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Office 365 updates: a guide

Microsoft has released its latest update for Office 365/Microsoft 365, with a wide variety of features – particularly for Teams – as well as bug fixes, performance fixes, and security patches.

As of April 2020, Microsoft officially changed the name of the suite from Office 365 to Microsoft 365. While Office remains at the heart of Microsoft 365 and the associated apps, the new name ties in with Microsoft’s focus shift to how its services can deliver the best value to its customers.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll refer to the suite as Office 365 through this guide. With new threats to your software every day, it’s important to keep on top of your updates – though it can be a tricky process, particularly if you manage a large number of connected devices that all require constant management and maintenance.

What is Office 365?

Office 365 is a suite of Microsoft applications that covers almost all basic digital workplace productivity, from calendars, a word processor, spreadsheets, and presentation app.

For example, a Business Premium subscription to Office 365 includes:

  • Word
  • Excel
  • Outlook
  • PowerPoint
  • Publisher
  • OneNote
  • OneDrive
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Intune
  • SharePoint
  • And more

Microsoft has further information on what each application and service can be used for.

How do I check for updates?

For a single device, checking for updates is relatively easy. Open any application, such as Word, and click File -> Account. Look for text that says, “Updates are automatically downloaded and installed”. If you instead read, “This product will not be updated”, automatic updates are disabled. Activate automatic updates on Windows by:

  • Open an app (Word)
  • Click on File
  • Select Account (or Office Account in Outlook)
  • Select Update Options -> Enable Updates
  • Select Yes when asked if you want Microsoft Office to make changes to your device

This process is slightly different on a Mac:

  • Open the Help tab in the system menu bar
  • Click Check for Updates
  • Click Automatically keep Microsoft Apps up-to-date
  • Click Update

You can also manually download updates through the Mac store.

If, however, you are managing many devices, those processes are tedious and time-consuming. Two other options are available to you and your IT administrators who are in charge of your managed devices.

Unlike previous versions of Office, the updates for Microsoft 365 applications are not available on Windows Update; instead, every time the updates are released, Microsoft creates a new, updated version of the 365 apps and puts them onto the Office Content Delivery Network (CDN).

First, you need to determine which version of Office 365 is installed on your managed device. Open any Office program and go to File –> Account. Your current version is listed under the About section.

While Microsoft themselves recommend that you get updates automatically from the Office CDN, you can also use Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) in conjunction with Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager (MECM) to update any of your Microsoft applications.

MECM – formerly System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) – is, as the name implies, a systems management software product that manages large groups of computers. Among its many uses, it is ideal for downloading updates and distributing them to systems chosen by an administrator.

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To use MECM for Office 365 updates, you need to:

  1. Enable the software to receive client package notifications
  2. Enable Office 365 clients to receive updates through the configuration manager

For the first part, follow these steps:

  • Open the Configuration Manager console
  • Click Site Configuration -> Sites
  • Click Home -> Settings
  • Select Configure Site Components -> Software Update Point; a Properties dialogue box will appear
  • Click on the Products tab -> Office -> Office 365 client
  • Classifications tab -> Updates

For the second part, an Office COM objects must be enabled on the system:

  • Open the Configuration Manager console
  • Click Administration -> Overview -> Client Settings
  • Click Software Updates and select Yes for the Enable management of the Office 365 Client Agent setting

Keeping Office 365 applications up-to-date is easiest when using automatic updates or remote patch management solutions like Endpoint Configuration Manager.

Should I configure update settings?

You can configure the update settings for Office 365 apps across your organisation, which allows you to control how each one is updated. By default, Office 365 apps are updated automatically, but you can change that behaviour.

Two ways exist to configure update settings: Office Deployment Tool and Group Policy.

By choosing the Office Deployment Tool, users have much more control over installation and updates; however, it can be tricky for users who are not-so IT-savvy.

Office Deployment Tool settings are contained in a configuration.xml file which can be edited in Notepad. It contains a list of settings you can specify – including configuring updates. For example, if you decide to get Office 365 updates automatically from a network share called \\server\updates you need to include the following line in the configuration.xml file:

<Updates Enabled=”TRUE” UpdatePath=”\\server\updates” />

Using code to configure settings is simple in essence but generally better left to the IT crowd.

The second path, Group Policy, requires Windows Server and Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) to configure update settings. First, download the most recent Administrative Template File for Office 365. Copy the Administrative Template files to AD DS and open the update policy settings. You’ll find them under Computer Configuration -> Policies -> Administrative Templates -> Microsoft Office -> Updates in the Group Policy Management Console.

Here, you’ll find a description of how to configure each policy setting. If you change your mind at a later time, you’ll need to update the Group Policy setting this way again.

Using Office Deployment Tool or Group Policy to configure the update settings for Office 365 is very handy when you need to control updates across multiple devices, but again, it’s an option best left to your IT team.

Stay up-to-date without hassle

It’s essential to keep your systems and devices as up-to-date as possible so that your employees can work at maximum efficiency and productivity – and your customers are satisfied with the smooth running of your business.

However, staying on top of a seemingly endless flow of updates and software patches can be a time-consuming task, and wouldn’t you rather your IT team focus on work more important to your business?

Talk to the Microsoft Office 365 experts at INTELLIWORX; they’ll give you the advice, or remote support, you need to streamline your Office 365 experience.

Shane Maher

We passionately work on the IT Infrastructure of mid-tier businesses and support MSPs into cloud services. I have over 17 years of commercial experience that includes supporting and managing IT systems, developing infrastructure solutions, both onsite & in the cloud.

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