Editor’s note: Paul Barr is Lead Program Manager for Click to Run, and joins Office Next to discuss this important technology. Earlier in the blog we’d outlined some aspects of Click to Run and Office on demand, today we’ll expand on the topic in depth.
If you’ve downloaded the new Office Customer Preview, then you probably noticed that your installation experience is quite a bit different than in any previous version of Office. These changes aren’t just cosmetic, they’re part of our strategy to bring the rich Office applications that you know and love into the future as an integrated part of our Software + Services offering. In this post I want to talk about why we think it’s important to invest in client delivery, what we did, how we did it, and what it means to you in your everyday interactions with the new Office.
Changing software landscape
User expectations for software have changed dramatically over the last 5 years. The emergence of rich web-based applications and services, as well as new application models on modern devices have caused a shift in how users expect to interact with their software. Getting a new app on your phone is a fast and painless experience, and so is accessing rich web applications from your internet browser.
We believe that Office applications that are built to take advantage of the unique capabilities of your chosen hardware have tremendous value (whether that’s a desktop PC, a notebook computer, a tablet, or a mobile device). Our goal with Click-to-Run in the new Office is to make finding, installing, and using the Office applications as fast, easy, and secure as possible.
A brief history of Office installation
Office has come a long way from its start in the early 90’s. During that time we’ve seen evolutions in both media and installation technologies. It used to be enough for Office to ship on a couple of floppy disks and copy some binaries to the file system. But as content became richer, applications more powerful, and integration with other software key to users’ productivity, Office needed to evolve. And that meant a bigger and more sophisticated installation. From the basic file copy method, we moved to ACME installations that allowed flexibility for automating the installation. After that came Windows Installer in Office 2000, which could handle sophisticated component co-existence and offered better uninstall and repair support. In Office 2007 and 2010 we supported multi-MSI installs with our “Catalyst” install technology to better support multi-
language and multi-product scenarios.
Office 97 was the last version of the Office suite to ship on floppy disks (45 of them!) and we soon moved to CD-ROM. After that it was the DVD. But during this time, the internet was quickly emerging as a primary vehicle for obtaining software, and none of our existing install technologies were proving to be a great experience for users on the internet.
Going to a physical store is quickly becoming a big barrier for getting new software. Not only that, but we don’t think our customers should even have to think about “getting software”. They just want the right tools, for the right device, when they need it to get their tasks done. Click-to-Run and Office on Demand are about making that happen.
In Office 2010 we made investments to improve downloading Office from the internet. While traditional Windows Installer packages remained the primary distribution vehicle, Click-to-Run v1.0 was available for a limited number of consumer SKUs in some markets. This was our first attempt at building a technology that was designed for installing big applications over the internet, and we learned a lot:
- Need for speed: The faster we can get users up and running with the Office applications, the happier they are.
- Fresh is best: Don’t download old software! The first thing you do when you get your shiny new application from the internet should not be to install an update.
- Balance: Office shouldn’t disrupt other software already installed on the machine, but it has to work well with add-ins and other applications.
C2R v1.0 was successful in proving the need for a new installation technology, but there was plenty of room for improvement.
- It could be even faster.
- The technology we were using under the covers was too impactful. It required local file system drivers and created a new virtual partition in the system (the infamous Q: drive), that caused problems for some users.
- A side effect of the virtualization we were using was that run-time performance was slightly impacted. Booting apps (especially for the first time) was a little slower.
- Integration with other software was not as rich as with traditional install technologies in some cases, and compatibility could suffer.
That brings us to…
Our goal with Click-to-Run v2.0 was to make the applications feel like a seamless and integrated part of the new Office service experience. We strove to make installing software a non-event in our customers’ workflows for getting things done. Based on our learning from v1.0 we knew we had to:
- Be fast
- Be integrated: Office applications are a productivity platform, part of their value is that they are rich, integrated, and extensible.
- Be up to date and modern: Gone are the days where you install software and forget about it for the life of your PC. Beyond just making sure your software is secure, we need the ability to evolve the client to support new value coming online with Office services.
- Be agile: There are times when the rich client applications are the only tool for the job, but doing a full installation isn’t always an option. We wanted to give users the mobility of a web application and the richness of installed Office applications.
With these goals in mind, and great support from our App-V partner team at the NERD development center in Cambridge, we set out building Click-to-Run v2.0, which is re-architected from the ground up to deliver on our shared vision.
Click-to-Run v2.0: The experience
Let’s take a look at the Click-to-Run installation experience and talk about what’s happening in each step.
