Automatic Updates in Microsoft Office 2016 Explained

Microsoft Office 2016 landed in late September, and it brought a number of changes with it. On the slightly less-exciting side are the transformations to the update system. Microsoft Office 2016 will be running an auto-update feature, similar to Windows 10, as well as a number of different servicing branches, also similar to the new operating system.

Let’s explore what that means for your Office 2016 installation.

Office 2016 Update

Since the September 22 release, Microsoft has likely fielded thousands of questions regarding the new Office update system. One of the most pertinent will concern Office 2016 adoption of the somewhat overbearing Windows 10 auto-update system.

Office 2016 logo

The Office 2016 system will use a similar style to the Windows 10 update branches, locking those with Office 2016 into a cycle of updates depending on their version. The branches are:

  • Current Branch (CB): features monthly updates, potentially including new and/or improved features, security patches, and non-security bug fixes.
  • Current Branch for Business (CBB): features a four-monthly update schedule, with the same content as the current branch, delivered slowly to enable any preceding issues to be alleviated.

Failure to install the CB updates will, as with Windows 10, result in a severance from scheduled security updates rendering consumers vulnerable to attack. CBB works slightly differently: business will be able to defer one four-month update, but must pick up the next offering or face the same perilous fate. It is one thing to pressure home users, but forcing businesses to update lest Microsoft expose them to vulnerabilities is another.

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Furthermore, there will be no Long Term Servicing Branch equivalent, the Windows 10 branch eschewing all but security patches over long periods of time.

Is It Your Turn to Update?

The combination of Office 365 Business, Office 365 ProPlus, Office 365 Home, Personal, and University, plus the ability to purchase Office 2016 as a single payment software package have muddied the update waters with a muddle of information. Whilst Office 2016 has been available since September 22, volume license owners could only access their download on October 1. I made a jolly nice table detailing when you should expect your Office 2016 update:

Office 2016 Update Branches Table

The First Release option is available to those users or organizations under the Current Branch for Business, wishing to gain immediate access to the latest versions of Office 2016, new features, and new apps. This means each person within the organization or business can receive early access to updated programs for testing, or just day-to-day use.

You could also follow these Microsoft links for further information regarding your upgrade status:

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Accessing First Release

If your organization is signed up to the First Release program, or you have Office 365 Business, Business Premium, or Small Business Premium, you’ll be able to download new Office 2016 apps ahead of your scheduled release date. I have access to none of these plans, or the First Release program, so these details are taken directly from the Office Support site. You can read the details here.

  • Open any Office application and select File > Account.
  • Under Product Information, select Update Options > Update Now. This ensures you have the latest version of Office 2016 prior to your update.
  • Sign into Office 365 using this link. The link will make sure you’re signing into the correct service.
  • Select a Language, the select Install, then Install First Release users should see an option to install at the bottom of the software page. Your new Office apps should download in the background.
  • On completion you’ll see a nice welcome video explaining how to find your new apps.

Remember this service is only available to those organizations signed up to the program, and the aforementioned Office 365 plans.

What Does it Mean for You?

Microsoft is pushing a portion of Office 2016 testing to the consumers, à la Windows 10. This isn’t a bad thing; we’ll receive more updates, more regularly, with new features coming much faster than previous Office iterations. The Current Branch will effectively serve as the Office guinea pigs, whilst Current Branch for Business can watch from the back row, until unexpected issues are solved. Feedback and user experience from Current Branch will tutorial the overall Office 2016 experience, and will be used by Microsoft to resolve issues before they become problems.

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I think the new system is beneficial for consumers. The updates delivered to Office 2016 are likely to be less intrusive, and having them delivered at a more consistent speed should enable better planning for the changes. We’ll know what is coming, and when. And for those on the CBB, you’ll be relatively sure your next update isn’t going to be a game breaker.

Any Other Notes?

Of course! This product release has been tricky to negotiate. Most users will simply update when they receive notifications. Those signed up to one of the numerous Office 365 plans may, as we alluded to above, find it more difficult to understand just when their upgrade is arriving.

What is for certain is the Office 2016 Preview expiry date: Fall 2015. Depending on when you installed your preview, the software will enter a reduced operating mode over the coming months. This leaves you with two options: upgrade, or reinstall an older, licensed version of Office. Or switch to a free alternative.

Do you have an Office 365 subscription and will you upgrade? Are there any Office 2016 features that you’re curious about? Tell us more in the comments!

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