Microsoft to tweak its Office 365 feature rollout and disclosure processes

Microsoft to tweak its Office 365 feature rollout and disclosure processes

Summary: Microsoft is promising to be more transparent with major feature updates coming to Office 365, and is adding an opt-in 'First Release' program for customers to selectively test them internally.


Microsoft's new faster rollout cadence is becoming a fact of life across more and more of its software and services.

As the pace quickens, Microsoft officials are laboring to find the middle ground between too fast and too slow in delivering new features and fixes. Some teams in Microsoft's Applications and Services Group — the home of Office and Office 365 — consider monthly updates to be too slow. (Here's looking at you, Yammer.) Others believe monthly updates are OK for some Office 365 users, but definitely a no-no for Office client or server customers.

A couple of years ago, Microsoft officials created Office 365 wikis to let Office 365 users know about new features the company made available to those with Office 365 small-business and enterprise plans. The feature lists were published in hindsight, however, often at the end of the month when the new features were released.

In the next few months, the Office 365 team is going to try something new. The team will be making available "a public place where you can get information on service updates to help manage the faster paced release cycles of the cloud." Update: In case this isn't clear, the new disclosure and update processes in this post are for the business versions (not the home/consumer ones) of Office 365.


 A couple of slides from a Microsoft TechEd 2014 presentation contrast the current Office 365 update and disclosure policies (above) and the coming ones (below).


The new informational updates from Microsoft will focus on new and updated functionality that will be coming in the "near term," meaning 30 to 90 days, along with some longer-term information. Microsoft will provide "high-level details, including name, description, status," officials said. Brand-new products/features, such as Office Mobile for iPhone, for example, will continue to be revealed publicly upon release. 

Microsoft officials first disclosed plans about the company's new change-management plans at the SharePoint 2014 conference in March. They reiterated those plans at TechEd 2014 earlier this month. There are a number of write-ups worth reading about these disclosures, including this one from Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Chris O'Brien and this recent post from Windows IT Pro's Tony Redmond.

According to Microsoft officials, the new Office 365 feature information, published to a public-facing Web site, will replace the non-disclosure briefings that Microsoft and partners have provided to customers around what to expect on the Office 365 futures front.

Microsoft also plans to launch "soon" a new opt-in program available to all Office 365 customers that will provide first early access to "select major end user feature updates." These updates will be "fully supported, vetted (and) documented" end-user-facing service updates for Exchange and SharePoint.

Using this opt-in program, known as "First Release," administrators can select a subset of users to get access to new SharePoint and Exchange end-user updates a minimum of two weeks before they start rolling out across the customer base. According to O'Brien's post there also will be an additional NDA Preview program, as well. O'Brien said Microsoft plans to roll out features early to a subset of users via the NDA Preview program (which sounds like the company's current Technology Adoption Program), but across an entire tenancy with First Release. 

The new disclosure plans don't change Microsoft's current promise to provide Online Services users with a minimum of 12 months prior notification before customers are required to accept any changes in service that are deemed "disruptive." Disruptive in this case means change where "customers are required to take action in order to avoid significant degradation to the normal operation of the Online Service." (The notice period doesn't apply to security-related changes or updates.)

I asked Microsoft officials late last week when Office 365 users should expect to see the futures roadmap information and was told "soon." I'd think the company also will provide additional details about the "First Release" program for early access to major new features real soon now, as well.

Topics: Cloud, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, IT Priorities, Microsoft, IT Policies


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Office 365 is renting Office 2013 at $198

    This "First Release" feature is gimmick which (perhaps) over 90% of the Office 365 users don't care about. Seriously, do "normal" people care about this stuff?

    People signed up for Office 365 because of the marketing, when in fact, they just rented Office 2013 for a year and a half for $198. Chances are, the software is installed on one computer because many computer users these days actually have 5 PCs? Perhaps people who read this blog will have 2-3 PCs to install Office 365 (Office 2013- actual), but for the
    • This is more enterprises

      Office 365 isn't just for home PCs. The process described in this article is targeted at the business tiers of Office 365. In these cases, the price includes not just the Office 2013 apps, but also SharePoint, Exchange, Lync, often Yammer, PBX (phone) replacement, OneDrive, etc. So you're paying for the client apps and a serious set of services to back them. In these cases, the people who pay for those services for businesses that may have thousands of employees very much DO care about release cycles, understanding upcoming changes, testing breaking changes, etc.
      • Office 365

        I don't think so many companies and government agencies in Europe are dumping Microsoft, too expensive, too flaky, too much emphasis on toys and too many problems. Why scrap perfectly good hardware to accommodate more microsoft bloatware.
        A compay i deal with on a regular basis has 430,00 plus PC's and have dumped Microsoft abd will never touch their incomplete products again, and who can blame them. Microsoft is nothing more than a marketing company and little else.
        • opposite in aus

          A lot of government departments (and a couple entire state governments) are moving to all Microsoft because they are the only company that provides fully functional products. Also because they provide full end to end products that tightly integrate and thus reduce complexity for end users thus reducing ongoing user support costs.
    • For the Masses

      I expect that most people before long will have 2 computers. One that is mobile and one that is fixed at a desk top. The screen size for a the mobile will be 17" or less, mostly less. The screen size for the desk top will be 20" or larger, mostly larger, often much larger. At rental that lets you install it on 2 computers makes a lot of sense. Once you pay for multi-install license you might as well get 5 installs. And then there are families. With no children you will need 3. With children 5 is a good number. I think the 5 install rental is a good deal for the masses.
    • This post is about Office 365 for business

      Maybe I need to make that clearer, but as the post notes, this is about the future of Exchange and SharePoint. I know it's confusing that MS also calls the home/consumer versions Office 365. But the disclosure and first release programs are business-focused. Thanks. MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
    • @VictorWho

      Have you heard of Families? Mine are grown but between my wife and I we have 5 licenses tied up at this very moment.
      • Good point.

