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Should You Upgrade to Office 2021 LTSC or Microsoft 365 Apps?

Michael Reinders

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Microsoft 365 Apps

With earlier versions of Microsoft Office reaching end-of-support milestones throughout 2023, IT Pros need to offer their managers recommendations on how to proceed – Upgrade to Office 2021 LTSC or migrate to the subscription model, Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise? Read this article to find out.

We all know that Microsoft has steadily increased the rate at which they release ‘new’ anything into the business technology world. The speed at which they iterate features (and fixes) in Microsoft Teams is staggering. The monthly blog posts that Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft 365, publishes highlighting and showcasing new features across the myriad of Microsoft 365 apps and services might put Steven Sinofsky to shame.

However, as Microsoft’s engineers continue to innovate at this pace, they need to track all the endpoints and client machines that connect to these services. To be a global leader in this realm of innovation, you need to ask your customers to stay up-to-date with their software packages, namely Microsoft Office.

Why you should plan to upgrade to Office 2021 LTSC or Microsoft 365 Apps?

Regarding Microsoft Office, there are two critical end-of-support measures occurring in 2023 – these will certainly play a part in your company’s discussions about your current Office licensing infrastructure, and when you may need to make some changes – notably upgrading Office versions or migrating ‘to the cloud.’

Office 2013 will reach the end of Extended Support on April 11, 2023

If you are running the Office 2013 suite of applications on any of your computers, you will need to upgrade or migrate in 2023. After April 11, 2023, Office 2013 will be completely unsupported. You will not be able to get any technical support from Microsoft, and the applications themselves will start to encounter issues.

As of this writing, connecting Outlook 2013 to your Exchange Online mailbox is an unsupported scenario. If one of your users can’t get their Outlook Calendar module to see a shared calendar that they have access to, you are on your own!

Bottom line: As early as possible, and for sure by mid-April 2023, you will need to upgrade your Office 2013 to a newer version of the perpetual version of Office (2021) or migrate your users to the subscription model – Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise.

Connecting Office 2016 and Office 2019 to Microsoft 365 will reach end of support in October 2023

All right, so this one surprised me a little. Office 2016 and Office 2019 will be unsupported when connecting to Microsoft 365 apps and services as of Patch Tuesday, October 2023. That is coming up faster than you may think.

However, Microsoft explained on a support page that these older versions of Office will still be able to connect to Microsoft 365, though users may start experiencing issues over time:

In practical terms, what this means is that these older Office versions might not be able to use all the latest functionality and features of Microsoft 365 services. In addition, over time, these older versions might encounter other unexpected performance or reliability issues while using Microsoft 365 services. That’s because as we make improvements to Microsoft 365 services, we’re not taking into account or testing with these older Office versions.

Installing Office 2016...
Installing Office 2016…

The two Office tracks

Let me explain a bit about the two Office tracks. Office 2013, 2016, 2019, and 2021 LTSC are the versions of Office referred to as the perpetual versions. Up until a few years ago, you installed these versions of Office using the traditional MSI installer package software. They are licensed per user and allow you to install the suite of Office apps on one computer indefinitely (which of course really means when Microsoft stops supporting them!).

Once you install these versions, you do not receive new features, only security fixes, and code fixes. The only way to get new features is to upgrade the version you’re running – from say Office 2013 to Office 2016. Because these versions of Office don’t receive code updates offering new features, Microsoft is unable to offer these applications access to new features in the cloud.

The Microsoft 365 apps (for enterprise) is the subscription-based track of software. This version perpetually receives new features based on what channel you’re configured for. You can get new features twice a year (Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel), or get them as Microsoft’s engineers release them (Current Channel).

In terms of essentially never having to worry about being supported, this is your choice. Again, as of this writing, when your users use the Microsoft 365 apps model, they will always be supported, especially when using them to connect to Microsoft 365 cloud apps and services. This is the biggest ‘pro’ with this option.

Microsoft 365 Apps
Microsoft 365 Apps

Should you upgrade to Office 2021 LTSC or migrate to Microsoft 365 Apps?

This is the biggest question you will need to process in 2023 in relation to your Microsoft Office usage and plans for the future. Let me go through the most common scenarios you as IT pros will be in, and I’ll offer my recommendations on how to evaluate your options: I’m sure you’d like to know which scenario works best from the cost-benefit analysis, and which one will be easiest on your cloud engineers and desktop support engineers!

What if your company is using Office 2013?

If you’re in this boat, you are under the most pressure to make a choice and move into the future with confidence. You will need to either upgrade to a newer perpetual version of Office or migrate to Microsoft 365 Apps. If you are going to stay on this track, I would recommend (as I know Microsoft would) you upgrade these users to Office 2021 LTSC. This version of Office will go out of support on October 13th, 2026.

I say this because if you upgrade to Office 2016 or Office 2019, you will start running into issues next October when Microsoft drops support of those versions connecting to Microsoft 365. This gives you the most time in between needing to make these types of decisions.

Again, the other option is spending money on subscription-based Microsoft 365 apps. This will solve your issue with support, but it’s more expensive. Plus, I would make a bet that there are reasons you’re still running Office 2013. It just works, right? Well, sure, but not for long.

What if your company is using Office 2016 and/or Office 2019?

As you are running a more recent version of perpetual Office, you have several more months before you need to make a decision. Starting next October, these versions will be unsupported connecting to Microsoft’s cloud services. The main recommendation is essentially the same as above (Office 2013) – upgrade to Office 2021 LTSC or migrate to Microsoft 365 Apps. You can read my thoughts above as they are essentially the same.

Microsoft Office Professional 2021
Microsoft Office Professional 2021

One note I can include here is the extended support expiration dates for these two suites. Interestingly, they will both go out of support on October 14, 2025, which coincides with the last day of support for Windows 10… I know!

How to make your decision?

With all the facts presented here, what criteria should you use to decide how to proceed in 2023? Here are the main items.

  • Cost
  • Ease of Administration / Longevity of solution

Regarding cost, there will likely be a cost increase in migrating from the perpetual version of Office to the subscription product. This, of course, is what Microsoft is recommending to its customers as it guarantees the company perpetual revenue. However, in their defense, they would tout the fact that this choice provides unending support and the latest new features, which is true. No versions to worry about!

The ease of administration/longevity of the solution is generally easier with the Microsoft 365 apps. Users have the option of installing the software right from office.com. And, in a more structured method, you can use Microsoft Endpoint Manager (SCCM) to handle the rollouts of the software. If you need to take the perpetual route and want to install Office 2021 LTSC, you can use the Office Customization Tool, which can be found at this link.

Conclusion

You do have two relatively divergent choices with regard to Office in your enterprise. Stay on the perpetual, lower-cost traditional ‘a major version every two to three years’ Office LTSC, or choose the Microsoft 365 Apps subscription model. If your company can afford the operating and license expense of Microsoft 365 Apps, go for it. It will make your admins very happy, your users will be able to rely on scheduled new features, and you will not need to worry about support questions – you’re covered!

Thank you for reading. If you have any specific questions about this topic, please leave a comment below!

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