With the widespread adoption of Office365, a popular question that comes our way is whether to deploy the Office 2016 Client, Office365 Client, or a hybrid of the two.

The Office365 ProPlus client is available to license as a standalone monthly/annual subscription, or comes included in many of the subscription levels available on Office365.com, whereas Office 2016 is licensable software that adheres to traditional software purchase practices…a one-time cost for the license which you then own for the life of the product.

In this post I’m not going to provide you with a cost-benefit analysis of subscription vs. perpetual Office licenses, but rather show you the differences between managing and maintaining Office365 ProPlus and Office 2016 ProPlus.  Armed with knowledge of the capabilities of both software suites, you can better determine what licensing method is best for your organization.

The Skinny
Before getting too deep, let’s compare feature-sets between Office365 ProPlus and Office 2016 ProPlus (current as of EOY 2016)…

  • Both products:
    It’s a full client installed locally
    The system requirements are the same – either a 32-bit or 63-bit system
    You have multiple options for deployment
    Group Policy gives you control
    It’s built for extensibility
  • Features only available with Office365 ProPlus:
    New licensing and activation functionality
    Identity and authentication features
    Improved deployment technology
    Smaller, more efficient product updates
    Auditing controls
    Source file packages
    Side-by-side client

The obvious licensing benefit to Office365 for fluid organizations is the monthly/yearly pricing model; an organization doesn’t need to buy the maximum amount of licenses they will need, but rather have the subscription grow and shrink with the business.  However, for companies that are more stable, other benefits can be more appealing.

Office365 is Office-as-a-Service, and is managed similar to Windows 10.  This eliminates the time and costs associated with upgrading traditional msi-based versions of Office, reducing version lifecycle and ensuring users do not experience feature gaps while collaborating or working on different workstations.  The Click-to-Run functionality also allows administrators to perform testing and validation of patches before rolling to production.
New Group Policy features give the ability to dynamically manage update configuration and telemetry. This range of settings can be managed at the time of install, but Group Policy allows you to update that as needed. New features include:

  • Enabling automatic updates and managing those updates.
  • Updating path.
  • Managing target version.
  • Updating deadline.
  • Hiding update notifications and options to enable or disable updates.

Finally, there is a new feature called Office Telemetry that will help you audit what’s in your Office environment.  Group Policy is used to activate and control the telemetry configuration.

Customers can deploy Office 365 ProPlus in numerous ways, maximizing their flexibility and choice.

  • Local installation
    As an end user with local admin rights, you can go to the Office 365 portal and download and install Office 365 ProPlus yourself. However, note that IT pros can switch off this capability. You can also download the Office Deployment Tool, run setup.exe/configure, and pass it a configuration file. You can then stream the configuration file from the CDN or customize it to point to a distribution point of your choice.
  • Network installation
    You can place the source files for the Office Deployment Tool on a network file share. You can then deliver the files, ensuring that your source path is pointed to that file share. This allows you to stream the install from a network installation point.
  • Enterprise software distribution
    You can still use your favorite tools—including SCCM, LANDesk, and BigFix—with Office 365 ProPlus. This method still leverages setup.exe and passes it a configuration file. Plus, you can also leverage Microsoft Intune for distribution.
  • Windows image
    The Windows image is installed at build. Just be sure that it’s not activated, and then rearm and Sysprep it. At that point, you can put it to the side. The Windows image allows you to use Office 365 ProPlus so that when you deploy the build and expand it, you can configure it to go out and get the latest updates. It will not sequentially look for service packs and updates—it will simply get the latest build or whatever you specified.
  • Application Virtualization
    You can use the Office Deployment Tool to flatten the package and deliver it as a Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) package. Note that this is not a case of wrapping up and delivering Office. Instead, the Office Deployment Tool takes out all task sequencing. It then runs set.exe/packager, passes it the configuration file, and flattens it. Basically, everything is done for you so you can just load it into your App-V environment.
  • Remote Desktop Services
    You can deliver Office 365 ProPlus using RemoteApp or Azure RemoteApp and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)—both persistent and pooled. Plus, you can use shared computer activation, which allows you to install Office 365 ProPlus in a shared environment—whether it’s a physical or virtual environment. Note that this does not count towards the 5x5x5 license
  • Install process
    Suppose that you’re an IT professional who wants to track a deployment. Just look for IntegratedOffice.exe because that’s how you’re going to be able to track the deployment and installation of Office 365 ProPlus on a particular machine. The process involves several steps.

