How Often Do Office 365 Applications Get Updates?

How often do you receive updates for your Office apps? How often would you like to? Depending on the Office plan you have and the Update Channel that you’re in, your answers to these questions could be quite different. You may only get notified of updates a couple of times a year, or maybe updates are available nearly every week. When Office is installed, users are automatically put on what is called the Semi-Annual Update Channel, but there are three other channels that organizations/users can choose to join – the Monthly Update Channel, Monthly Targeted, and the Semi-Annual Targeted Update Channel. These channels, formerly known as Current Channel, Deferred Channel, and First Release for Deferred Channel, determine when users are notified of available Office updates. In this blog, we will explain how each channel operates, associated advantages and disadvantages, and explain how users can switch from one channel to another.  

Semi-Annual Update Channel

The Semi-Annual Update Channel is the default channel for most Office plans, releasing updates twice a year in January and July. These releases contain all of the latest features across apps like Excel and Outlook as well as security and non-security updates that relate to app performance and stability. Semi-Annual feature updates are supported by Microsoft for 18 months after they’re released in the Semi-Annual Targeted Channel and 14 months after release in the standard Semi-Annual Channel. These months are designated for IT employees to test the range of new features and get the ones they’ll use in production ready for deployment. Businesses with a significant number of add-ons, line of business apps, and other macros will likely prefer the Semi-Annual Channel as they’ll need to test nearly every feature and enhancement of an update to make sure there are no bugs and that they will not disrupt their normal processes/operations

Monthly Update Channel

The Monthly Update Channel provides updates to Office apps on a monthly basis. Each release varies from month-to-month in terms of the number of new features, apps that will be affected, and actual release date. Similar to the Semi-Annual Channel, security and non-security updates will also be included in releases and released on the second Tuesday of each month.      

Releases in the monthly channel are cumulative, meaning that the current monthly release will contain all of the features and changes that were included in the most previous release. Once the newest monthly update has been released, the one before it is no longer supported, and its features will only be accessible by downloading the most recent update.

The most obvious advantage of the Monthly Channel is significantly earlier access to the features, actions, and various other improvements that the Office team have been developing. Examples of this are evident in the Monthly Channel update released on July 29, 2019, where users were given the ability to choose if Office files open in their online or desktop app, a new Focus Mode previously only available on Macs was added to Word, and Excel introduced a feature that lets users join tables on similar columns. Every organization will value these new features a bit differently based on how they operate, but clearly a company who prefers to be on the cunning edge and use the most helpful new features and technology will have a desire to be on the Monthly Update Channel.

Semi-Annual (Targeted) Update Channel

Four months before updates are released in the Semi-Annual Update Channel, they’re released in the Semi-Annual Targeted Update Channel. The purpose of this channel is to provide larger businesses and/or those with a large number of line-of-business apps sufficient time to test all the new features included in the release. Many times, features in a release replace the functions that were there before, forcing organizations to find workarounds or other ways of completing the processes they did before. Other times, organizations will see that the function they rely on is going to be deprecated and this channel provides the opportunity to see that and delay upgrading until they find a workaround or absolutely must upgrade.

Monthly (Targeted) Update Channel

Lastly, there is the Monthly Targeted Channel Update. This channel, like the standard Monthly Channel, releases updates each month, only they’re made available about a week before release in the normal Monthly channel. The features and other actions included are typically a bit less stable than they are in the regular monthly channel which is already less stable than Semi-Annual releases.

The Office Insider program is one last option available for organizations looking to get Office updates as soon as possible. The Insider program releases updates as soon they’re ready for use, which is typically on a weekly basis, though they will be significantly less stable than they would be when they’re released at a later date in another channel.

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What to Consider when Deciding

If a company feels that a certain action will create a noticeable improvement in efficiency or processes as a whole, it may make sense for them to be in the Monthly Update Channel. If that same company uses a high number of line-of-business apps, add-ons, or macros, then the decision becomes a little less clear because most features will need to be tested.

The good news is, no matter which channel you’re in, it can always be changed. This means companies can switch to the monthly channel if they really want a specific feature that was released in it, then switch back to the Semi-Annual channel once that feature is released there. Users who are working in IT might want to be included in the Monthly, Monthly Targeted, or Office Insider channels so they can gain familiarity with the pending features and ensure that they will work with the other systems in place and for other users.

How can Check which channel I’m on?

To verify which update channel you’re on go to any Office app and click File > Account and glance through the Product Information section, where you’ll find whether your account is up to date and see which channel you’re apart of.

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How can I switch channels?

There are a few different ways that a user and organization can change the update channel they’re on. An individual user can either run a script file or use the Office Deployment Tool (ODT), and companies can use the System Center Configuration Manager to make the switch for a large number of users. Detailed instructions on using these methods to switch channels are provided by Microsoft here.

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