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Microsoft rolls out stealthy updates for 365 Apps

Good thing Redmond has a brilliant track record with patches

Microsoft says it has tweaked the way 365 Apps update themselves, by seamlessly and automatically applying changes while PCs are locked or idle so as to not disturb users.

Depending on one's set up, software updates on Windows can get held up if computers are locked or left idle, which in turn makes it harder to keep corporate networks secure and in compliance with government regulations. At the same time, the constant drumbeat of dialog boxes about updating devices can be annoying to users and disrupt their work.

Microsoft says it now has a fix for these problems. It is rolling out an optimization that will automatically apply an update to Microsoft 365 Apps while the system is locked or in idle mode, even if apps are running.

Dubbed "update under lock," the feature is built on Microsoft's Click-to-Run technology.

The update under lock function ensures compliance within required timeframes while saving end users from disruption, according to Microsoft Product Manager Julie Lieberman. It also reduces the need to abruptly force updates and makes updates more reliable by saving the app's state before closing.

If Office apps are running at the time of the update, the feature will shut them down when it's safe to do so without losing data, apply the necessary update, and then restore the closed apps to their previous state. It's a process that Lieberman said takes about four seconds.

"A common scenario is for users to leave apps open on their device for extended periods of time," she wrote in an advisory. "For example, if a user is working on a Word document at the end of the day, they may leave the document open and lock the device intending to continue working on it the next day."

When documents are left open this way, Office typically can't apply updates. However, with update under lock, "the user will come back to a machine in its previous state, but they will be running the latest bits," Lieberman wrote.

That said, the feature won't shut down the apps if it's unsafe to do so, such as when macros are running or there are unsaved changes. If that happens, the apps are not shut down and the updates will be applied as normal.

And as for controlling this behavior, Lieberman stated:

There are no admin controls for this feature. Microsoft is always optimizing your updates experience, and this thoroughly tested feature lives under the hood to make your life easier.

Update under lock will kick in on Windows devices with a Microsoft 365 subscription, Visio, or Project, though not for Teams, which has its own update process. It also will arrive for Windows PCs with retail consumer and perpetual licenses for Office 2016, 2019, and 2021.

For all devices, see the above advisory for exact version numbers and release channels that will start to pick up the changes. ®

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