First is the “Provisioning experience”. Provisioning is just a fancy word for any website that you use to start a Click-to-Run installation. In the Office 2013 Customer Preview you are signing up for an Office 365 Home Premium Subscription that allows you to install up to 5 copies of Office on machines you own. In the future there will be several Microsoft and even partner websites that customers will be able to install Click-to-Run Office from. We have built Click-to-Run to be compatible with many different provisioning experiences.
There’s a couple of interesting things going on with this website that are worth calling out. First, you can see the link below the “Install” button for “Language and install options”. This is where you will find additional options like native 64-bit installations and additional languages. Note that 32-bit is always the recommended default for compatibility reasons, even on 64-bit Operating Systems, and it’s important to remember that you can only ever install one or the other of 32 or 64-bit Office products on a single machine. You cannot mix 32 and 64-bit products, even across versions (i.e. Office 2007 and Office 2013). This is true for all Office installations (C2R and MSI), and is due to limitations in how the applications integrate between themselves.
Next, this website is communicating with the Click-to-Run Setup Service and the Office Licensing Service to give you a customized experience that doesn’t require you to copy down a 25-digit license key (remember those?) to get up and running. That all happens seamlessly in the background!
Finally, in future releases, this website will actually start early pre-caching of Office client bits before you even click the “Install” button, resulting in an almost instantaneous start of Office applications depending on your network connection.
Once you select the “Install” link, you’ll be prompted to either “Run”, or “Save” an executable file to start the installation. Your experience may vary by what browser you are running, but here’s IE10:
This file, which we call a “bootstrapper”, is a small executable (~500KB) that is both product and language specific. We recommend that you Run it directly from the browser, but you can also save it locally to your computer and Run it later. Don’t wait too long though because this file contains some specific licensing information that is unique to your account, and we can’t automatically activate your Office product if it expires. Don’t worry too much if that happens, installation will still succeed and you’ll just be prompted to activate later on if that’s the case.
Next you’ll see our Click-to-Run streaming splash screen:
What’s actually happening here is we’re downloading just the parts of Office that we need to run the “First Run Experience” (FRE for short), and the “Hero” application. The Hero application is the first Office application users will run when they install Office. For the Customer Preview, that application is PowerPoint.
Next you’ll see the First Run Experience video and other content:
After you’ve navigated through First Run (hopefully you’ve signed in to Office and selected a personal theme), you’re given the option to take a quick tour of some of the new features in Office 2013. Selecting “Take a look” will start PowerPoint with an interactive presentation.
Whether you take the tour or not, the screen you’ll see next looks like this:
This is where we show the overall download progress for Office. At this point you can use all of your Office applications, but the entire product is not yet downloaded, so don’t go offline! We prioritize the download of Office functionality in the order that we think you’ll need it.
If you try to access something that’s not downloaded yet, you’ll get some UI that looks like this. It will only happen once for that part of Office, and once you’re fully downloaded you’ll never see it again. Depending on the speed of your network connection, you may never see this UI, or you may see it multiple times if you’re on a slow connection and really exercising the apps while they’re still downloading.
When Office is done downloading, we show the “You’re good to go” dialog. This is the sign that Office is fully downloaded and installed, and that it’s safe for you to go offline, just as you would expect.
Up until you see this dialog, there will be some subtle differences in Office that are worth talking about. For instance, not all of the fonts that you get with Office will be available, and some integration functionality like “Print: Send to OneNote” won’t be there yet. This is because fonts are really big, and system integration functionality takes a long time to install, so we put stuff like that at the very end of the installation to get you running faster.
That’s the end of the Click-to-Run experience. It’s faster, smoother, and has better progress than any previous Office release. Early data says that Click-to-Run v2.0 installs actually succeed at a higher rate than Windows Installer packages, and we’re doing everything we can to make it the best installation experience ever.
That’s the end of the first run experience, but it’s not the end of the value of Click-to-Run. Here are some other areas where our new architecture makes your software world a better place:
- Side by side support: Making a change to your productivity tools isn’t always easy. You want the latest version because it unlocks new scenarios you’ve never had access to before, but during the transition, wouldn’t it be great if you could keep your old version around for just a little while? C2R v2.0 lets you do that. By default it installs right alongside with your older Office software, and you can even use two different versions of Outlook for the first time ever.
- Repair: Nobody’s perfect, and sometimes things go wrong. Maybe you installed another piece of software and suddenly your Word documents are opening up in an unfamiliar program. Repair is there for you if that happens. With C2R v2.0 you can just repair your shortcuts and file type registration (“Quick Repair”), or you can do a “Full Repair”, which will basically uninstall and re-install your applications (just as quickly and seamlessly as the first time) without losing any of your settings or documents. Both of these options can be found in the Windows “Programs and Features” area.
