Should you use the Mac App Store to deploy Office?

Should you use the Mac App Store to deploy Office?

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Microsoft’s Office 365 suite is now available in the Mac App Store. Can it make managing Office easier?

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Microsoft’s macOS version of Office has had a new lease of life over the last couple of years. It’s now built on the same codebase as its Windows sibling, with the same features and a user experience that mixes the latest version of the Office ribbon with familiar macOS tools. It’s even got the new Office app icons, and supports the macOS Mojave dark theme.

With support for OneDrive’s files-on-demand now available on macOS, with integration into the Finder, it’s easier to make a Mac a part of a Microsoft 365-based infrastructure. As part of improved support for managing Macs as part of a corporate fleet through Intune, you can use standard Apple features to enroll devices in Intune, working with Mac-specific MDM-based management tools to apply policies and deploy apps.

However, while you can use Intune to deploy tools like Office to Macs, you’re limited to using Microsoft’s own deployment tooling via the Intune company portal. In many cases you don’t want this level of control over user devices, especially if you’re managing a bring-your-own-device policy. Microsoft requires apps to be repackaged via its own tooling (available on GitHub) before it can be delivered through Intune.

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Image: Simon Bisson/TechRepublic

Office in the Store

Microsoft recently made Office available through the Mac App Store for Office 365 account holders. You can download individual Office apps, or the complete suite of Mac Office: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote and OneDrive. As it’s a one-click download, installation is easy enough, the apps installing into the Applications folder with icons in Launchpad. Not all the Office apps are available through the Mac App Store: you’ll need to install Teams separately.

Once downloaded, users need to log into an Office 365 account before they can use the apps, either using a personal or a work subscription. With work subscriptions, either through Office 365 or Microsoft 365, you can start to use Azure Active Directory to manage access to apps and data; and if you’re using OneDrive to store Office files, you can use the same tools to manage user access to corporate cloud storage.

SEE: Cloud Computing Policy (Tech Pro Research)

The Mac App Store version of Office will be updated automatically, on a monthly cadence much like that used by the Windows releases. Apple’s content caching tools can reduce bandwidth demands when updating a large fleet of Macs, similar to using the peer-to-peer updating tools used by Windows. Not all machines need to be set up as content cache hosts, and you may prefer to have a system in your IT department set up to act purely as a content cache for any macOS or iOS enterprise apps you’re using.

If you have a perpetual licence for either Office 2016 or Office 2019, you can’t use it with the Mac App Store versions of Office. They’re intended for Office 365 only, and if you try to activate them with an existing volume licence code they’ll revert to what Microsoft calls a “reduced functionality mode”, where they operate as document viewers and can’t be used to create new documents or modify existing files. To get full value for a perpetual licence you’ll need to download Office directly from Microsoft.

Automating Office installs

While Intune doesn’t manage applications deployed through the Mac App Store, it’s not the only Mac management solution. One option is to use a tool like Jamf Pro alongside Apple’s Business Manager tooling to automatically deploy Store apps to new devices as they’re enrolled. Similar tooling, in the shape of the Apple School Manager, also supports educational deployments.

Microsoft supports using Jamf’s management tooling alongside Intune, as part of a Microsoft 365 environment. There’s no need to change any policies, as the Store and direct download versions of Office have the same sets of preferences. Microsoft does recommend setting one specific policy though, setting OfficeAutoSignIn to TRUE to ensure that users aren’t confused by the default Office 365 new subscription dialog, which asks them if they want to buy a new subscription the first time it’s run.

SEE: Windows 10 power tips: Secret shortcuts to your favorite settings (Tech Pro Research)

It’s important to note that deploying via Apple’s tooling means you have to deploy the Office apps individually; you can’t use the one-click Store deployment available to consumers or to employees installing the apps themselves. That does increase the size of the download significantly, from just under 2GB to around 4GB.

If you’re switching an existing installation to use the App Store, then you’ll need to remove any existing Office apps first, deleting entries from the keychain and removing any package registrations before installing the store releases. This isn’t easily automated, and you may need to write an appropriate set of scripts for use with a tool like Jamf.

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Image: Simon Bisson/TechRepublic

Sorry, no Insiders

There’s one downside to using the Mac App Store to install Office: it doesn’t support Office Insider builds. If you want to stay on top of preview releases you’ll need to download Microsoft’s own Office installer and choose to receive Insider builds. In practice this isn’t an issue; most of your users will be using the standard release so you only need to manage installs for your test group of users.

There’s a lot to like about changing how Office is delivered, especially when you can hand over application updates to Apple. You’ll carry on managing application access through the Office or Microsoft 365 portals, so there’s no new skills to learn. All you need to do is either give users an install link, or automate everything with Apple’s own tools and a Mac system management platform.

So should you use the Mac App Store to deploy Office? It’s certainly an easy way of getting the apps onto user PCs, and will ensure they’re always up to date using the Store’s built-in update tools. It’s an approach that works well for both small offices and for larger organisations.

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