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Office 2016 adopts branches, update-or-else strategy of Windows 10

Gregg Keizer | Sept. 14, 2015
Enterprise subscribers to Office 365 get "Current Branch" and "Current Branch for Business" update and upgrade tracks.

That, too, is identical to Windows 10, in that the operating system offers leisurely update cadences only to those running the more expensive Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Enterprise.

There will be no analog to Windows 10's "Long-term Servicing Branch," or LTSB, the track that eschews all but security patches for extremely long stretches.

Microsoft may not have spelled it out, but the existence of CB and CBB tracks also plays to its new strategy of passing testing responsibilities to customers, another characteristic of Windows 10. Those running the CB will, in effect, serve as guinea pigs as changes roll out to them monthly; their feedback and complaints will be used by Microsoft to tweak or fix problems before the code reaches customers running the CBB.

Although Microsoft has burdened Office 365 and the locally-installed Office 2016 apps that compose the core of a subscription with a slew of new terms and rules, the changes are in some ways more clarification than procedural, argued Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

"Before, we didn't know when these [Office 365] updates were coming," said Miller. "Now, they're giving us the classifications of what updates will come when."

The similarities of the Windows 10 and Office 365 release rhythms; the lexicon, including CB and CBB; and the patch stick brandished to motivate customers to update, are all intentional, Miller added. "Microsoft's giving relatively similar nomenclature for its two major desktop endpoints, Windows and Office," he said.

But Miller contrasted how Office 365 -- which currently is based on the Office 2013 application suite -- is managed by organizations with the methods outlined for Office 2016 within the subscription plans.

Now, once a business adopts Office 365, it points workers to the Office 2013 downloads. They install the applications locally on their devices, and from that point, Microsoft, not the organization, "owns" the maintenance via updates.

"If an IT team wanted to own Office maintenance, it had to download the transformation tools [the Office Customization Tool, or OCT], take the installer from Microsoft and modify it," said Miller. The IT-derived installer would then be offered to employees. "From that point, the organization owns the updating," Miller continued. He called the process "a little burdensome" -- an oft-heard complaint from business subscribers and their supporting IT staffs.

Under Office 2016, shops that subscribe to Office 365 will be able to more easily "own" the updating process by selecting the appropriate branch for each employee or groups of employees. While IT will still rely on the OCT to craft custom installers, the revised tool -- not yet available -- will support branch selection, Microsoft said in a support document.

 

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