- Uninstall: Now uninstall takes seconds instead of minutes, and it leaves your computer in a cleaner state than ever before. You can even de-activate licenses you’re no longer using so you can re-use them on new machines.
- Sustaining: Sustaining is a fancy word for keeping your software up to date, and in today’s computing ecosystem, it’s more important than ever. C2R v2.0 allows us to quietly and automatically keep you as secure as possible. Once you’ve opted in, Office knows to securely check the internet for updates. It downloads them in the background, and the next time you restart all of your applications or computer, you’re running the latest and greatest. In addition to being a great user experience, C2R v2.0 solves three more sustaining problems. First, You never start with old software. Whenever you start a Click-to-Run installation, you’re getting the latest version of the applications. No more download, extract, install, then patch, and patch, and patch… You only ever need one update. In the old world you need to download every individual patch one after the other. And sometimes they wouldn’t install if you didn’t already have the right Service Pack or other updates already installed. With C2R v2.0 you only download one thing, and it always takes you to the latest version of your software. This is possible because we have invented a “differential updating” technology that uses fresh Hash files to move directly from any build to the latest in a single step, so even if you’ve been offline for a long time, getting up to date is fast and easy. There are fewer limitations to the types of changes we can make in an update. This means that if you subscribe to the Office service, we can deliver more application value and features to you over time (even including new versions of Office).
- Click-to-Run for organizations: Finally, C2R v2.0 isn’t just for end-users. We’ve built a host of administrator functionality to help automate deployments in organizations of all sizes. You can read all about it here.
Office on Demand
When we first started working on Click-to-Run years ago, we kicked around a lot of crazy ideas. Stuff I won’t even repeat here for the sake of brevity, but one idea has always stuck in our heads and we’ve kept coming back to it over time. What if you could use all the powerful features of the Office applications without doing an install at all? Wouldn’t that be the ultimate “installation experience”? But what would that mean? Well… What if you could just use the applications on demand? Whatever Windows computer you were on, you could log in to a website, run Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, and when you were done, they’d go away. How could we make that happen?
- You’d have to be really fast. How fast? Under a minute at least. Under 15 seconds preferably.
- You still need to protect your software, so you’d need licensing based on a user’s connected login.
- You’d need a declarative install. The applications would need to be able to execute without being configured for each individual Operating System.
- The applications would have to disappear from the computer when the user was done using them. You couldn’t install shortcuts, register file extensions, install system impactful extension points, etc.
- And most importantly, you’d have to be able to run your application without needing administrative rights on the local computer.
It was always that last one that put this goal out of reach. Office is a large and complex set of applications, and getting them to run on a computer without installing them locally turned out to be a very tough problem indeed. But with a new architecture from our App-V partners, and investments in the applications themselves, we’ve been able to overcome this final hurdle. Using a technology we’re calling “user-mode streaming”, we’ve built Office on Demand.
Office on Demand is a unique feature enabled by the Click-to-Run architecture. It will be available to Office 2013 subscribers, and allows them to run temporary instances of the most popular Office applications on computers where they normally would not be able to install software. Office on Demand versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, Visio, and Project will be available.
Using the Office on Demand applications is easy. Just click on the “My Office” tab of the Office 2013 Customer Preview site. Choosing any of the “Create New” icons on this page will start the individual Office on Demand applications. When you close them, they go away, they do not stay installed on the computer.
Office on Demand will also be integrated in to the Office Web Applications for subscribers. If there are no Office applications installed on the computer, subscribers will be able to “Open in <application>” directly from the Office Web App and run their Office on Demand applications.
I could talk for hours about this new feature, but this post is getting pretty long, so let me just leave you with the following points:
- Office on Demand is a feature for subscribers of Office 2013.
- Only the parts of the application you need are actually downloaded as you need them (not the whole thing). They run locally, and it’s very fast, only seconds depending on connection speed.
- It’s always the latest version of the application.
- Office does leave behind cache files for performance reasons, but the applications cannot be launched from shortcuts on the local computer. To use the applications again, always start from the website.
- You have to be online to use it, and you have to be logged in to Office to validate your rights to use the software.
- That’s it!
Thanks for reading this far. We’re very excited to bring you the next generation of Office applications and services powered by Click-to-Run. We have lots left to do, and we’d love to hear your feedback. If you click on the Smiley Face during installation, then we are reading your comments.
Give the Office on Demand applications a try, and stay tuned to this blog for more information in the future.
Paul C. Barr
Lead Program Manager for Click-to-Run