        It seems that a lot of people criticizing 365's subscription services don't look at it from the family perspective.

        I'd be using 365 right now if I didn't own 2013. I only need 1 copy, but my brothers could use the rest for their education.
    • Computer users with families do ...

      My teenager has my five-year-old desktop for gaming and his four-year-old notebook for school work.

      My wife has a two year-old notebook for home and my original Surface RT for work.

      I have a one-year old Surface Pro 2.

      This does not include an iPad covered under Office 365 (Office for iPad) or a Kindle Fire (which may soon also be covered under Office 365 (Office for Android).

      My family may not be typical but if you use Office Pro, you would have to own two computers over ten years to spend more money on Office 365 than you would spend on Office Pro 2013 for both computers - and at the end of the ten years, you would still be using the latest Office version.

      If you own only one PC, at $69.99 for Office 365 personal, the break-even point would be seven years-out.

      If all you need is Microsoft Office Home & Student, you can use Office Online for free.

      If you have an aversion the subscription model so be it. There are many, many, options for free, or nearly free access to the personal productivity tools of your choice.

      Nevertheless, Office 365 is the most liberal licensing plan Microsoft has ever offered.
      M Wagner
    • Families

      I have a wife and two college age daughters so there are multiple devices that 5 license keys can be applied to. Personally I think if you *need* Office, a more cost effective way of having it is to buy yourself a Windows tablet with it licensed free on that device. A G1 Surface RT or Dell Venue 8 Pro come to mind. You can always hook them up to a monitor if need be.
      Rann Xeroxx
    • Single huh?

      Ever heard of a family? Family desktop, Dad's laptop, Mom's windows tablet, kids machines. It can add up pretty quickly. Full use of the mobile versions on iPhones and Android phones. The five licenses can be assigned to different users with different logins. Each designated user gets 20G of OneDrive. It's $99/yr for those licenses BTW. Best deal in computing out there, IMHO.
    • I've maxed out my 5 installs

      I've maxed out my 5 user installs. In fact, I still have a Surface Pro 2 that needs to get Office but unfortunately (contrary to what Microsoft has announced), you cannot yet designate the Surface Pro as a tablet. Microsoft customer support acknowledges this but says it's coming. But there's no ETA. When I go to try to install Office 365 on the SP2, it says all my installs are used up. If you go to the mobile section of your Office account, it lists Windows Phone, iOS, ec. but not Surface Pro (and I'm assuming other Windows tablets). According to the web site, it says 5 PC installs plus 5 tablet installs (including Windows tablets, iPads, etc.).
  • Visio

    Visio has turned into an orphan mostly. It is a great package but so few people have it the file format is mostly worthless. Either it will eventually die or be included in Office. I really hope it will be included.

    For it to become popular there is a limited window of opportunity (no pun intended). Maybe it has passed. Maybe it is still open. I really hope it is open and Microsoft responds before it is too late.
    • The biggest loss to Visio

      was the AD network GUI tools. That was awesome when Microsoft included it. Now, it's like a $5000 plug-in.
      • Microsoft Active Directory Topology Diagrammer Not everything, but it is a start.
  • Office 365 Home

    Will this also be for the 5 user Home version??
    • No word (so far) on MS' plans re: Home/Personal

      and how and if they will disclose features/roadmaps in advance. MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
  • So, all of us "home"/"personal"/"university" users are 'not worthy'

    It really is a shame MS considers it's non-business users as second class customers.

    Not only is MS apparently planning to increase the feature split between consumer and business Office 365 licenses, they don't want to bother telling us what they are doing to our software.

    Different feature sets in individual programs offered at different price levels was one of the few good things in the "bad old days" that the office bundle killed off (of course, offering the bundle of programs for the price of a single individual program was the number one "good thing" that Office did for software). But MS restarted the trend by pulling out "Business Intelligence" tools like "PowerPivot" from the consumer products.

    NOT ACCEPTABLE. MJF, I hope you pass on all of these comments to MS Office managers.

    I agree, Visio was a good tool, until they sold out to MS. That was a really sad day. Now MS calls Visio an "Office" program, but do not bother to include it in ANY "Office" bundle. WTF? Is it part of "Office" or not? AT the very least it should be included in the Office Pro and/or Pro Plus bundles. And, to add insult to injury, many victims (pardon me, 'customers') who bought Visio are reporting they cannot install it alongside of their Office 365 installations. And of course all comments in this paragraph also apply to MS Office Project.