Office 365 can be forced to feature updates half-yearly

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Most Microsoft Office 365 users have no choice but to accept monthly feature updates. But there is a way to force the Office apps to half-yearly feature updates instead.

Microsoft Office 365 for consumers and small businesses (Personal, Family and other plans) automatically updates each month with new and changed features.  Some are minor but others are big and important. That’s OK for most people. The updates don’t significantly change the way Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc works so a lot of people don’t even notice them.

There are exceptions like Excel users confronted with #SPILL errors when dynamic arrays were introduced.  PowerPoint customers seeing Designer suggestions appearing without warning or asking.  Sometimes the changed feature will break a feature you need … thankfully this doesn’t happen often.

Others just prefer stable and unchanging software.  This understandable and rational choice is something Microsoft either doesn’t understand or prefers to ignore.  To Microsoft ‘new and changed’ means ‘good and needed’ without question.

Here’s how to force Office 365 for Windows to only update features every six-months.  The Semi-Annual option has always been available to volume licence customers but isn’t directly available to consumers without a little trickery.

What is Semi-Annual Channel?

Office 365 Semi-annual is a more conservative approach to software updates.

Office apps are only updated with new and changed features twice each year, from the second Tuesday of January and July.

There are still monthly updates but those are for security patches and bug fixes only.

Compare that to the usual Monthly channel which puts out feature changes plus bug fixes every month.

What Office channel do you have?

Start by confirming which Office 365 update schedule your software is on. Microsoft calls this the ‘Channel’ but the names of the channels have changed (too much) over the years.

Go to any Office 365 for Windows app, File | Account and look for the ‘About …’ on the right side.

Look for the …. Channel.   Above that is the Office Insider section which should just be an offer to ‘Join the Office Insider program’ or a notice of which Insiders channel you’ve selected.

Most users will have ‘Current Channel’.

We want to change to the Semi-Annual Channel.

How to change channel – Microsoft Office not TV

Close down all Office programs.  This isn’t strictly necessary but seems prudent when making such a major change.

Start a Command Prompt box with Administrative access.

Change to the folder with the program we need, OfficeC2RClient.exe

cd C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\ClickToRun

Then switch to the Semi-Annual Channel, called SemiAnnual – no hyphen.

OfficeC2RClient.exe /changesetting Channel=SemiAnnual

BE CAREFUL — OfficeC2RClient isn’t very helpful. There’s no confirmation message of commands – right or wrong. If you misstype a command, there’s little or not chance of an error message.

All current options for Office 365 channels is a full list of the choices in the Channel= parameter.

Once you’ve changed the setting, force Office to update:

OfficeC2RClient.exe /update user

This command will start the familiar Office update system which will download and update your software.

Wait while Office updates itself. 

Once ‘Downloading Office updates’ is completed, open up an Office program and return to the File | Account | About … and you’ll see something like this:

“Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel with new features is released on the 2nd Tuesday in January and July. General updates, if needed, are released once per month on the second Tuesday.”

Change back to the Monthly channel

If you decide to switch back to the default Monthly or Current software updates, repeat the process but use a different parameter:

OfficeC2RClient.exe /changesetting Channel=Current

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