Over the last year I have had many conversations regarding Office MSI and Office 365—specifically, about their ability to be customized for users. The simple answer used to be that, when using Office MSI, the tried-and-true Office Customization Toolkit (OCT) method was the way to generate custom settings. OCT was easy, granular, and, most importantly, familiar. OCT has been around for as long I can remember.
Then came along Office 365 with a completely new method of performing installations using Click-to-Run. The old customizations we added via OCT were now in XML files. You needed to know the syntax behind them to edit. Facing that challenge, many firms opt to put the minimum in the XML file, basically only setting silent install and the patching channel.
Recently I came across a new tool in Preview from Microsoft called Office Customization Tool for Click-to-Run. My hopes were high that we could finally customize Click-to-Run the same way OCT had allowed us to for so many years. Here are my initial thoughts upon installing the tool.
The tools at this time did not provide the customization I was hoping for. Basically, it is a front GUI that helps create the same XML that is created manually. The tool did not offer anywhere near the same granularity of customization that the OCT offers, missing the mark fundamentally. I hope this tool continues to be developed.
The one task that the tool did help clarify in the XML is the new update channels for Office. This is a win for us all with the way Microsoft’s approach has changed. Note that the current channels definable in the XML are Monthly Channel, Monthly Channel (Targeted), Semi Annual Channel, and Semi Annual Channel (Targeted).
In conclusion, the tool offers minimal customization in comparison to what we would have hoped for, but it’s a start. I wonder if Microsoft’s goal is Out of Box with fewer options to customize, based on the notion that less is more. This seems to be supported by the trend of business applications becoming increasingly intertwined with personal applications. They set equal expectations for users regarding starting Out of Box vs. settings being dictated.
- Office Customization Tool for Click-to-Run is “an Azure-based cloud service that can create and update XML configuration files that are used with the Office Deployment Tool.”
- Users can select interfaces for software and language, installation and update, and licensing and display to build their configuration files.
- IT pros still must deploy these configuration files for the changes to take effect, and that’s done using the Office Deployment Tool. This is a two-step process. The new tool may help you avoid typing mistakes in the configuration.xml files.