Microsoft Speeds Up Office 2013 Installation, Launches 'Office on Demand'

Microsoft detailed its installation scheme for the next generation of Office software on Monday.

The "customer preview" releases of both Office 2013 and Office 365 ProPlus rely on a modified App-V application virtualization technology called "Click-to-Run v2.0" to stream bits of the suite to end users as part of the installation process. For home users with the ability to install software over a broadband Internet connection, Click-to-Run eliminates having to type 25-digit licensing keys and lets users access Office applications even while they download the full suite. A progress bar lets users know if the feature they try to access hasn't been fully downloaded yet. Some of the more download-intensive processes, such as getting fonts and performing system integration, won't be completed until a "good to go" dialog box pops up at the end of the installation process.

According to a blog post by Paul Barr, lead Click-to-Run program manager at Microsoft, Click-to-Run was first introduced in some versions of Office 2010, including Office Home and Student 2010, Office Home and Business 2010 and Office Starter 2010. The need for an improved Web-based installation was clear from past product releases, he explained. For instance, at one point with Office 97, product installation required the use of 45 floppy disks. The first version of Click-to-Run had some problems by creating a new virtual partition on users' hard drives that negatively affected some users, Barr explained. This approach was incompatible with some anti-virus software, according to Microsoft's description.

Consequently, Microsoft started over with version 2.0. Click-to-Run v2.0 was devised from "the ground up," according to Barr, using expertise from Microsoft's New England Research and Development Center and App-V partner teams. App-V is Microsoft's application virtualization technology it developed after acquiring the company Softricity in 2006. While App-V capabilities are part of this streaming Click-to-Run download technology, Microsoft also offers App-V specifically for application virtualization uses as part of its Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack suite of applications for IT pros.

The Click-to-Run process adds a few maintenance, compatibility and licensing benefits. For instance, the newest version of the software is always delivered automatically, reducing the need to install a series of updates after product installation. It's possible to run Office 2013 software side-by-side with older Office applications (such as Office 2003, Office 2007 or Office 2010), without experiencing incompatibilities, according to Barr. Licenses can be deactivated on a machine if a user wants to install Office on another PC. Microsoft also added a repair capability in case the installation process goes bad. Uninstalls using the Click-to-Run process will be will leave computers "in a cleaner state than ever before," Barr contended.

IT Pro Controls
Group Policy is Microsoft's recommended approach for IT pros to establish control over the use of Click-to-Run in Office 365 and the Windows installer-delivered Office 2013 preview, according to a TechNet library article. It's possible to customize how Click-to-Run will install programs, but Group Policy takes precedence, and settings made there can lock down installations, should that be needed to meet organizational, security or compliance policies.

Microsoft released a command-line tool in July that's designed to customize Click-to-Run Office 365 installations. This new Office Deployment Tool offers distribution options. For instance, the install source can be specified as a network sharing location, rather than the Internet, using the tool. IT pros can control whether or not Office automatically updates or not. They can also "remove Office Click-to-Run products" with the tool, according to Microsoft's description.

Using the Office Deployment Tool requires having a Configuration.xml file, which specifies Click-to-Run update and install options. The tool comes with a sample Configuration.xml file that IT pros can modify.

Newly introduced with the Office 2013 preview is a tool that's designed to better expose Office client performance information for IT pros. The Office Telemetry Dashboard tool is described by Microsoft as replacing three Office 2010 compatibility tools, including the Office Migration Planning Manager, Office Environment Assessment Tool and Office Code Compatibility Inspector.

End user experience statistics get displayed in the Excel-based Office Telemetry Dashboard after being collected from users' PCs. The dashboard shows compatibility issues with the use of Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word. It also tracks the performance of various Office add-ins. The tracking system can be used across other versions of the product, such as Office 2003, Office 2007 and Office 2010, by deploying a separate "telemetry agent." According to Microsoft's TechNet library article on the topic, only Office Professional Plus 2013 preview and Office 365 ProPlus preview come prebuilt with the Office Telemetry Agent.

Microsoft claims in its TechNet article that the Office Telemetry Agent has a low impact on network performance. It sends files of about 50 KB to 64 KB that contain performance information from each PC. The files are sent every eight hours from PCs that are logged into the network.

Office on Demand
Related to Microsoft's streaming download technology is a new capability called "Office on demand." It works with Internet-connected PCs running Windows 7 and uses Microsoft's Click-to-Run technology. Office on demand will be offered by Microsoft to Office 365 subscribers, allowing them to serve up temporary instances of Office on PCs.

Access to Office via Office on demand is speeded up because only the parts of the application needed by the user get downloaded and run locally. Users launch Office on demand through a browser after logging into their Office account. It leaves cached files behind, but Microsoft claims that they can't be used to launch the programs after an Office-on-demand session has ended. The apps disappear after the session ends.

It's not clear if Office on demand will be an extra cost or not for Office 365 users. So far, Microsoft hasn't said when it will commercially offer Office 2013 or the next Office 365. Expectations so far have Microsoft's next Office products arriving either by the fourth quarter of this year or the first quarter of 2013.


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