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Microsoft Tries To Clear Office 2016 Confusion in Q&A

Microsoft published a Q&A this week aimed at answering some common questions about the newly released Office 2016, which can seem confusing for those trying to access it.

The Q&A can be found in this blog post by Kirk Koenigsbauer, Microsoft's corporate vice president for the Office Client Applications and Services team. The questions, as published by Microsoft, mostly centered on how to actually get Office 2016, as well as its cousin, Office 2016 for Mac. Technically speaking, Microsoft released Office 2016 for Windows last month.

Office 2016 for Mac was released in July for Office 365 subscribers. Microsoft had said back then that its volume licensing customers would be able to get Office 2016 for Mac in August, but some readers have said they couldn't get it then. Microsoft released this statement from a spokesperson confirming the August release: "On August 5th, Volume Licensing customers were able to get the new Office for Mac." The volume licensing version gets downloaded via the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center. The standalone Office 2016 for Mac retail product was announced by Microsoft as being available in September.

The Office 2016 product releases appear to be a somewhat phased rollout. However, if you really want Office 2016 now, it's possible to get it, in most cases.

Product Names and Plan Variations
Confusion about product availability can happen because of the various Office 2016 product names and editions. The Office 2016 product that you get will depend on how it was offered by Microsoft.

Office 2016 is offered either as part of a monthly subscription plan, as a volume licensing annuity product or as a standalone retail product with a "perpetual license." It comes in various consumer and business editions. With all of those factors considered, Microsoft either rolled out the Office 2016 product last month or made it available for upgrade (but not necessarily an automatic upgrade), or it planned for a later product delivery.

Microsoft uses a slightly different Office 2016 product name for its volume licensing customers, labeling it "Office 2016 Professional Plus." For Office 365 business plan subscribers, the Office 2016 product is called either "Office 365 Business" or "Office 2016 ProPlus." The standalone boxed retail Windows product with a "perpetual license" simply goes by the "Microsoft Office 2016" product name.

October 1 was noteworthy as being the first day that volume licensing customers could download Office 2016 Professional Plus for Windows from the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center. However, Microsoft's MSDN subscribers were able to get this version last month. The discrepancy in timing possibly has to do with Microsoft waiting to put the volume licensing product on its October product list.

Koenigsbauer noted that Home Use Program users can install Office 2016 "beginning on October 7, 2015." The Home Use Program is a benefit for Microsoft's volume licensing customers with Software Assurance coverage that provides a discount for employees licensed to use Office at work. They can purchase Office copies for use at home but the software is only good for use throughout the time of their employment and the company's Software Assurance coverage period.

A good overall resource for tracking the Office 2016 product names, plans and upgrade timing can be found in Microsoft's "Office Problems and Solutions and Frequently Asked Questions" community forum page here. At the end of that page, Microsoft published a table listing the Office 365 plan/version, along with the upgrade timeline. The page also lists common problems associated with Office 2016 installations, some of which are still unresolved. Also, some known install caveats are described in this article.

One big change for Office 2016 users is that they will have to follow Microsoft's new service plans, which consist of "first release," "current branch" and "current branch for business" release cycles. For more information on the service models, see this article.

Office 365 Availability
Microsoft had earlier explained in this TechNet article that its Office 365 ProPlus users (who currently have the Office 2013 suite) would get automatically upgraded to the Office 2016 version starting "in February 2016" if their subscriptions were set to get automatic downloads directly from Microsoft. However, Koenigsbauer provided some additional nuances in his Q&A. Users can manually upgrade to Office 2016 ProPlus or other variants of Office 2016 and get it right away. However, if they wait for automatic upgrades to arrive, the timing will depend on the edition they have.

Here's how Koenigsbauer described that timing:

  • Office 365 Home, Personal or University edition subscribers will get automatically updated "in the coming weeks"
  • Office 365 Business and Business Premium subscribers will get "automatic update notifications later this calendar year," but no date was specified
  • Office 365 ProPlus subscribers on the E3 or E4 plans are dependent on their IT department's upgrade plans

In the past, IT shops subscribed to Office 365 services would get a notice informing them when their upgrade would take place. It seems Microsoft will stagger the actual upgrade rollouts, starting in February 2016 for Office 365 ProPlus subscribers. IT pros can use Group Policy and the Office Deployment Toolkit if they want greater control over the delivery, including initiating the upgrades earlier.

Options to get Office 2016 now for Office 365 ProPlus users include enabling "first release" in the Office 365 tenant or using the Office Deployment Toolkit, according to this Microsoft TechNet blog post.

In addition, for PowerShell users, Microsoft has set up a GitHub repository of freely available deployment scripts designed to help with Office 2016 upgrades. For instance, one script generates a web page editor in a browser, which provides a graphical user interface way to generate CONFIGURATION.XML files. The repository, called "Office Deployment Scripts for IT Pros," has been around for a month, but it's a growing resource.

While current Office 365 ProPlus users are using the Office 2013 version, they can only continue to use it until September 2016, according to this TechNet article. After that time, the Office 2013 version won't get updates from Microsoft. If an organization wants to block the upgrade, they can use Group Policy Object settings, perform a registry change or change the CONFIGURATION.XML file with the Office Deployment Toolkit, as Microsoft describes in this blog post.

Microsoft earlier noted a potential problem can arise when using the Office Deployment Toolkit to install the Office 2016 version of Office 365 ProPlus. A workaround for the CONFIGURATION.XML file is described here.

Features Dependent on Office 365
Koenigsbauer noted that some of the features Microsoft has described for Office 2016 are only available with an Office 365 subscription. The following features require an Office 365 subscription and aren't available with the standalone Office 2016 product:

  • Clutter and Groups in Outlook 2016
  • GigJam, Planner and Delve (for business customers only)

Other Questions
Microsoft recently fielded other Office 2016 questions for Office 365 subscribers. Microsoft provided answers to about 20 questions in this blog post, which describes associated products such as OneDrive for Business and Skype.

This week, Microsoft also announced that it released its Project 2016 planning solution. It's available as a standalone product or via some Office 365 subscription plans. Microsoft's Visio 2016 diagramming solution got released this week, too.

Microsoft added a "people experiences" feature to its Office Delve collaboration solution, which includes a "praise" capability that's initiated through a "like" button. Lastly, Microsoft indicated this week that its Outlook on the Web application for Office 365 commercial subscribers will be getting a "like" button for messages, along with an "@Mentions" tag capability that brings specific individuals into communication threads.

About the Author

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

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