How to get Microsoft 365 extended offline time

Microsoft has finally agreed to help out customers who are offline for a long time and can’t keep their Microsoft 365 activated with a regular Internet connection.

People on ships or other isolated places might use their computer offline for weeks or months. Ever since Microsoft changed to counting each login (not installs) that’s been a problem for people who aren’t always connected to the Internet. 

Sadly, Microsoft refused to recognize that and limited use of Microsoft 365 software to 30 days at a time. We commented about the extended offline problem two years ago but there was no response.  It seems complaints from volume customers and threats to move away from Microsoft 365 finally got their attention.

For most people it’s not a problem. Microsoft 365 software automatically checks its licence status and keeps the software activated in an obscure process.  Office software checks with an Office Licencing Server in the background, checks your account is still valid and lets the software continue working.

Isolated workers now have a workaround that which Microsoft announced used the euphemism “Enabling productivity for everyone with Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise”.

But it’s not as simple as Microsoft makes out.  We’ve done a close reading of the announcement to see the ‘gotchas’ involved.

180 days of offline Microsoft 365

With the right settings, enterprise Microsoft 365 customers can now work offline for up to 180 days (about 6 months).

Now Redmond admits “we’re aware that in industries, including government, oil and gas, manufacturing, agriculture, and scientific research, some people work in secure or remote environments where they have limited or no internet connectivity for longer periods of time.”

Yet again, Microsoft is late to the party, addressing a problem that’s been known to them for over two years.  Customers must be grateful that they’ve arrived at all.

Enterprise customers only with special permission

Extended offline access applies to enterprise customers only.  Consumer customers like people on boats or hermits need not apply.

Even enterprise customers need special permission and configuration from Microsoft to make this work.  Admins who would like to enable this option need to contact Microsoft for details.

Microsoft can allow offline activation for up to 180 days.  They might only allow offline access for a lesser period between 30 and 180 days.  Presumably organizations have to explain their need and the length of offline time required.

Then a special group policy must be set for a device which needs extended offline access.  Note: the device is given extended offline access, not the user.

Group Policy: Allow Extended offline use for Microsoft 365 apps. Source: Microsoft

Then “The worker signs into Windows with their Microsoft 365 account by viewing the expiration date that appears in a Product Information window on their device.” Normally no expiration date appears at File | Account (we wish it did, would be useful info for customers).

15 days before the offline activation ends, a warning will appear to the user that they need to go online an reactivate.  If they don’t, Microsoft 365 apps go into ‘Reduced Functionality’ or read-only mode.

Needs more …

This workaround addresses part of the problem but isn’t a complete solution.  It only seem to apply to Windows computers – no mention of Mac machines.

Customers with irregular internet access deserve better service than they get now.

Microsoft could do more to reveal to all customers their Microsoft 365 activation status.  How long before another licence check is necessary. 

In other words, more transparency about the licence & activation process.

Also, a way to force an activation/licence check.  If a user has occasional, limited or expensive Internet access, they should be able to go online and update their M365 activation status right away with a single, explicit click.

There’s no clear way to update licence status.  Logging out of Microsoft 365 apps and signing back in might force a licence check, but there’s no way to be sure.

We do have some suggestions see:

Restart or renew Microsoft 365 licence before going offline

Check your Microsoft 365 licence ‘grace period’

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