An article by Madeleine van de Rotten, Cloud Consultant COMPAREX Netherlands
I field questions on the Office applications in Office 365 almost on a daily basis. That is hardly surprising if one considers the number of versions that Microsoft offers: Office 2013, Office 365 and Office 365 ProPlus. But what do the individual products provide, and where are their differences? The registration procedure itself can be confusing. All the same, increasing numbers of companies are taking to Office in the Cloud. I’d like to use this blog to answer some of the most frequently asked questions on this topic.
I will focus on integrating Office 365 ProPlus within current infrastructure, also on general issues relating to its administration. I will provide brief and to-the-point answers to the following questions:
- What is Office 365 ProPlus, and how does it differ from Office 2013?
- How can I implement Office 365 ProPlus?
- How do updates and upgrades work in Office 365 ProPlus?
- How can I activate Office 365 ProPlus?
- What can I do to make sure that my IT department and the end users handle the switch as smoothly as possible?
1. What is Office 365 ProPlus, and how does it differ from Office 2013?
Office 365 ProPlus is an Office version with a full complement of functions that users download and install locally. The Cloud version of Office is similar to the Office 2013 version, which is only available on premise. The two Office versions come with comparable features, and Office 365 ProPlus has the same applications as Office 2013. But still there are differences between the two versions – especially in terms of licensing and implementation. The Office 2013 application has a device-based licensing model, and installation is handled as usual by an MSI package. In contrast, Office 365 ProPlus is available as a user-based subscription model, and the implementation procedure is extremely different.
2. How can I implement Office 365 ProPlus?
Office 365 ProPlus is Cloud-based, but is installed locally. There are several implementation methods available for Office 365 ProPlus. The best option in each case depends on the degree of control that a company wishes to retain over its implementation.
Installation using the Office 365 portal
Users can be assigned a subscription. Afterwards, the software can be installed on any PC at any location.
Installation on a local network share
IT administrators can download the Office 365 ProPlus software and then distribute it using standard implementation tools such as SCCM. Office 365 ProPlus can even be made available as an image.
Installation using remote desktop services (RDS) or a VDI environment
Anyone who so far has made Office available via a remote desktop service (RDS) or the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) can continue to do this with Office 365 ProPlus. All they need here is to enable the licensing option “Shared computer activation” (SCA) that Microsoft introduced in August 2014.
A frequently encountered question in this context is how to implement Office 365 ProPlus in an environment in which RDS is used, frequently in a combination with Citrix XenApp. RDS allows several users to work on an external computer at the same time. What’s more, SCA permits simultaneous work, for instance using Word from the Office 365 ProPlus Suite. SCA is only enabled if several users work on one computer at the same time.
3. How do updates and upgrades work in Office 365 ProPlus?
The selected implementation method has repercussions for the updates and how they can be controlled. Updates and upgrades run automatically for users who directly install Office 365 ProPlus via the portal. This means they receive updates and additional features each month. This method has the advantage of progressing in smaller stages, and of allowing users to become familiar with new features at a slower pace.
Customers that manage their own Office 365 ProPlus implementation can decide whether or not they want to install updates. They can immediately implement all new updates, or can wait for a while to test them. As things stand, updates can only be postponed for a period of up to 12 months, after which Microsoft will no longer support the version in question. The administrator decides where and for which groups to apply the delay mechanism, and which other groups can work based on continuous updating.
4. How can I activate Office 365 ProPlus?
The licensing strategy is one of the biggest changes to be introduced with Office 365 ProPlus. Office ProPlus means one license per user, and not per device. The allocation and activation of licenses have also changed radically. Office activation using a key management service has now been consigned to the past. Users receiving an Office 365 ProPlus license can install the system on up to five systems, e.g. five tablets or five smartphones. These systems no longer count toward the maximum number of devices (five) if shared computer activation is enabled. In this case, the maximum number of devices is substantially higher. Users can decide for themselves which devices to ‘deinstall’ once the maximum number of installations has been reached. Microsoft recently announced that administrators can also handle this decision on behalf of users, thus simplifying the process of supporting end users in the event that issues arise when registering and installing Office 365 ProPlus, also Project Online or Visio for Office 365.
Microsoft developed this activation method for two reasons: First, this user-based model enables flexible work on several devices. Second, the user interface is identical on all devices. This method requires an identity check in order to determine who is logging on, and whether this person possesses a valid license. This check is performed by entering a name and password. The system then reviews whether this user holds Office 365 ProPlus rights. Interaction between the user’s local active directory and Office 365 enables a single sign-on, meaning that passwords can be saved.
