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Microsoft Swaps Out Service 'Branches' for 'Channels' with New Office 365 Update Lingo

Microsoft has changed the terminology it uses to describe Office 365 client updates.

IT pros managing Office 365 client applications may have just gotten used to the Windows 10-like update model that Microsoft described back in September for Office 365 applications. In a nutshell, that update model consisted of monthly and every-four-months delivery plans, giving organizations a little bit of time to test Office 365 application updates before rolling them out to end users. However, Microsoft has now changed this update nomenclature, which had included things like "current branch" (for monthly updates) and "current branch for business" (for updates occurring every four months).

In addition, Feb. 9 marked the rollout of a new "current branch for business" version of Office 2016 (now renamed), along with some security updates. Microsoft published a new "Office 365 client update branch releases" page (likely to be renamed) describing those updates. This page no doubt will be helpful for IT pros concerned with updating Office 365 client software.

Name Changes
Here's the short list of the Office 365 application update name changes, per Microsoft's announcement yesterday:

  • The service "branches" are now known as "channels"
  • The "current branch" now is called the "current channel"
  • The "current branch for business" now is referred to as the "deferred channel."

These terminology changes are in effect for "Office 365 ProPlus, Office 365 Business, Project Pro for Office 365 and Visio Pro for Office 365" subscription plans, according to Microsoft's announcement.

While the names have changed, the update model remains the same as described back in September by Microsoft.

In addition, Microsoft still has its "first release" beta-like testing option available for Office 365 subscribers, which gives end users early access to new Office 365 app features, if wanted. The first-release terminology did not change, but there are two options. There's a "first release for current channel" option or a "first release for deferred channel" option, depending on how fast an organization wants it.

The name changes were done "based on feedback," Microsoft indicated in its announcement.

Office Milestones
Microsoft had indicated back in September that it was going to start rolling out Office 2016 updates to its Office 365 customers as early as Sept. 22, but availability likely depended on Microsoft's regional rollout plans, as well as the update servicing practices of organizations. Office 2016 for volume licensing Enterprise edition users (called "Office Professional Plus 2016") is a different product. It was scheduled to be available for download from the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center back on Oct. 1.

This week, Microsoft indicated that Office 365 subscribers can now download the deferred channel version "directly from the Office CDN" (content delivery network). The deferred channel version also will be available on the "Office 365 User Software Page" on Feb. 23.

IT pros now have a few more controls over the Office 365 User Software Page, according to Microsoft. As of this week, they can now "select the Office version and update channel (for 2016 apps only)" that end users will see at that page. However, while IT pros can make those settings changes now, the changes won't take effect until Feb. 23, Microsoft indicated. The process is described in this TechNet library article.

Finally, those organizations with first release testers will be able to get the next "first release for deferred channel" Office 365 build on or after June this year, Microsoft indicated.

Help for IT Pros?
Will there be more help coming from Microsoft with regard to managing Office 365 updates? IT pros may be reaching for the aspirin at this point, but Microsoft "is not done yet." Without specifying any details, the announcement indicated that "we are continuing to invest more in our deployment tools in order to further assist IT admins and developers to validate Office against their environment and line-of-business applications."

Right now, those update management tools for Office 365 subscriptions are fairly limited. Microsoft delivers Office 365 application updates via its click-to-run streaming technology to client machines. Alternatively, IT pros can direct the stream to a single workstation for testing before releasing the updates more broadly to end users.

Another puzzle for IT pros managing Office 365 updates is how to track and maintain updates for mixed channel use within an organization (such as a mixture of current channel users and deferred channel users). Possibly, that's the future tooling yet to come from Microsoft, although there was no such description by Microsoft in that regard.

About the Author

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

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