsoft Office Professional 2007 released on 1/27/2007 and went out of support in 2017. You can however call it Office 365 Pro Plus 2007, or its new name, Microsoft 365 Apps for Enterprise, Version 2007.
- The release date will almost always be a Patch Tuesday, the second Tuesday of a given month.
- Understand Perpetual versus Subscription licensing and naming. There are two license models for Office: Perpetual and Subscription.
- Perpetual versions you buy once, own forever, and they get security patches for several years. However, they never get new features. Perpetual versions are names with a release year, such as Office 2016 and Office 2019. Perpetual versions are licensed with a license key and are licensed per machine, not per user. The machine does not need to have internet access.
- Subscription versions are what you get with Office 365. These get new features as often as monthly (if you choose that update frequency) or as slowly as twice a year (if you choose that update frequency). These are named based on the release year and month, as explained above, for example Microsoft 365 Apps For Enterprise 2006 (June 2020). These are licensed per user as part of their Office 365 subscription. Internet acccess is required to activate each install per user.
- You need to understand how to read the supported versions chart on the Update History Page, which looks like this.
|Channel||Version||Build||Release date||Version supported until|
|Current Channel||2006||13001.20384||July 14, 2020||Version 2007 is released|
|Monthly Enterprise Channel||2005||12827.20538||July 14, 2020||September 8, 2020|
|Monthly Enterprise Channel||2004||12730.20602||July 14, 2020||August 11, 2020|
|Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel (Preview)||2002||12527.20880||July 14, 2020||September 8, 2020|
|Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel||2002||12527.20880||July 14, 2020||September 14, 2021|
|Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel||1908||11929.20904||July 14, 2020||March 9, 2021|
|Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel||1902||11328.20624||July 14, 2020||September 8, 2020|
Note that this table is updated every month on Patch Tuesday, and the build numbers and release dates change every month on that day.
In the large multinational company I work for, we have chosen to minimize the number of Office Versions per year that we push to them. That minimum number is 2. However, Office should be patched every month! In other words, we introduce new features twice a year, but deploy security patches and performance improvements every month.
- The slowest frequency of deploying updates is twice a year. If you try to go slower than that, you won’t be able to minimize the impact of the end user. If you are using SCCM you also need to be using WSUS.
- Config.Office.Com is another important resource. If your end user computers are running at least Version 2008, there will be pages in https://Config.Office.com that give you additional management and reporting capabilities, though these are only in Preview as of March 2021.
- If your company is eligible to use the Microsoft FastTrack program – a service and staff to help you deploy (among other things) Office, do so. Office deployment in a large enterprise environment can be very complicated, get all the help you can get!
- One of the biggest blockers to deployment is your testing requirements. If you have applications that integrate with Office desktop apps, then you need to test compatibility before you roll out office to those machines and users.
- You deploy to machines but communicate to users, so you need to know who owns which machine.
- To find out what’s new in a given release, read the release notes for that channel. Once deployed, you can also find out about new features by using the What’s New button that is in the Office Account page of the File menu (sometimes called the Backstage view) of most of the apps.