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Microsoft Releases Office 365 Update 1602 Deferred Channel

Microsoft this month released Office 365 update 1602 "deferred channel," which includes new features for Office applications, as well as security updates.

These deferred channel releases are important for IT pros or individuals that manage Office 365 clients in an organization to observe because of Microsoft's complex service update model. It's possible for organizations not paying attention to find themselves on a dead-end service branch, meaning that future security updates won't arrive.

Microsoft supports a particular deferred channel release for eight months. However, when the next deferred channel release arrives (after four months' time), then support will end. Organizations that haven't jumped are then are left with a dead Office 365 branch that doesn't get security updates from Microsoft.

Microsoft doesn't typically clarify if organizations will get any warnings when their Office 365 service branch is potentially becoming unsupported. Presumably, IT pros will have to mark their calendars and somehow keep mental track. Microsoft's labeling scheme for Office 365 updates perhaps doesn't make this task much easier.

What's New?
This June Office 365 update 1602 deferred channel release is the second of three such releases Microsoft has planned for this year. The deferred channel releases get released every four months, typically on Microsoft's patch Tuesday security release dates (which happens on the second Tuesday of every month). The typical four-month deferred channel update releases occur on "February, June and October" in a given year, according to Microsoft's announcement.

To add to this confusion, Microsoft also has an Office 365 update 1509 deferred channel release out there that was released on Feb. 9, 2016. It's approaching a dead end, though. It will "continue to be serviced for an additional four months," Microsoft's announcement warned. Organizations using the 1509 update will need to perform a branch jump to stay patched.

Organizations can find Microsoft's list of Office 365 client update channel releases at this roadmap page. While this update approach mirrors Microsoft's update scheme for Windows 10 and System Center Configuration Manager in many ways, there's one peculiarity. The Office 365 update release numbers don't seem to use the "year/month" digit scheme found with Windows 10 servicing. For instance this Office 365 update 1602 deferred channel release might be presumed to have been released in "2016 February," based on the numbering scheme (1602), rather than the proper "2016 June" release date.

Possibly, there's an easy explanation somewhere out there for this apparent discrepancy.

Microsoft is now adding build numbers to this Office 365 update scheme. For example, this month's Office 365 update 1602 deferred channel release is build 6741.2048. Microsoft's announcement indicated that this approach of using build numbers is "similar to what you see with Windows 10 and the System Center Configuration Manager" service branch releases.

The next Office 365 deferred channel release, coming in October 2016, will be known as update "1605," Microsoft's announcement indicated.

Office 365 Servicing Overview
Microsoft explains its service branch update model for Office 365 ProPlus at this page. Additional useful info can be found in this "Change management for Office 365 client" article, which includes a handy poster.

In a nutshell, Microsoft's Office 365 service model consists of "current channel" releases (monthly) and "deferred channel" releases (every four months). Microsoft once used Windows 10-like wording such as "current branch" and "current branch for business" to describe this model, but it changed the lingo back in February in response to "customer feedback," Microsoft said.

There's also a "first release" beta-testing option for Office 365 users, which gets released on a monthly basis. The first release option is available for current channel clients and deferred channel clients, if wanted.

For smaller organizations that don't need to do much testing, Microsoft recommends that Office 365 client updates be applied at the current channel monthly speed. However, if an organization has custom applications in place or uses Office macros and add-ins, then they'll likely need some testing time, and those organizations should get on the deferred channel update cycle, according to Microsoft.

Those two update options are available for both Office 365 Business plans and Office 365 ProPlus subscriptions. However, by default, Office 365 Business plans follow the current channel update cycle (unless it gets changed by the organization), while Office 365 Pro Plus subscriptions track to the deferred channel update model by default (unless it gets changed). These updates are delivered via Microsoft's click-to-run streaming update technology. It's possible for organizations to have end users on both update models, if wanted.

Only the Office Professional Plus 2016 product, installed via MSI files and sold via Microsoft's Office volume licensing program, escapes these update scenarios. For instance, there's no streaming of feature updates for Office Professional Plus 2016 users. Instead, new features get delivered with each full product release of Office Professional Plus 2016. This product typically might be chosen by larger organizations. Microsoft also recommends Office Professional Plus 2016 for those organizations that follow its Windows 10 "long term servicing branch" update model, which similarly doesn't have an automatic streaming update service.

Organizations using Office 365 Business or Office 365 ProPlus editions can set their click-to-run update methods to a degree using the Office Deployment Tool, with involves making changes to a CONFIGURATION.XML file. It's possible to have updates arrive at a single workstation for testing purposes before rolling them out to end users. It's also possible to use Microsoft's Office 2016 Administrative Templates (ADMX/ADML) customization tool for the purpose, which also will work with Office Professional Plus 2016.

About the Author

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

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