Posey's Tips & Tricks

Less Annoying Microsoft 365 Updates Are Here

Microsoft has brought relief to those of us that keep multiple documents open for a prolonged amount of time.

Microsoft Office updates may very well be the bane an end user's work day. We've all seen the messages that appear within our Office applications nagging us to install the latest updates. The big problem with such updates is that they have a tendency to happen at the worst possible times.

Let me give you a personal example. During my end of the month deadline crunch I commonly have ten to 12 Word documents open at the same time. For whatever reason, I have always had trouble writing a blog post from start to finish, so I tend to jump around between multiple documents rather than finishing one blog post before moving on to the next. At any rate, an update notification will inevitably appear during this time.

When this happens, my standard course of action is to ignore the notification. Yes, I know that IT best practices have long stated that updates need to be installed right away, but I'm not taking the bait. At best, installing an update would mean saving and closing a dozen or so documents, installing the update and then trying to remember which documents I just closed. Not only is this process highly disruptive, it breaks my train of thought -- and I sometimes have a tough time remembering what part of a document I had been working on before I was forced to close Word.

That's the best-case situation. The worst-case situation is that the update breaks Office, forcing me to finish my work from another computer that hasn't been updated.

I don't want to make it sound like I never install Microsoft Office updates. I keep my systems up to date just like anyone else. However, I am definitely in the habit of postponing updates until after major deadlines pass. Interestingly, I don't seem to be alone in this. Over the last few years I have heard countless stories of users neglecting Microsoft Office updates for as long as possible, simply because they don't want to have their workflow disrupted by an inconvenient update.

The good news is that Microsoft may have finally addressed this issue and is coming up with a far less disruptive way of keeping Office applications up to date. The company calls these new updates Update Under Lock.

As the feature's name implies, Update Under Lock is designed to automatically update the Microsoft 365 applications at a time when a user's machine is locked and idle. Suppose for example, that a user is working on a complex document and leaves that document open overnight so that they can resume their work the next morning (which is something that I do constantly). The new Update Under Lock feature would be able to save the application state, apply the update and then put everything back the way that it was so that the user is completely oblivious to the fact that anything has even happened.

On the surface this sounds like an extremely welcome feature. It's a way of making sure that the Office applications are kept up to date, but also ensuring that the update process takes place in a way that is not disruptive. What's better is that Microsoft seems to have already thought of situations in which these types of updates could be problematic and has designed the update process to recognize those types of situations.

Suppose for example, that a user has a complex Excel spreadsheet that uses a macro to perform large numbers of calculations based on data from an external source. It's conceivable that these macros could take a long time to run and that a user might simply start the macros at the end of the day and then let them run overnight while their PC is locked. An automated update would interfere with what the user is trying to do because the update process would disrupt the macros. Thankfully, Microsoft has designed its new update process to only apply updates if the PC is idle, thereby eliminating the possibility of an update disrupting a long-running macro.

Another safety measure that Microsoft has built into the update process is the ability to determine whether or not a document has been saved. If the update engine detects that an unsaved document is open, the update will not run. Office doesn't force a save operation because that could potentially overwrite other data. Similarly, it doesn't risk performing an update while unsaved data exist within the application.

Finally, Microsoft has reduced the amount of time that it takes to apply an update to the Office applications. According to Microsoft, the update process takes about four seconds to complete. That means that there is no need for a user to worry about coming back to their computer and being unable to work because an update is in the middle of being installed.

Although it remains to be seen how well Update Under Lock works, I applaud Microsoft for addressing one of the biggest pain points associated with the Microsoft Office applications. I have really high hopes for Update Under Lock.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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