Office 365 ProPlus Channels – Office 365 Change Management
Learn how to manage Office 365 ProPlus, with tips, guidance and best practices. Office 365 ProPlus Channels offer a multitude of options to keep Office 2016 updated with the latest features.
I’ll show you how these Office 365 ProPlus channels work, what to look out for and hopefully get you on the right track. This is an ongoing series on Office 365 Change Management.
If you haven't already checked out my first Office 365 Change Management post, it's worth reading. I cover all the different resources you will need to stay informed and ahead of the rapid releases in Office 365.
What are Office 365 ProPlus Channels?
Microsoft is aware that the pace of change in Office 365 presents some difficulties for organisations. If every month a new version of Office 2016 has new features, how are users meant to cope?
How about application compatibility, how do you know if a new release won’t break one of your critical business applications?
To mitigate these sorts of issues, Microsoft has separated security updates as well as bug fixes from feature updates. This makes it possible to control when users receive new features while still keeping Office fully patched with security updates.
How does Microsoft do this? Office 365 ProPlus Channels! With Office 2016 channels, administrators can choose how rapidly users receive new features and an opportunity to test new releases several months in advance.
Office 365 ProPlus Channels Compared
There are five channels which vary predominately based on how frequently each release receives new features.
Every four months
Every four months
FR for Deferred Channel
Every four months
FR for Current Channel - Office Insider Slow
FR for Current Channel - Office Insider Fast
So how do you make use of Office 365 ProPlus channels in your organisation? If you have lots of applications that integrate with Office, including add-ins, or macros, you probably want to minimise the amount of application testing. If you use the Current Channel, this means testing your applications every month to make sure new or changed Office features haven’t broken your apps.
What would make sense is to use the Deferred Channel. Now you only have to test your applications a few times a year. This is because the Deferred Channel only includes new features every four months. What’s even better, you can test applications, prepare users for new features in advance by using the First Release for Deferred Channel.
The First Release for Deferred Channel, starts four months before it’s declared the next Deferred Channel. It’s your opportunity to start testing early with pilot users and application compatibility testers. Giving them a chance to try out new features with the upcoming Deferred Channel. During this time any issues that are spotted can hopefully be resolved or flagged appropriately.
Office 365 ProPlus Channels Case study
Let’s uses fictitious dates to illustrate the lifespan of a Deferred Channel. A First Release for Deferred Channel is released in October, every month it receives security updates and non-security updates but not any new features.
After four months in February, this becomes the Deferred Channel, no new features are added but it receives monthly security updates and non-security updates.
At the end of four months, you jump to the next Deferred Channel or in this case carry on with the original Deferred Channel. By September this channel is no longer supported and must be upgraded to a newer Deferred Channel.
A Deferred Channel release is supported for eight months but that's twelve months in total, as it starts as First Release for Deferred Channel.There are always two Deferred Channel releases available and supported
This article from Microsoft goes into a lot more detail:
Getting early access to new Office 2016 features
As you may have noticed I didn’t cover every channel yet. What if you want access to new Office 365 ProPlus features at the earliest opportunity? You can certainly use the Current Channel, that's one option
You may, for example, designate several users in the organisation with the Current Channel, so they can test new features. The current channel must be updated every month to remain supported.
What if you want new Office 2016 features even sooner? There is the two First Release for Current Channels – Office Insider Slow and Office Insider Fast.
The Fast level provides even earlier builds of Office, more frequently. In fact, these builds are what Microsoft employees have access to internally. Office Insider Fast is best for Insiders who want to use the earliest preview builds to identify issues, provide feedback to help make Office great, and who don’t mind a bit of risk using unsupported builds.
How to get the Office Insider Slow and Fast Channels
With Selective First Release enabled, designated users can grab Office themselves and they will receive the Office Insider Slow channel.
To get access to Office Insider Fast takes more work in an enterprise setting. The full details are here:
This involves uninstalling any version of Office 365 ProPlus that's already installed and using the Office Deployment Tool (ODT) with a configuration like this:
You can confirm which version is installed from the Product Information section:
Office Insider Slow
Office Insider Fast
Year and Month Versioning Scheme
Now if you thought Office 365 ProPlus channels are a bit complicated there is yet another factor to track. In June, Microsoft announced improved versioning for the Deferred Channel:
We’re improving our updates naming to help distinguish multiple Office updates. To help distinguish between major updates and their subsequent builds, we are implementing a versioning scheme that will help simplify how we refer to all Office updates.
So ultimately this is a good thing, a better way track versions:
Each Office update will be represented by a year and month. For example, version 1605 corresponds to the May 2016 update. To distinguish builds within each version we will add a build number, for example: version 1605 (Build 6758.1000). This versioning scheme is similar to what you see with Windows 10 and the System Center Configuration Manager and should provide an easier way to distinguish the different builds.
How to keep up-to-date with Office 365 ProPlus Versions
The following page is where you stay up-to-date with channels, versions and builds:
As an example of how to use this page, let's look at version 1605. This version started as a Current Channel release in June. Then soon afterwards it became a First Release for Deferred Channel release. Finally, this version will become the next Deferred Channel on October 11, 2016. The version spans channels and multiple builds.
The other page to track is:
Office 365 ProPlus Closing Thoughts
I have covered a lot of ground, so to finish up lets have an action plan:
- Use the Deferred Channel for the bulk of your users
- Have pilot users and application testers on the First Release for Deferred Channel
- Consider power users, early adopters, IT staff etc. for the Current Channel or First Release for Current Channel
- Coordinate with vendors and other external organizations that support your line-of-business applications, add-ins, or macros
- Map out these applications, how they integrate with Microsoft Office and a standardised testing approach
Here are a few other ideas as well to improve your Office 365 ProPlus Change Management:
- Updates are mandatory and can't be ignored, you can only defer updates for so long before Office becomes unsupported
- Provide guidance to staff on new features, features may go unnoticed or undervalued otherwise
- Pester ISV’s and make sure they are prepared for the faster release cadence
- Systems Center Configuration Manager natively supports updating Office 365 ProPlus and is recommended