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July 11, 2020

New Names for Microsoft 365 Update Channels


It took some digging, but I traced a recent (June 9, 2020) MS Docs update back to a blog post to which it’s tied. The Docs item is named “Changes to update channels for Microsoft 365 Apps.” It cites this blog post as an “official announcement of these changes,” dated May 12, 2020: A new wave of innovation to help IT modernize servicing of Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise. This latter item is more comprehensive, because it also mentions a Beta Channel for early adopters, plus Current and Semi-Annual channels that specifically target Enterprise users. All that information is in a handy-dandy table, which I reproduce here verbatim:

New names Recommended use
Beta Channel For early adopters, IT Pros, and developers who join the Insider community to get access to the earliest build
Current Channel (Preview) For enterprises to have early access to the upcoming Current Channel release and for fans or early adopters who want early access but also more stability
Current Channel To provide your end users with the most current Office features and latest security value as soon as they are ready
Monthly Enterprise Channel For customers who need the latest features on a predictable monthly cadence
Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel (Preview) For enterprises to preview the experience for the upcoming Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel release
Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel For select devices in your organization where extensive testing is needed before rolling out new Office features (e.g., to comply with regulatory, governmental, or other organizational requirements)

 The lead-in graphic for this story shows a screencap from the Microsoft 365 Admin Center (also lifted from the afore-cited blog post). It’s a little hard to make out, but it shows Monthly Channel, Monthly Enterprise Channel and Semi-Annual Channel at the right. This changed to Current Channel, Monthly Enterprise Channel, and Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel on June 9 (the same day as the Docs item update, by no coincidence whatsoever). If I had access to the Microsoft 365 Admin Center (I don’t) I’d show the new screenshot instead. But alas, I can’t find it anywhere online just yet.

What’s It All Mean?

Microsoft 365 subscribers get access to the Office Suite and the Windows 10 OS. As the table indicates, this new terminology reflects the kinds of Office updates that those who opt into those named channels (or are put into those named channels via IT-created policy settings, or the Microsoft 365 Admin Center, as is typically the case in the workplace) will get. The OS updates work in similar fashion but don’t fall under the same terminology, and will usually be deployed in different update packages (though often at the same time, in workplaces where updates occur only during scheduled maintenance windows).

Author: Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.

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