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Office 2016: A Few Caveats To Watch Out For

Office 2016, the newest version of Microsoft's flagship productivity suite for Windows, was officially launched on Tuesday, Sept. 22, but its availability may depend on what kind of customer you are.

Volume licensing customers have to wait to get it on Oct. 1 from the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center, a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed Tuesday via e-mail. This volume licensing version actually bears a slightly different product name: "Office Professional Plus 2016."

However, even though volume licensees have to wait for Office Professional Plus 2016 to arrive next month, it's still available as of Tuesday. For instance, Microsoft's MSDN subscribers can download the bits at the MSDN download portal here.

Office 2016 as a boxed retail product is sold through the Microsoft Store. Possibly, it's not yet more broadly available at retail store outlets or it isn't being advertised. For instance, a search at Amazon.com just produced a reference to Office 365 products, which will deliver the Office 2016 upgrade, but there wasn't a standalone boxed Office 2016 product listed as being available. Best Buy, though, did advertise Office 2016 editions.

The Microsoft spokesperson suggested that Office 2016 can be bought now in retail stores. "Perpetual versions of Office 2016 are available online and in all major retail outlets worldwide," the spokesperson claimed.

Some Features Depend on Office 365
Quite a lot of new and upcoming features in Office 2016 have a focus on enabling collaboration. However, many of those new features depend on having an Office 365 subscription in place and aren't available in the standalone boxed product.

For instance, the Groups feature, which lets users create private or public teams, only lights up with an Office 365 subscription. In addition, the Data Loss Prevention feature, which wards off sharing sensitive documents, is dependent on specific Office 365 subscription plans, such as the Enterprise E3, E4 and K1 plans.

Install Caveats
The organizations that may move somewhat quickly to Office 2016 likely are Office 365 subscribers of some sort. These organizational subscribers typically are running a product called "Office 365 ProPlus," which is currently based on the Office 2013 version. Consumer Office 365 subscribers can upgrade to Office 2016 via their "My account" option, as described in this Microsoft support article.

Microsoft delivers its Office 365 updates monthly via its "click-to-run" streaming technology. The bits stream to individual desktops, although an IT pro can set up a CONFIGURATION.XML to direct the updates to a single workstation for testing purposes, if wanted. Modification of that file to control the streaming bits gets done typically using the Office 2016 Deployment Tool, which is now available for download here. Control is also afforded via Group Policy, and Microsoft has new Office 2016 Administrative Template files available here for the purpose.

For organizations upgrading Office 365 ProPlus 2013 to Office 365 ProPlus 2016, though, there are a number of caveats. Microsoft lists them in this TechNet library article, which is worth a read by IT pros. But here are some of the highlights.

Big files
Microsoft describes Office 365 ProPlus 2016 installation files as being 850MB in size. Each language addition is 200MB each, but Microsoft wants IT pros to install "language accessory packs" instead of following the old "MSI-based language pack" install approach.

In any case, IT pros should brace for a bandwidth hit when upgrading to Office 365 ProPlus 2016.

"Because of the underlying changes between the Office and Office 2016 versions of Office 365 ProPlus, the update process takes longer and requires the entire Office 2016 build to be downloaded to users' computers," the TechNet article explains.

February 2016 Arrival
Organizations that let Office 365 ProPlus updates stream to individual workstations can expect the Office 2016 updates to arrive starting "February 2016," according to the TechNet article. Microsoft's content delivery network will automatically stream the bits. Alternatively, organizations need to use the Office Deployment Tool or Group Policy to control the arrival of the bits, if they want greater management control over the update's arrival.

Update Branch Choice
The new Office 2016 release is ushering in new update models that Microsoft described earlier this month. Microsoft plans to release updates on a monthly basis. A monthly release, combining feature and security updates, is called the "current branch" release. Alternatively, organizations can get security updates on a monthly basis but defer features updates for four months. These four-month releases are called "current branch for business" releases.

Organizations have to indicate which update plan they want be on, either monthly (current branch) or three times a year (current branch for business). The branch choice gets specified in the CONFIGURATION.XML file, as Microsoft describes in this "Overview of Update Branches" article. Microsoft's Office Mechanics video series here also shows how it's done.

Coexistence Issues
Microsoft warns that Office 365 ProPlus 2013 and Office 365 ProPlus 2016 products can't coexist on the same computer. It's also not feasible to run a volume licensing version of Office 2016 on the same machine with Office 365 ProPlus 2016.

In addition, Microsoft doesn't support the coexistence of MSI-installed Office with the click-to-run Office 365 product, according to this support article.

Organizations running 2013 editions of Visio Pro or Project Pro will see them disappear when updating a machine to Office 365 ProPlus 2016. Those applications get deleted during the update process and IT pros will have to install the 2016 versions following the Office 365 ProPlus 2016 update.

InfoPath 2013 similarly will get removed with the installation of Office 365 ProPlus 2016. IT pros have to download the standalone InfoPath 2013 product and install it after the Office 365 ProPlus 2016 update gets carried out. InfoPath 2013, used to create Web forms, is the last product of its line as Microsoft has marked it as a "deprecated" going forward, with no new version planned. The InfoPath 2013 product will be supported by Microsoft through April 11, 2023.

Update: Microsoft issued this Knowledge Base article noting that the Skype for Business client sometimes will get removed after upgrading to Office 2016. The KB article provides install links as an interim workaround solution for the problem.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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