Microsoft 365 semi-annual users forced to monthly updates

Organizations which choose the Semi-annual update for their staff have been told by Microsoft that they are being forced to the monthly update schedule. Here are the details and a look at the nonsense that Microsoft is sprouting to explain the switch.

Until now, organization administrators had two choices for regular (non-Insiders / Beta testing) users of Microsoft 365 for feature updates that are pushed to Microsoft 365 software.

  • Monthly Enterprise channel – this is also what happens for Microsoft 365 consumer plans (Family and Personal).  Support for each monthly revision is only for two months.
  • Semi-annual Enterprise channel – feature updates only every six months. Second Tuesday each January and July.  Support for each update lasts 14 months.

Bug fixes and security updates are pushed out each month for both Monthly and Semi-annual channels.  The Monthly/Semi-annual schedule only applies to new and changed features.

As we’ll see, this high-handed and arrogant change will simplify management and costs for Microsoft, leaving their customers to carry the burden.

Note: this does NOT apply to consumer Microsoft 365 plans (Family or Personal) which only have the Monthly update choice.

What’s changing

All users on the Semi-annual Enterprise channel will be forced to the Monthly Enterprise channel unless their IT administrators specifically confirm otherwise.

Microsoft 365 Admins have until 20 May 2022 to stop this enforced change.

If no choice is made, Microsoft will switch software on the Semi-annual update schedule to Monthly updates. 

This will happen gradually after 20 May 2022 into early June. In other words, before the next Semi-Annual update is due in July 2022.

A lot of Microsoft 365 admins like the Semi-Annual update option.  It gives them more time to test upcoming feature changes.  Semi-annual is more stable and reliable software that users and customers can depend on and not be concerned about unexpected or unwanted feature ‘improvements’.

Am I on Monthly or Semi-annual updates?

If your organization has an Enterprise licence for Microsoft 365, it’s usually your IT department that has decided whether your Office software is feature updated every month or six-months.

To find out, go to any Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc) choose File | Account and look under Product Information on the right-side. Look for a mention of ‘Monthly channel‘ or ‘Semi-annual channel‘.

How to stop the switch to Monthly updates

Microsoft 365 Administrators can stop this change from the Admin Center.  Go to  ‘View details’ on the notification (top right bell icon) and choose @Keep my devices on current [email protected] before May 20th.

Source: Microsoft

“Your devices with Office will start getting monthly updates

Starting May, all your devices will start getting the latest version of Office updates each month instead of semi-annually.

There are benefits to having Office updates each month directly from the internet.

  • Free up your time from other work because updates happen automatically.
  • Reduce support calls from your users.
  • Give your users faster access to new features and quality improvements.

As we’ll see, the first two of these supposed ‘benefits’ make no sense at all.

The third isn’t an advantage at all!

Why is Microsoft doing forcing the Monthly update channel?

Let’s take the “Why” question in two parts.  Firstly, Microsoft’s stated reasons plus examine how those excuses make little sense. Then the real and unstated reasons for this change.

According to Microsoft, changing to Monthly updates is all about helping customers.  In addition to the reasons given above there’s this announcement.

“Customers on a monthly feature update cadence, such as those on Monthly Enterprise Channel, have reported higher satisfaction than those receiving semi-annual feature updates.”

We’d love to see the details of the supposed ‘higher satisfaction’ for Monthly updates users.  What are the reasons for the better ratings and are they directly linked to the update schedule? What questions were asked to reach this self-serving conclusion?

Cadence?: Microsoft continues to use the word ‘cadence’ when talking about software updates, in defiance of normal English usage.  Presumably, they think it sounds more impressive than simple words like ‘schedule’ or ‘frequency’.

“In addition to receiving the latest features and fixes, having all devices on the same update frequency helps enable better collaboration experiences for users in your organization. “

There should be little or no problem with collaboration between any recent versions of Office 365 software.  If there is a problem. Microsoft hasn’t done their job properly.

Microsoft has been making a lot of small changes to collaboration features in recent times and there’s the possibility of feature mismatch between Monthly and Semi-annual.  However those changes are relatively minor and should not affect the broad use of collaborative documents. Collaboration features in Office will settle down with fewer changes made and the two releases will gradually become more synchronized.

“Monthly Enterprise Channel also provides admins with predictability, since updates are released once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month. ”

This makes no sense.  The Semi-annual Enterprise Channel also has predictability, just at a different timing (2nd Tuesday of January and July).

Let’s look again at the alleged benefits of Monthly channel, mentioned above.

Free up your time from other work because updates happen automatically.

Nonsense.  Semi-annual updates also happen automatically, just like all Microsoft Office 365 updates.

Reduce support calls from your users.

Unproven and possibly quite wrong.  With Monthly feature updates there could be MORE support calls as users try to understand more frequent changes that have appeared in their Office software.

Give your users faster access to new features and quality improvements.

Is “Faster access” better? In Microsoft’s world both ‘new’ and ‘faster’ changes are unquestioned good, but that’s not true in the Real World of paying customers.

Many Microsoft 365 Administrators have chosen Semi-annual updates specifically to slow down the pace of change.  It gives the IT department more time to prepare for feature changes and possibly block some of those changes via Group Policies. Less frequent changes mean fewer questions from confused staff.

Monthly updates can mean more work for Microsoft 365 administrators because they are put on a treadmill of constantly evaluating each monthly release.  All the time they are making changes to internal support and training or possibly trying to block unwanted changes.

No really – why is Microsoft forcing Monthly updates?

If Microsoft truly listened to their customers (especially Administrators) they’d not be forcing a change to Monthly updates.  Since their stated reasons make no sense, what’s the real reason?

It’s the old story “Follow the money”, in this case Microsoft’s costs of development and support.

Having two update channels (monthly and half-yearly) is expensive for Microsoft to maintain.  If they can get their customers onto a single monthly update track that would be a considerable cost saving to Microsoft while continuing to charge customers the same prices.

Monthly updated Office 365 is only supported for two months while Semi-annual is supported for 14 months. 

That means for each Semi-annual release, Microsoft has to develop, test and release bug fixes every month for just over a year.  If the company could kill off the half-yearly updates, they’d save a lot of development and testing costs. 

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