5. How can plug-ins, macros and other applications be managed if they are not integrated in Office 365?
IT environments become increasingly complex as organizations grow larger. Most plug-ins and macros are found in these intricate environments. For instance, they may be integrated within the accounting software that only runs on older versions of Office, such as 2010 or 2007. These applications do not meet the latest standards of development at Microsoft, and the companies are therefore unable to run Office 365 on short notice. Office 365 is changing continuously, which means that this situation needs to be resolved. Let’s not forget, even a temporary shutdown of these kinds of application is frequently unfeasible. Fortunately, we have noticed that vendors of relevant applications are trying to close the gap to current progress, and to modify their applications to suit the ongoing development of Office 365. Increasing numbers of programs are being released in a version compatible with Office 365. Nevertheless, companies must bear in mind that before executing this kind of application in combination with Office 365 ProPlus, they need a contractual agreement that the program will be adapted to accommodate any future updates and upgrades in Office 365.
Microsoft announced several months ago that the release of Office 2016 did not involve any modification of macros or add-ins. This information is important in respect to the implementation of Office 365 ProPlus within organizations that are confronted with this issue.
Office 365 ProPlus supports parallel installation of Office 365 ProPlus with older versions in order to resolve any compatibility issues with Office 365 ProPlus. Many problems can be dealt with precisely in this way.
Is it necessary to perform a thorough check to ensure compatibility with Office 365 ProPlus?
The way that applications are organized these days, it is certainly imperative to check program compatibility with Office 365. We conduct this kind of check on behalf of our customers to pave the way for a smooth transition. Whenever we gain advance knowledge of possible compatibility issues, we can sit down with the vendor to look for a solution or an alternative. I have observed in many issues of this kind that vendors are able to offer a good alternative that can run alongside the new software. Vendors have a keen interest to ensure that their programs can remain in use, and are often willing to replace their current products at no additional cost.
6. What can I do to make sure that my IT department and the end users handle the switch as smoothly as possible?
The IT department and end-users will only accept Office 365 ProPlus if particular attention is attached to software application before and after implementation, and if the IT department sets up good support. In this case it may be sensible to prepare an implementation plan that specifies the training for the support department and the end-users, also how the measures will be communicated to the end-users in respect of the changes and the individual benefits they involve. Preparing this kind of plan is key to a successful implementation and application of Office 365 ProPlus. Another method that does not incur any additional costs would be to issue Office 365 ProPlus to end-users for use at home. Office 365 ProPlus can be installed easily on several devices, one of which – initially at least – could be the end-users’ home PCs. This way they could familiarize themselves with the features of Office 365 ProPlus to make switching to the new system at work far easier.
Is implementing Office 365 ProPlus unavoidable? I think so. In future, Microsoft will increase the pace and frequency of developments, so that companies that do not remain up-to-date will sooner or later be confronted with compatibility issues. Here, Office 365 ProPlus can be the first step towards Microsoft Cloud.
I can think of a few situations in which companies would benefit from switching to Office 365 ProPlus:
Switching the program for use at home. Even if the company itself may have to take further action, employees who have obtained Office 365 (including Office 365 ProPlus) will be able to familiarize themselves with the version at home. This way, the employees will be entirely accustomed to the Office 365 ProPlus version when the final switch takes place, ensuring faster and simpler acceptance of the new applications.
Preventing conformity risks: It used to be impossible to implement an Office 365 ProPlus package purchased with an E3 or E4 license in a virtual RDS or Citrix environment. This changed in August 2014. Any customer still holding on Office 2013 licenses or downgrade rights to Office 365 ProPlus licenses (via SA) will find they are no longer compatible from 1 September 2015. Customers able to demonstrate purchase of the correct licenses after 1 September 2015 may be required to purchase a new Office license for on premise use, which will involve directly using Office 365 ProPlus.
Strict regulations for data in the public Cloud, a leap of faith: Many companies find it difficult to take the first step into the Cloud. The key issue is whether company data can be integrated in the Cloud. Anyone choosing to use Office 365 ProPlus as its only online service by Microsoft will take a first step into the Cloud, without the data actually being located there. Updates and administration tasks can still be performed locally, without migrating data to the Microsoft Cloud. Critical data remains stored locally. Only the following meta-data will be relocated to the Cloud:
- Links to most recently used documents (HTTP file paths)
- Links to most recently used archives (HTTP file paths)
- Most recent point in the Word document
- Most recent slide in PowerPoint
- Custom dictionaries
- Office design and personalized screen
For many companies, Office 365 ProPlus is a first step toward a Microsoft Cloud solution. As soon as it is taken, it is worth considering whether there are other scenarios that would warrant moving further along the road to other Microsoft Cloud solutions.
About the author
Madeleine van de Rotten, Microsoft Cloud Consultant
Expertise: Office 365, CRM Online
Madeleine van de Rotten is a Consultant for Microsoft Cloud technology at COMPAREX The Netherlands. She is an expert on the productivity solutions Office 365 and CRM online. Madeleine advises customers about topics such as: How to successfully move their IT-infrastructure into the Microsoft Cloud, how to improve current processes using these Cloud solutions.
Furthermore she supports the organizations to start using these cloud solutions. Based on her experience in different segments, she knows how these solutions are not only a shift to new technology, but also really improve productivity. She enjoys to see organizations work more efficiently using IT innovations.