Customers who continue to power PCs with Windows 7 after the operating system's expiration date will be given one more update to Office 365 ProPlus - the application soul of the subscription service - before shutting down the feature pipeline.
But Office 365 ProPlus - the application stack that's part of most business plans - will receive security updates long after Windows 7's retirement on Jan. 14. How long after? Three years after.
The arrangement - "no" to new features but "yes" to vulnerability patches - was unusual enough to upend the typical definition of "support."
"Office 365 ProPlus won't be supported on Windows 7 after January 14, 2020," Microsoft plainly stated in a support document last revised less than two weeks ago.
So, ProPlus is not supported but it will receive patches? Huh?
The contradiction about support is the source of confusion. Most users, whether of Microsoft's operating system and applications or of any kind of software, hear the word support and equate it with fixes and patches. Software in support receives updates that quash bugs and fix problems, software out of support does not.
Yet Microsoft says that Office 365 ProPlus "won't be supported" on Windows 7 even though it will continue to deliver security updates to the suite.
Again, what the hell?
First, a bit of background
Normally, when Microsoft axes an operating system - and stops patching its security vulnerabilities - it halts updates to other Microsoft-made software running under that OS at the same time. So, for example, when Microsoft set Windows 7's end-of-support calendar at Jan. 14, 2020, that meant Office 365 ProPlus - or any Office - would also stop receiving updates then. (It works like this for Microsoft's browsers, Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge, too.)
But Microsoft upset that cart when it announced Extended Security Updates (ESU) in September 2018. A "last resort" - Microsoft's words - for commercial customers who would not make the Jan. 14, 2020, deadline for purging Windows 7, ESU would provide Critical- and Important-rated vulnerability patches to out-of-support Windows 7 machines. For a price, of course.
When Microsoft extended Windows 7's security update support, it also had to extend that of Office 365 ProPlus (or make those Windows 7 PCs worthless for common productivity chores). And remember, customers were paying money to remain in support. And that's what the company did.
"Office 365 ProPlus will be supported on devices with active Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESU) through January 2023," Jared Spataro, vice president for Microsoft 365, said in a post to a company blog. "This means that customers who purchase the Windows 7 ESU will be able to continue to run Office 365 ProPlus."
With a few keystrokes, Spataro committed Microsoft to providing patches to Office 365 ProPlus for three years after Windows 7 retirement.
Here's what is to happen
Microsoft upgrades Office 365 ProPlus, like Windows 10, twice a year, in the late summer (around August) and the late winter or early spring (February or March). But Windows 7 users will get just one in 2020.
"Version 2002 is expected to be the last version of Office 365 ProPlus that will be available for devices running Windows 7 after Windows 7 goes out of support in January 2020," Microsoft said in the support document. (As with Windows 10, Microsoft tags Office 365 ProPlus with a four-digit label in the form yymm, so 2002 indicates a February 2020 release.)
Office 365 ProPlus, with its three different "channels" or distribution milestones, will upgrade to 2002 on this timeline, according to Microsoft:
- Monthly Channel ... late February
- Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) ... March
- Semi-Annual Channel ... July
Once Office 365 ProPlus version 2002 is in place on Windows 7 systems, no future upgrades will be allowed onto the machines. Microsoft made that clear. "If you try to install a newer version of Office 365 ProPlus, such as Version 2005, on a device running Windows 7, you will receive an error message," Microsoft said.
But monthly security updates will keep on coming through January 2023. (That month should be familiar; it's the end of Windows 7's ESU program.)
"We're doing this to give you additional time to make the transition from running Office 365 ProPlus on devices running Windows 7 to a supported operating system, such as Windows 10," Microsoft said, giving a reason if not necessarily the reason. Left unsaid, naturally, is the fact that once ESU came into existence, Microsoft had to continue patching Office 365 ProPlus, at least for those covered by the pay-for-patches plan.
Even though a specific ProPlus channel is usually available just for 14 months, version 2002 will be accessible to Windows 7 customers for much longer. How much longer? Remember, until January 2023.
"We're making ((this)) exception just for Version 2002 to align with how long ESU for Windows 7 is available," Microsoft said, coming clean.
On PCs powered by Windows 7, Office 365 ProPlus will be updated automatically to 2002 if those devices are getting updates directly from Microsoft's servicing mechanism, Windows Update. If the PC is later migrated to Windows 10, ProPlus will automatically transition to the most recent available version. From that point, the machine will start receiving new feature-and-functionality upgrades, too.
Enterprises that manage ProPlus via, say, WSUS (Windows Server Update Services) or SCCM (System Center Configuration Manager) can continue to use their familiar tools.
Microsoft also said that Office 365 Business - the name for the application bundle offered with some subscriptions, including Office 365 Business Premium and Microsoft 365 Business - will be serviced on Windows 7 in the same way as ProPlus.
What about home users?
They, too, will get security updates to their Office 365 applications, according to a different support article Microsoft highlighted.
"As a valuable Office 365 subscriber, we want to continue to provide a stable Office 365 experience," Microsoft stated on that page. "Even though Windows 7 will no longer be supported after January 2020, we've decided to continue to provide you with security updates for Office 365 for the next 3 years, until January 2023."
You get patches ... and you get patches
Everyone running Windows 7 after Jan. 14 will continue to get patches for Office 365's applications - Word, Excel and the rest - for up to three years. The OS may be out of support (there's that word again) and at risk from criminal exploitation, but Office itself will be safe.
Although few will look this gift horse in the mouth and object, it's odd that Microsoft would give away Office security updates when it's charging for the same thing for Windows 7.
But no one said Microsoft's moves were logical.