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How Is The Office 2016 Release Relevant To My Office 365 Users?

On September 22nd, Microsoft announced the release of Office 2016. The latest version of the Office suite, as you can imagine, brings with it a number of new features. In addition to the new features, Office 2016 will be deployed to users with a new deployment strategy for those using the “click-to-run” installations.

New Version!
New Features!
New Deployment Strategy!

So what does this mean for your Office 365 users that are currently running the Office 2013 version of Office ProPlus?

Deployment Overview

Before we talk about some of the new features available in Office 2016, let’s first talk about how and when your users will see it. The click-to-run (C2R) installation of Office 2016 now has the concept of “update branches” which allow for the separation of feature updates from security updates.
Update Branches
There are three update branches for Office 365 ProPlus users:

  • Current Branch
  • Current Branch for Business
  • First Release for Current Branch for Business

The differences in these branches is in how often users receive feature updates. Whereas all three branches receive monthly security updates, feature updates are monthly in “Current Branch” but every four months in “Current Branch for Business” and “First Release for Current Branch for Business”. The idea around the “First Release” branch is that it’s 4 months ahead of the default “Current Branch for Business” and thus gives you time to test compatibility.
Version Support
Microsoft is following an N-1 support model for Office 2016 and will support the current “Current Branch for Business” version and one version back. Beyond the N-1 version, security updates will not be received; this essentially gives you a maximum of 8 months of support for an individual version.
How Do I Control My “Update Branch”?
The default branch for Office 365 ProPlus users is “Current Branch for Business” and the branch used by your users can be controlled via the Office Deployment Tool or Group Policy Administrative Templates.
If you’re not ready to update to Office 2016 when Current Branch for Business starts rolling in February 2016, check out “How do I stay on Office ProPlus 2013“.
How Do I Get It Now?
You can give users the ability to download and install Office 2016 today by enabling them for “First Release”. Once enabled, they will see two Office download options in their download page.

What to Watch For…

Okay, we’re almost to the features but before we deploy Office 2016, there are a few things we need to watch out for. Microsoft has done a good job outlining some of these things on the site “Prepare to update Office 365 ProPlus to the Office 2016 version“. I’ve also expanded on a few of them in a previous article: “Using Office ProPlus? Take Caution Upgrading To 2016“.
Most important is probably to pay attention to the potential network impact if you are allowing users to install directly from the Internet. You may want to consider using the Office Deployment Tool to have users install from an on-premises file repository.

New Features!

Office 2016 seems to have a focus on enablement through the cloud and collaboration. While others can probably speak better about the Power BI integrations into Excel or the exciting co-authoring features in Word, my focus is on Outlook.

Cloud Attachments
This is the one that is most exciting for me. While the functionality has existed in the OWA interface for a bit, it’s now natively available in Outlook. We can now start using OneDrive for Business more efficiently by sending a link to a file instead of sending the attachment. When sending the link, the security permissions are set on the file based on the Outlook recipients.
Office 365 Groups
Another feature that first appeared in OWA, Office 365 Groups, are now available in Outlook 2016. The ability to create and access Office 365 Groups is right in the folder pane along with your other email folders.
Mailbox Cache Slider Improvements
Outlook 2013 was the first appearance of the “Sync Slider” that allowed you to control the amount of mailbox being cached locally. Instead of caching the entire mailbox, you could sync as little as 30 days. In Outlook 2016, even more flexibility is available and now you can cache as little as 3 days of email. This can be helpful in certain types of mail migrations where caching of the mailbox is unavoidable.

Keep in mind some of these features will be dependent upon settings configured in the tenant. If you’ve disabled external sharing of OneDrive for Business content or disabled Office 365 Groups, some of the above functionality will not work.

But Wait! There’s More!

Included in the announcement of Office 2016 was mention of a couple Office 365 features that have not yet been released but will be coming soon:

Office 365 Planner” is a collaboration tool expected later this year that seems to combine many of the great features in Office 365 like Delve and Office 365 Groups.
Microsoft “GigJam” is another tool that will become part of Office 365 next year and offers a very unique way to collaborate.

As is the case with Office 365, there’s always more functionality on the horizon!

Did you find this article helpful?
Leave a comment below or follow me on Twitter (@JoePalarchio) for additional posts and information on Office 365.
Looking to do some more reading on Office 365?
Catch up on my past articles here: Joe Palarchio.

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