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Microsoft converts more customers into testers with Office Insider preview program

Gregg Keizer | Nov. 16, 2015
Reminiscent of Windows Insider, but open only to consumers with an Office 365 subscription

Office 365 migration path

Microsoft on Friday launched a new preview program for consumers who subscribe to Office 365 that will give them a sneak peak at new features slated to be added to the subscription service in the next one to three weeks.

Office Insider was opened to subscribers of Office 365 Home, Personal and University -- the third is a four-year deal available only to college students -- who are running Office 2016 on a Windows device. Office 365 subscribers who instead work with Office 2016 on a Mac are excluded for now, although Microsoft said they would be added in the "coming months."

Like the already-established Windows Insider, Office Insider will serve as a feedback source for Microsoft's developers.

Differences abound, however: Office Insider is accessible only to consumers and students with an Office 365 rent-not-own subscription -- not to the general population as is Windows Insider -- and more importantly, will preview new features just weeks, not months, away from landing on the production track. For example, the tools Microsoft touted as now available only to Insiders -- including a pair of features for PowerPoint, and new "Send As" options for Word and PowerPoint -- are slated to ship this month.

Windows Insider typically previews changes to Windows 10 that are as much as six to nine months away from reaching everyone in the next upgrade.

"The features are typically only 1-3 weeks out from general release and just need a bit of fine-tuning before becoming more widely available," a company spokeswoman said in an email reply to questions.

Microsoft has committed to shipping monthly upgrades to Office 365 customers, something the company reiterated. "Every month, the Office engineering team ships updates across the Office apps (mobile, desktop and Office Online), to include new functionality," the spokeswoman added.

The company maintains a website that lists each month's new features and changes, as well as separate pages that at the end of every month summarize the offerings, as this did for October.

Subscribers to the eligible Office 365 SKUs (stock-keeping units) may join Office Insider by downloading the preview edition of Office 2016 from a new section of their Office 365 account dashboard, dubbed "Additional Install Options."

Enterprise workers who have rights to Office 2016 through their workplace's Office 365 subscription are not eligible to join Office Insider. Instead, corporate administrators may join what Microsoft calls "First Release," the upgrade track that receives new features before any other.

Office 365 for businesses delivers upgrades using a multi-track system reminiscent of Windows 10, with several "branches" that allow companies to decide when corporate PCs receive upgrades to the core applications and any bundled services. Those tracks include First Release, "Current Branch" -- a monthly cadence of production-quality code -- and "Current Branch for Business," which defers upgrades for approximately four months.


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