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Office on Demand Feature Halted for Office 365 Subscriptions

Microsoft has announced that starting in November, the Office on Demand feature from Office 365 subscriptions will be eliminated.

The plan change, which apparently was announced on Aug. 21, 2014 via this Microsoft forums post, will affect business users of Office 365 services or those that use the Office ProPlus productivity suite. Affected subscriptions include "Office 365 Small Business Premium, Midsize Business, Enterprise (including equivalents), and Office 365 ProPlus," according to the post.

Microsoft's hosted software has a different product lifecycle support policy than traditionally licensed Microsoft software products that get installed on the customer's premises. Office ProPlus does require local installation, too -- it's not a purely streamed product, so the distinction gets a little hazy in its case. Supposedly, though, Microsoft has indicated that it will give its services customers a one year advance notice of any "disruptive changes" to its services. Rob Helm, vice president at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based independent consultancy, noted that Microsoft had given less than a year's notice with regard to dropping Office on Demand:

However, Microsoft doesn't see the apparent short notice as a problem for its customers. That's because there are alternatives to using Office on Demand, according to a Microsoft spokesperson:

As you'll see in Microsoft's online services lifecycle policy, disruptive change is defined as meaning "when a customer or administrator is required to take action in order to avoid significant degradation to the normal operation of the Online Service." In the case of Office on Demand, Office Online delivers credible functionality as an alternative, so there was no significant degradation of normal Office 365 operations and no need for customer action.

Office on Demand is described by Microsoft as an Office 365 feature that provided access to productivity apps such as Excel, Word and PowerPoint on a PC "that doesn't have the latest version of Office installed locally." The bits get streamed down to the local device via Microsoft's click-to-run technology. After the Office on Demand session is over, the bits are mostly wiped automatically from the machine. With Office on Demand, Office 365 subscribers could be assured of gaining access to Office apps on the go by just using an available, Internet-connected PC.

Office on Demand Alternatives
Office on Demand use ends in November, but Microsoft's notice suggested that Office 365 subscribers could use three other technologies instead of it. For instance, they could use Office Online, formerly known as "Office Web Apps," which are stripped-down versions of Office programs (such as Excel, Word and PowerPoint) that run in Web browsers. However, Office Online is typically described by Microsoft as a consumer offering. It lacks IT management controls, which may be a requirement for its use by some organizations. It actually may be a violation of Microsoft's use rights restrictions to use Office Online for business purposes.

Microsoft's more enterprise-friendly alternative to Office Online is the deployment of Office Web Apps Server, allowing the use of Office apps in a browser. Office Web Apps Server is a standalone server that does permit traditional IT controls. It can be linked up with SharePoint, too, according to a recent Microsoft blog post. However, using Office Web Apps Server likely would entail additional costs for an organization compared with using Office on Demand.

A second substitute for Office on Demand, according to Microsoft's notice, is to use the "shared computer activation" feature associated with Office 365 ProPlus subscriptions. The shared computer activation feature is designed for organizations that share a single PC or device among multiple users. It updates a particular workstation based on a particular user's license, rather than based on the machine's requirements. However, the shared computer activation feature requires having certain licensing in place, such as licensing to use Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services protocol and Windows Server 2012 R2 -- in essence, all of the licensing associated with using Microsoft's products in a virtual desktop configuration.

The third alternative to Office on Demand that Microsoft proposes is the use of Azure RemoteApp, which is still at the preview stage. Azure RemoteApp is a form of application virtualization. It's different from the shared computer activation feature, Microsoft's post explained:

There is a difference between shared computer activation and Azure RemoteApp. Shared computer activation virtualizes the entire desktop on a client device, whereas Azure RemoteApp virtualizes the application onto an existing desktop which appears to the user as if it is running locally on the client device.

It might be that by November, when Office on Demand is dropped, Microsoft will have released its licensing and pricing details on using the Azure RemoteApp service. For now, Azure RemoteApp is available as a free trial that comes with Microsoft Office 2013 Professional Plus installed.

Death of a Feature
The reason Microsoft plans to eliminate Office on Demand is that it wasn't being used too much, according to the spokesperson:

Data shows that only about 2 percent of Office customers are actively using the [Office on Demand] feature. As a result, we are refocusing our energies on other new features customers will find valuable. Customers can instead use Office Online to open and edit documents immediately through any supported browser to quickly view and edit documents.

It may seem odd that Microsoft announced the demise of Office on Demand through one of its many forums pages. That point went unexplained. However, the Microsoft spokesperson pointed to the Office 365 Message Center as the place to get such information:

In terms of how service updates are communicated, Microsoft encourages customers to leverage the Message Center in their Office 365 portal to keep up-to-date on any changes in their environment, allowing us to provide targeted, especially relevant messages to individual tenants if needed.

Microsoft described this means of keeping its Office 365 customers up to date on software changes back in June as part of its so-called "roadmap program."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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