Click-to-Run and MSI provide Office 2013 installation options

The Microsoft Installer has competition for Office 2013 installation. See how Office Click-to-Run allows Office 2013 to run without a full download.

Office 2013 has been out for several months now, and it is probably time to think about how you might go about deploying the latest version of Microsoft's software suite to all of your desktops. But there is a significant change in how to install Office 2013 -- it's called Office Click-to-Run.

What is Click-to-Run?

The Click-to-Run technology was designed to allow Office 2013 to run on machines without having to fully install itself first. You may have already seen this in action if you have an Office 365 subscription that includes a license for the Office suite.

When you begin a Microsoft Office 2013 installation, you will notice a brief period (on most machines, this is about a minute, perhaps less if you have fast hardware and a nice pipe to the Internet) where the application is "streamed" to the machine. Click-to-Run is downloading the most frequently used portions of the app to the local machine.

After this initial streaming is finished, the application loads, but the remainder of the program continues to be streamed to the machine in the background. This is why the Office deployment wizard wants you to stay online while it finishes up in the background. Once the application has been fully streamed, it is safe to disconnect.

Once Click-to-Run completes the Office 2013 installation, the entire suite runs inside Microsoft's App-V technology, meaning the whole application is virtualized inside its own container and does not have direct access to the rest of the system. This is why both Office 2010 and Office 2013 can run side by side on the same machine, a feat that has not been possible with previous releases of Office.

Patching is easier because updates are done behind the scenes over time. Microsoft handles all of the updating itself on the "master" copy of the suite, and anyone using Office Click-to-Run automatically gets those streamed updates.

Of course, you are trading the headache of update installation for a loss of control, since the Click-to-Run versions cannot be updated with Windows Update, Windows Server Update Services or any other user-controlled automated patching system. You cannot choose which updates to install or when to install them, because Microsoft manages it all.

What about Microsoft Installer?

Administrators who use Group Policy or other tools like System Center to deploy Office on their fleets of desktops and laptops have long preferred Microsoft Installer, or MSI, files because of the ability to customize the resulting installation.

More on Microsoft Office 2013 installation and features

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You can customize things such as where shortcuts are put, in which drive the suite gets installed and what appears in some window title bars. You can also determine whether deployments are done on first use or immediately through policy.

In particular, Microsoft Installer allows you to customize which apps get deployed during an Office 2013 installation. This is useful if you do not want to deploy little-used members of the suite, like OneNote or InfoPath, and have to deal with patching those applications and the increased attack surface they present.

With Office Click-to-Run, this ability to pick Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook but not OneNote or SharePoint Designer, for example, is not possible. Also note that Click-to-Run installs of Microsoft Office 2013 are not supported in Terminal Server or Remote Desktop Services environments; only the MSI-based installers are supported.

And here is where we get to the problem: Unless you have a current volume license for Microsoft Office 2013 -- not any other subscription-based version, and certainly not the consumer or small and medium-sized business edition -- you cannot get an MSI-based installer for Office 2013. Your only option is the Click-to-Run deployment.

In addition, the E3 and E4 options under the Office 365 Enterprise subscription plans include only the Click-to-Run installers. It is unfortunate that Microsoft has restricted the MSI installer so much, but IT administrators must live with its decision. We can send feedback to Microsoft about how this decision affects us through channels like TechNet or social media such as Twitter.

Your best bet if Click-to-Run is your only option? Get to know the Office Deployment Tool, which will allow you to customize the Office 2013 installation as much as possible.

This was first published in September 2013

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