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Microsoft Enhancing Office 365 ProPlus Management Capabilities

Microsoft today announced some new and future administrative improvements for organizations subscribing to Office 365 ProPlus services.

Office 365 ProPlus is a bundle of Office productivity-suite applications offered through Microsoft's Office 365 cloud-based services. Those applications are frequently updated via Microsoft's "click-to-run" steaming technology. The click-to-run service delivers updated software bits (or "deltas" in Microsoft lingo) from Microsoft's servers. It's a different management process from the more traditional update process using MSI files, which are used for updating volume licensing copies of Office 2013 editions or Office Professional Plus 2013.

New Improvements
Today, Microsoft indicated that the click-to-run update process for Office 365 ProPlus suites is getting faster and is delivering smaller compressed files. Microsoft also added a few management improvements for IT pros, according to an announcement by Microsoft's Jeremy Chapman and Curtis Sawin.

On the management side, IT pros can now exclude apps from the Office 365 ProPlus click-to-run update process. That's possible to do using the latest version of the Office Deployment Tool, which was last published on May 7.

Chapman said that Microsoft sees a lot of organizations excluding Office 365 ProPlus apps, such as Microsoft Access, InfoPath and Groove. IT pros can specify which apps to exclude from the update process by just editing the configuration.xml file using <ExcludeApp> tags. Apparently, that ability is considered new, although Microsoft had described it almost two years ago.

Upcoming Improvements
Microsoft plans to deliver two additional improvements to the Office 365 ProPlus update process sometime late this year.

One of those improvements will benefit organizations that share computer terminals among users. Microsoft plans to add a capability called "shared computer activation" in the "second half of 2014." This feature can be turned on via the Office Deployment Tool. When it's turned on, Office 365 ProPlus checks the individual user's licensing rights and installs the bits based on those rights. Without shared computer activation turned on, the click-to-stream process installs bits based on the machine's update requirements, rather than based on an individual user's licensing rights.

Sawin said that the shared computer support feature will help organizations that have "pooled VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] environments," such as hospitals, call centers or factories, where the computers are shared.

The shared computer activation feature installs bits for multiple users, but that doesn't represent a potential licensing violation for organizations because the process works similarly to Office on Demand technology, according to Microsoft's explanation. Office on Demand uses click-to-run streaming technology to deliver Office applications on a temporary basis. In contrast, the shared computer activation feature permanently installs the bits for each user.

The second update improvement will be support for deploying Office 365 ProPlus via Remote Desktop Services. That capability will happen sometime "later this year," according to the announcement, although the release seems timed with the shared computer activation feature.

"Shared Computer Activation for Office 365 ProPlus is targeted to release in the second half of 2014 and will support Office 365 ProPlus installation on Windows Server 2008 R2 with the RDS enabled," Microsoft's announcement explained.

Currently, there are "technical blocks" to installing Office 365 ProPlus on Windows Server with the RDS role, according to Microsoft. Chapman said that installing Office 365 ProPlus bits in an RDS server was a common request of Microsoft's customers.

Wes Miller, an analyst with independent Microsoft consultancy Directions on Microsoft, added a guess for when this RDS support might be available, including Microsoft's newly announced Azure RemoteApp. He suggested that the releases could hit "release-to-manufacturing" status in October:

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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