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Sunday, June 25th, 2017


FAQ: How Microsoft plans to upgrade Office 365

Six weeks ago, Microsoft decreed that Windows 10 would be refreshed twice a year, in September and March, to make its release schedule more predictable, and thus, more tolerable to enterprises.

Almost unnoticed was that the Redmond, Wash., company announced a virtually identical scheme for corporate subscribers to Office 365. Office 365 ProPlus -- the application suite provided to customers under plans like the $20-per-user-per-month Enterprise E3 and the $35-per-user-per-month Enterprise E5 -- would be upgraded every six months, just like Windows 10.

Calling it an "alignment with Windows 10," Microsoft outlined how it plans to deliver and support ProPlus, starting in September. We've distilled Microsoft's description to the most important questions and, of course, answers.

What's the new schedule for Office updates? March and September, annually, like Windows 10.

Rather than issue Office feature updates three times a year -- in February, June and October -- the cadence since Office 2016's launch in the fall of 2015 -- Microsoft is slowing the tempo to twice yearly.

Why? Has Microsoft said? One word: "feedback."

That's almost always Microsoft's rationale for change of any kind, and it holds true here. "[Customers have] also asked us to simplify the update process -- and to improve the coordination between Office and Windows," wrote Ron Markezich, a Microsoft marketing executive, in a post to a company blog.

Really -- that's all it took? OK, maybe money played a part.

Microsoft has been aggressively promoting what it calls "Secure Productive Enterprise" (SPE), a subscription program introduced nearly a year ago that combines Windows 10 Enterprise, Office 365 and Enterprise Mobility + Security. (That third component, Enterprise Mobility + Security, is an aggregate of device and user management tools, along with advanced security options. Microsoft's defined the contents of Enterprise Mobility + Security on its website.) Like most subscriptions, SPE comes in two flavors, E3 and E5, with the latter costing more because it comes with additional enterprise calling and security features.

Because SPE bundled both Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus, subscribers had to deal with two different upgrade tempos. Apparently, that didn't go down so well with users. "This change will make planning and managing updates for both Office and Windows easier for customers using the Secure Productive Enterprise," Markezich, the Microsoft marketing exec, said.

The implication: Customers told Microsoft it needed to synchronize the Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus release schedules if it wanted to sell SPE.

What else changed besides the schedule? Microsoft extended support from 12 months per update to 18 months, an increase of 50%. The additional six months, contended Markezich, means "IT professionals can choose to update once or twice a year." Technically, that's true. (We'll get to why a little later.)