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Sneaky Office 365 Changes Coming This Year

Microsoft is making a few notable changes this year for Office 365 business subscribers, but they could be flying somewhat under the radar screens of IT pros.

IT pros will see things like 64-bit Office installs by default, an end to Triple Data Encryption (3DES) and default Microsoft Teams installs in some cases, among other changes.

64-Bit Office Installs
First, new Office ProPlus installations (the productivity suite that comes with Office 365 subscriptions) and new Office 2019 installations are going to be 64-bit by default, starting sometime around mid-January. This change was communicated by Microsoft via an Office 365 Admin Center notice, which is typically seen only by IT pros. The change could affect organizations with dependencies on using certain 32-bit Office 365 add-ins, noted writer Woody Leonhard in a blog post.

Microsoft has been recommending the use of 32-bit Office installations for quite a long while, so the new policy switch is a notable change. The reason why 32-bit installs were previously recommended, apparently, was because the plug-ins (or add-ins) for Office were mostly 32-bit applications, according to an explanation by Tom Arbuthnot, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional, in a blog post.

Organizations will get some benefits from running 64-bit Office, such as better performance for memory-intensive operations. It'll improve matters when running Excel calculations or using large pictures or videos in PowerPoint. However, organizations can still opt to use the 32-bit versions of Office if wanted, or if they are confined to using a 32-bit Windows operating system. It's possible, though, to run 64-bit Windows and 32-bit Office together, if that's wanted. Such details are outlined in this Microsoft document.

Other Office 365 Changes
A few other surprises for Office 365 users can be found in this Microsoft blog post on planned service changes for 2019.

For instance, starting this month, Microsoft is blocking the use of Flash, Shockwave and Silverlight in Office 2016, Office 2013 and Office 2010. The blocking just takes place for organizations that are following the Office 365 "semiannual channel" update model, where new feature updates arrive every six months.

Also, Microsoft will require Yammer Enterprise users to log in with Azure Active Directory accounts. There will be a process to direct Yammer Enterprise users to create new passwords.

OneDrive will drop support for macOS X 10.10 and 10.11 on Feb. 1, 2019.

Microsoft will end support for the Triple Data Encryption (3DES) algorithm in Office 365 on Feb. 28, 2019. Microsoft wants organizations to use the Transport Layer Security (TLS) 1.2 protocol or greater instead. Microsoft stopped supporting TLS 1.0 and 1.1 in Office 365 back on Oct. 31, 2018, but organizations don't necessarily have to disable TLS 1.0 and 1.1 as yet, Microsoft has previously explained.

Microsoft's Skype for Business service will no longer be capable of using "third-party" (non-Microsoft) audio conferencing services starting on April 1, 2019. The change seems to apply to new Skype for Business deployments on that date. Apparently, existing deployments using third-party audio conferencing services will continue to work but their dial-in information won't be shown to new Skype for Business meeting invitees, according to this Microsoft document.

Microsoft Teams Default Installs
Another under-the-radar change is that Teams will now get installed by default for new installations of Office 365 Business and Office 365 Business Premium editions. This change was noted last week in a Twitter post by Nicolas Broisin, a consultant on Microsoft unified communications solutions. The plan is briefly noted in this rather obscure Microsoft 365 Roadmap item, but it otherwise seems unannounced by Microsoft. The switch to default Teams installs will take effect this month for new installations of those Office 365 editions, "starting with version 1901," according to this Microsoft document description.

One odd aspect of this change is that the Office 365 Business plan doesn't have Teams as part of its included services. That detail is shown in this Office 365 products comparison page. Teams is part of the Office 365 Business Premium plan, though. It also comes with Office 365 Business Essentials, as well as Microsoft 365 E3, E5 and F1 plans, according to a Microsoft spokesperson.

Essentially, Microsoft will be delivering the free one-year trial version of Teams to new installs of the Office 365 Business plan -- that's what's going on. Here's how the spokesperson explained that nuance:

Some Office 365 plans include the core Office apps, but don't include the Teams service. For example, the Office 365 Business plan. In that case, a free trial version of Teams that's valid for one year is available. Your users can start using it when they sign in to Teams. For more information about this free trial version and providing your users access to it, see "Manage the Microsoft Teams Commercial Cloud Trial offer".

IT pros perhaps need to be cautious with new Office 365 Business installations as any end users in an organization could trigger the free Teams trial.

"Users who do not have an Office 365 license that includes Teams can initiate the Microsoft Teams Commercial Cloud Trial offer," the "Manage Microsoft Teams Commercial Cloud Trial Offer" document explained.

To block that ability, IT pros will have to turn off the ability of end users to install trial apps and services, Microsoft's document explained. It's also possible to set up a block by configuring an XML file using the Office Deployment Tool, as described in this Microsoft document.

Organizations using Teams do have 32-bit or 64-bit install options, according to the spokesperson:

Teams is available for both 32-bit and 64-bit hardware. While the default is now 64-bit for new Office 365 ProPlus and Office 2019 installs, the user or IT department can select 32-bit. Additionally, 32-bit will also be installed if required by the hardware.

Skype for Business Automatic Migrations
Microsoft also continues to quietly steer organizations to Teams from Skype for Business, as announced back in August. It does so by sending automatic move notices to some organizations.

There's apparently no general timeline for the arrival of these Teams move notices, which get delivered via the Office 365 Message Center. Microsoft tends to select certain "smaller customers" for the moves, per the spokesperson.

"Microsoft started the Microsoft-driven automated upgrade process for our smaller customers in September 2018 and continues today," the spokesperson explained. "Tenants that are selected as part of the automated upgrade process are notified both through the Office 365 Message Center and email notifications."

These automated upgrades to Teams "will move the entire tenant to Teams on the scheduled date," Microsoft previously explained.

A good source for some of Microsoft's planned Office 365 service changes can be found in the "Office 365 Weekly" blog series by Thomas Finney of Microsoft, which is archived here. Changes expected in 2020 are already described in this post.

About the Author

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

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