Service packs are not a thing of the past for Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office 2010 Service Pack 2 is in private beta. Exchange 2010 Service Pack 3 just arrived this week.The Office team is not moving away from the service-pack model the way that Windows is.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is eliminating service packs for Windows client and Windows Server, going forward -- replacing these updates with more rapidly delivered, incremental Windows releases, starting with "Blue." But the same isn't true for the Office division.


For the time being, at least, the Office client and server teams are continuing to roll out service packs for existing versions of Microsoft's wares. (The Office 365 team, for its part, is continuing to roll out updates to its Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online services quarterly or even more frequently.)

Select testers were invited in mid-January 2013 to join a private test of a beta of Office 2010 Service Pack (SP) 2. (I saw a copy of the invitation.) When I asked Microsoft what would be included in Office 2010 SP2 and when it would be generally available, I received the following, generic statement from a spokesperson:

"This service pack beta includes previously unreleased fixes that were made specifically for this service pack. In addition to general product fixes, these fixes include improvements in stability, performance, and security. The service pack beta also includes all the public updates and cumulative updates (hotfixes) that have been released since Service Pack 1."

Why is the Office team sticking with service packs? The same spokesperson didn't have much to say, beyond this statement:

“We will continue to deliver traditional (on-premises) client and server releases at intervals that meet our customers’ needs.”

Microsoft delivered earlier this week Service Pack 3 for Exchange 2010. Exchange 2010 SP3 provides support for Windows Server 2012, Internet Explorer 10 and other customer-requested fixes. SP3 is required for users who want to enable their Exchange 2010 servers to coexist with Exchange 2013 Cumulative Update (CU) 1.

Exchange Server 2013 CU1 -- due out later this calendar quarter -- is the first of the CUs Microsoft is introducing as part of its new servicing model for Exchange, starting with the Server 2013 release. 

In a February 8 post to the Exchange Team Blog, Microsoft officials detailed plans for Exchange 2013's new servicing model. With cumulative updates, the Exchange Server 2013 team will be:

  • Decoupling security fixes from updates
  • Switching from rollups to cumulative updates. CUs are full product releases 
  • Releasing cumulative updates (CUs) regularly (in Exchange's case, quarterly) so customers can anticipate when the next round of fixes are coming 
  • Keeping server and service versions of Exchange more closely aligned for better hybrid cloud/on-premises support

Exchange Server 2013 customers will be able to count on the fact that the same code they're getting in CUs already has been deployed in Exchange Online and has been tested at scale, a company spokesperson explained. CUs will be published on the Microsoft Download Center. Security updates for a CU will be made available on Microsoft Update and the Microsoft Download Center, according to officials.

This new servicing model only applies to Exchange 2013. The old rollup-focused servicing model applies for older versions of Exchange, including 2007 and 2010.

In a Q&A about Exchange 2013's new servicing model, Microsoft officials noted that "(s)imilar to previous releases, it is anticipated that periodic Service Pack updates may be provided."

What does the continued existence of service packs mean, regarding Microsoft's plans (if any) to release more frequent versions of Office clients and servers in the same way Microsoft is expected do with Windows, Windows Server and Windows Phone? Right now, I'm not sure. I'd expect there might be a Blue equivalent of Office coming later this year or early next, but so far haven't been able to confirm that fact.

Any Office users -- client and/or server -- care if Microsoft continues to release service packs for on-premises versions of Office? Or would you rather see the Office team do what Windows is doing and deliver more frequent, incremental refreshes of Office client and server apps?

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