    • Virtual file system is added in Initiator Context and runs until 10 percent progress.
    • Streaming begins, and IntegratedOffice.exe moves to System Context at 10 percent.
    • Within two minutes, and around 15 percent, Office 365 ProPlus apps may be launched.
    • Caching focuses on launched apps and features, and takes three to five minutes based on connection.
    • The final 10 percent of the process installs add-ins, licensing, and so on.

In terms of deployment, it’s essential to remember that both MSI and Click-to-Run have exactly the same deployment options. With either method, Office deploys just like any other version.

When it comes to updates, Office 365 ProPlus makes the process even easier. Click-to-Run works similarly to how apps on your mobile device work, and it describes the model that Microsoft is moving to for updates.
Click-to-Run contains a lot of features for our customers and partners, and it is what enables Microsoft to deliver Office as a service. You can stay on the latest build and have the latest features that are tying into our productivity platform.
By leveraging the Office 365 portal, you can even give control to end users to let them get Office 365 ProPlus on their local machine—this is a great use case for remote workers, giving them capability to update from wherever they are.
New builds are made available and distributed globally each month, called “Evergreen” because systems are always up to date! New features are often wrapped in the builds—for example, the “Tell me what you want to do” search bar was delivered in a month.
IT control is another big feature of Click-to-Run. You have the ability to take in Office 365 ProPlus and then do whatever testing and validation is needed before pushing it out to production at your schedule.
Now we’ll take a look at the install flow for updates to Office 365 ProPlus.
First, the Office Deployment Tool allows IT administrators to execute a download, install, uninstall, update, or repair—and to actually configure and customize as needed. This is done with a setup.exe bootstrapper with a customizable configuration file. So when you run setup.exe, it downloads basic prerequisites and then downloads and runs the C2R client.
This leads us into user mode, utilizing the user account of the person who is logged in to run Officeclicktorun.exe. This file downloads the full requirements and installs ClickToRunSVC, which then launches the first run experience. In the final step of user mode, the ClicktoRun.exe ends after executing a last run task.
Last, we enter system mode, where the local system account runs the Click-to-Run service, which handles streaming and integration processes. ClickToRunSvc continues running for the life of the product.

Office365 ProPlus Servicing
A new approach to updates, Servicing grants more flexibility and control over how, when, and where updates are accessed.

  • Monthly updates
    Every second Tuesday of each month, Microsoft releases a new build of Office365 ProPlus, which contains security and non-security changes. This means no more patches, hot fixes, service packs, or major upgrades. Going forward, everything in Office 365 ProPlus will be introduced as a monthly build. Each build will be cumulative from the previous build. This means customers get smaller, easily managed updates instead of large, complex upgrades.
  • Background updating
    The update model is now a poll model, where the client itself facilitates the updates. Windows Update and WSUS are no longer relevant—Office 365 ProPlus updates are basically moved in product, so you can set the process to be self-updating or manually controlled. Deltas are calculated and downloaded in the background, and even though these are full builds, customers only download deltas (the difference between what they have and what’s new in the update). In addition, because deltas are calculated at the time of update, clients are always only one update away from being current. Managing updates is also easier because administrators can now use Group Policy to control the update schedule. In short, these changes and the move to background updating deliver value faster with less impact on users.
  • Take control of change
    Numerous controls inherent in Office 365 ProPlus allow customers to control how, where, and when they get their updates. In the default model, the client checks on updates, builds, and sources and then downloads the deltas. However, if you’re an IT pro, you can not only change where you’re getting updates from (for example, an internal source), but also control when updates happen. You can build your own schedule and manage it using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager or other tools. Everything happens through a command-line tool, so you can automate all tasks. This means you can plan change management as a process and wrap automation around it. In short, you can manage change in your environment through ripples, rather than large waves. Office 365 ProPlus will be the last office client you ever deploy because every change going forward is in this monthly build model—and you pull from it what your organization needs.

For additional information on Office365 for businesses, check out https://products.office.com/en-ca/business/office.