Best practices from the field: Build dynamic, lean, and universal packages for Microsoft 365 Apps
This article was written by Microsoft experts in the field who work with enterprise customers to deploy Office.
As an admin, you might plan to deploy Microsoft 365 Apps in your organization. Such a deployment is often more than just pushing the basic Microsoft 365 Apps to devices. Users might need additional components, e.g. language packs, proofing tools or additional products like Visio or Project. We often refer to these scenarios as 2nd installs, while the initial installation of Microsoft 365 Apps is often called 1st install. For 1st install scenarios, have a look at the install options as well as the best way to right-size your deployment.
This article shows you how can greatly reduce long-term maintenance costs and improve user satisfaction by implementing 2nd installs with dynamic, lean, and universal packages for Microsoft 365 Apps.
Historically, the task of supporting 2nd install scenarios was solved by creating a dedicated installation package for each. Usually, an admin would combine the necessary source files (of ~3 gigabytes) with a copy of the Office Deployment Tool (ODT) and a configuration file tailored for the scenario.
But, especially in larger organizations, you often don't have a single configuration set of Microsoft 365 Apps. You might have a mix of update channels, e.g. the majority is on Monthly Enterprise Channel and a small number of special-purpose devices is on Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel. Maybe you're currently transitioning from 32-bit to 64-bit, and you'll have to support both architectures for some time.
If you build a dedicated, e.g. Language Pack deployment for each channel and architecture in above example, you would end up with four packages: Monthly Enterprise Channel x86, Monthly Enterprise Channel x64, Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel x86, Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel x64. This is not a sustainable approach and has the following disadvantages:
- High maintenance costs due
- High number of packages to create and maintain.
- Embedded source files get outdated over time and need servicing.
- High bandwidth consumption during deployment, as the full 3 GB package is synchronized to the device before the actual installation starts.
- Bad user experience
- Users have to understand their current configuration and pick the matching package from the software portal.
- Long deployment time as full source files are synchronized first.
- If embedded source files are outdated, the installation will downgrade the full installation, before the update cycle kicks in and updates all apps again.
So, how do you build packages that are less costly to maintain over time and are more user friendly?
The solution: Dynamic, lean, and universal packages
You can resolve these issues by implementing self-adjusting, small, and universal packages. Let's cover the basic concepts before we dive into sample scenarios.
Build dynamic packages where you don’t hard-code anything. Use features of the Office Deployment Tool (ODT) to enable the packages to self-adjust to the requirements:
- Use Version=MatchInstalled to prevent unexpected updates and stay in control of the version installed on a client. No hard coding of a build number, which gets outdated quickly.
- Use Language=MatchInstalled to instruct e.g. Visio or Project to install with the same set of languages as Office is already using. No need to list them or build a script that injects the required languages.
Build lean packages by removing the source files from the packages. This has multiple benefits:
- Package size is much smaller, from 3 GB down to less than 10 megabytes for the ODT and its configuration file.
- Instead of pushing a 3-GB install package to clients, you let clients pull what they need on demand from Office Content Delivery Network (CDN), which saves bandwidth.
- When you add Project to an existing Microsoft 365 Apps installation, you need to download less than 50 megabytes, as Office shared components are already installed.
- Visio installs are typically 100-200 megabytes, based on the number of languages, as the templates/stencils are a substantial part of the download.
- Installing proofing tools is typically 30-50 megabytes, versus a full language pack, which is 200-300 megabytes.
- A second install scenario is often less frequent, which lowers the internet traffic burden, ultimately reducing the impact.
- You don’t have to update the source files every time Microsoft releases new features or security and quality fixes.
Build universal packages by not hard coding things like the architecture or update channel. ODT will dynamically match the existing install, so your packages work across all update channels and architectures. Instead of having four packages to install Visio, for example, you'll have a single, universal package that will work across all permutations of update channels and architectures.
- Leaving out OfficeClientEdition makes your package universal for mixed x86/x64 environments.
- Leaving out Channel makes your package universal across update channels.
How to build and benefit from building dynamic, lean, and universal packages
The idea is to not hardcode anything in the configuration file, but to instead utilize the cleverness of the Office Deployment Tool as much as possible.
