Explore new update channels for Microsoft 365

To help enterprises plan their deployments effectively, Microsoft has its update channels for Office 365 and Microsoft 365 Apps. Here is an overview of the changes.

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In April 2020, Microsoft announced it was rebranding Office 365. The suite of productivity apps would now be simply be called Microsoft 365. However, to add a confusing twist the naming scheme, the company also announced the release of a set of productivity and maintenance tools it calls Microsoft 365 Apps.

The difference between the basic Microsoft 365 and the more feature-rich Microsoft 365 Apps is subtle but extremely important, particularly for the enterprise-level market. Microsoft 365 Apps includes the usual suspects of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc., but also adds several layers of deployment, maintenance, and servicing tools to the mix. These tools allow businesses to administer apps and devices at an enterprise-wide level.

Microsoft's strategy is to provide unprecedented levels of control to businesses while also touting the benefits of frequent channel updates. One of the primary benefits of this servicing system is better control over deployment of security and feature updates. To help all businesses plan deployments, Microsoft has modified the timing and the naming convention of its Office 365 and Microsoft 365 update channels.

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New timing of update channels for Microsoft 365 Apps

On June 9, 2020, Microsoft will change the names of its traditional update channels and add a new channel to the mix called the Monthly Enterprise Channel. Table A maps the old channel names to the new naming convention.

Table A – Courtesy Microsoft

New names

Old names

Beta Channel

Insider

Current Channel (Preview)

Monthly Channel (Targeted)

Current Channel

Monthly Channel

Monthly Enterprise Channel

N/A

Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel (Preview)

Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted)

Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel

Semi-Annual Channel

Also, on June 9, 2020, Current Channel will become the default update channel for new Office 365 or Microsoft 365 tenants. The default channel for older tenants, established before June 9 and not changed beforehand, will be converted to the Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel.

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Microsoft recommends that administrators change all their Office 365 and Microsoft 365 tenants to the Current Channel before June 9, 2020. In addition, if your administrators use an automatic deployment rule (ADR) to deploy updates, they may need to make changes to the ADR to accommodate channel name changes.

Choose an update channel for Microsoft 365 Apps

Table B provides a quick comparison of the three new update channels for Microsoft 365 Apps. This new update channel scheme will go into effect on June 9, 2020.

Table B – Courtesy of Microsoft


Current Channel

Monthly Enterprise Channel

Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel

Recommended use

Provide your users with new Office features as soon as they are ready, but on no set schedule.

Provide your users with new Office features only once a month and on a predictable schedule.

For select devices in your organization, where extensive testing is needed before rolling out new Office features. For example, to comply with regulatory, governmental, or other organizational requirements.

Release frequency

At least once a month (likely more often), but on no set schedule

Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month

Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month

Feature updates

As soon as they're ready (usually once a month), but on no set schedule

Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month

Twice a year (in January and July), on the second Tuesday of the month

Security updates (if needed)

Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month

Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month

Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month

Non-security updates (if needed)

Usually at least once a month (possibly more often), but no set schedule

Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month

Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month

Support duration for a given version

Until the next version is released with new features, which is usually about one month

Two months

14 months

In addition to recommending the Current Channel, Microsoft also recommends businesses use the Internet-based Content Delivery Network provided by the company for Office 365 and Microsoft 365 customers. This combination of services will ensure the most up-to-date and secure version of the Microsoft productivity suite is deployed and installed across the enterprise, at all times.

However, that may be problematic for certain industries that have mission-critical applications that cannot afford to be offline, even momentarily. Financial institutions, healthcare, government contractors, researchers, etc., often have to take complete control of their Office 365 and Microsoft 365 deployments and updates. In those cases, the Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel coupled with the administrative toolset found in Microsoft 365 Apps will likely be a better option.

With Microsoft 365 Apps, the company is looking to provide a complete set of administrative tools to enterprise administrators that co-exist with the productivity apps associated with Office 365 and Microsoft 365.

The key to this level of control is that not every device in the enterprise has to be on the same update channel. In fact, not every application on a device has to be on the same update channel. With the tools found in Microsoft 365 Apps, updates can be handled at the most granular of levels, if that is what is required.

Also see

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Image: Microsoft