Microsoft Revamps Office 365 Client App Update Model

Microsoft replaces its Office 365 software "Branches" with "Channels" to help enterprises better plan their deployments.

Office 365

Hoping to add clarity to the Office client app update model, Microsoft introduced a new Deferred Channel build Feb. 9.

"The Deferred Channel allows organizations to choose an update schedule that reduces the frequency of feature changes for the Windows desktop apps, enabling IT admins and developers to have more time between releases to validate Office against their line-of-business applications, add-ins and macros," said Amesh Mansukhani, senior program manager for Microsoft Office, in a Feb. 9 announcement. Deferred Channel replaces the Current Branch for Business introduced in September as the company began gearing up for the Office 365 for Windows rollout.

In fact, all "Branches" are now considered "Channels," according to Mansukhani. More than a mere exercise in rebranding, he said Microsoft feels the change "will make a big difference in helping customers understand the purpose and cadence of the different delivery vehicles."

In the past, Office upgrades generally arrived in service packs or major new releases, which were few and far between compared with Microsoft's new cloud cadence strategy. By adjusting its Office update model, the software giant is attempting to reduce the friction caused by this accelerated approach to software enhancements.

"We recognize that deploying and validating Office updates has sometimes been time consuming for IT admins. We believe the enhancements we have made since the launch of Office 2016 will help reduce the overall validation process, making it quicker to get these builds into your users' hands," Mansukhani said.

Explaining how the changes affect the company's business customers, Mansukhani said customers can use the Current Channel (formerly Current Branch) to implement monthly security and feature updates. Deferred Channel, on the other hand, buys them a little more time. "Customers who want to limit feature changes to every four months can choose the 'Deferred Channel' (previously known as Current Branch for Business)," he stated. "Early access to a fully supported build for both channels will be available through the 'First Release for Current Channel' and 'First Release for Deferred Channel,' respectively."

In addition to the naming change, Mansukhani revealed a new management option for administrators.

"Admins now have the option to select the Office version and update channel (for 2016 apps only) a user can see and download directly from the Office 365 User Software Page," he stated. "The changes IT admins make on the Admin Center will go into effect on February 23, 2016, giving admins the opportunity to change the default update channel and decide which install links to expose to their users."

Microsoft's first Deferred Channel build is available now. In the next few weeks, the company plans to release the next First Release for Deferred Channel build, said Mansukhani. "This will be a fully supported production quality build for testing, with a targeted release date as a standard build in the Deferred Channel in June 2016. We encourage you to validate this build against your environment, applications, add-ins and macros."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...