Let’s have a look at a "classic" package that was built to add Project to an existing install of Microsoft 365 Apps. We have the source files (of ~3 gigabytes) and a configuration file, which explicitly states what we want to achieve:
<Configuration> <Add OfficeClientEdition="64" Channel="MonthlyEnterprise"> <Product ID="ProjectProRetail"> <Language ID="en-us" /> </Product> </Add> <Display Level="None" /> </Configuration>
When we apply the concepts of dynamic, lean, and universal packages, the result would look like this:
<Configuration> <Add Version="MatchInstalled"> <Product ID="ProjectProRetail"> <Language ID="MatchInstalled" TargetProduct="O365ProPlusRetail" /> </Product> </Add> <Display Level="None" /> </Configuration>
So what have we changed, and what are the benefits?
- We removed the OfficeClientEdition-attribute, as the ODT will automatically match the installed version.
- Benefit: The configuration file now works for both x86 and x64 scenarios.
- We removed the channel for the same reason. ODT will automatically match the already-assigned update channel.
- Benefit I: The package works for all update channels (Current Channel, Monthly Enterprise Channel, Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel, and others).
- Benefit II: It also works for update channels you don’t offer as central IT. Some users are running Current Channel, some are on Insider builds? Don’t worry, it just works.
- We added Version="MatchInstalled", which ensures that ODT will install the same version that's already installed.
- Benefit: You're in control of versions deployed, with no unexpected updates.
- We added Language ID="MatchInstalled" and TargetProduct to match the currently installed languages, replacing a hard-coded list of languages to install.
- Benefit I: The user will have the same languages for Project as were already installed for Office.
- Benefit II: No need to re-request language pack installs.
- Benefit III: Also works for rarely used languages that you as the central IT admin don’t offer, which makes users happy.
- We removed the source files. The ODT will fetch the correct set of source files from the Office CDN just in time.
- Benefit I: The package never gets outdated. No maintenance of source files is needed.
- Benefit II: The download is about 50 megabytes instead of about 3 GB.
Another example: Add language packs and proofing tools the dynamic, lean, and universal way
Let’s have a brief look at other scenarios as well, like adding language packs and proofing tools. The classic configuration file to install the German Language Pack might look like this:
<Configuration> <Add OfficeClientEdition="64" Channel="MonthlyEnterprise"> <Product ID="LanguagePack"> <Language ID="de-de" /> </Product> </Add> <Display Level="None" /> </Configuration>
Again, this configuraiton file would only work for one specific scenario (update channel is set to Monthly Enterprise Channel, 64-bit is installed). Other scenarios would need to be covered by additional files and packages, which drives up the complexity and cost of ownership. Fix this by just going the dynamic, lean, and universal way:
<Configuration> <Add Version="MatchInstalled"> <Product ID="LanguagePack"> <Language ID="de-de" /> </Product> </Add> <Display Level="None" /> </Configuration>
This single configuration file will work across x86/x64 and all update channels, such as Current Channel, Monthly Enterprise Channel, Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel, and others. So, if you want to offer five additional languages in your environment, just build five of these "config file + ODT" packages. For proofing tools, you just change the ProductID to "ProofingTools".
Build your own configuration
The above concept is universally applicable to all Click-To-Run-based installations and products, as long as the ODT is used. You can change the specified Product ID to your scenario. Please check out the list of supported Product IDs for more information.
Here are some prerequisites you must meet to make this concept work in your environment and some notes:
- Use Office Deployment Tool 16.0.11615.33602 or later to enable Version="MatchInstalled" to work.
- The ODT must be able to locate the matching source files on the Office CDN.
- Make sure that the context you're using for running the install can traverse the proxy. For details, see Office 365 ProPlus Deployment and Proxy Server Guidance.
- Make sure that the account (user or system) that's used to install the apps can connect to the internet.
- The tailored configuration files shown above are good for installing the products (with the /configure switch), but do not work with the /download switch. This is expected, as the ODT is missing some details to perform a download (like architecture). For the above concept, there is no need to download the files beforehand.
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