Microsoft Office 365 Home Slimmed Out (with less updates)

I mentioned I went back to mostly using Microsoft stuff on the desktop. It works but I’ve had some big problems that should have simple solutions. Unfortunately nobody wrote about this anywhere else on the web and as is often the case, there’s no easy answers. Let me explain:

What’s Microsoft Office 365 Home About? #

Years back Microsoft used to ship boxed editions of Office. You paid once, got a license (or 3) and that was that. Microsoft Update, which was built into WIndows, was supposed to cover security updates. A few years back they switched to an annual subscription model, which wouldn’t be a great deal except they include a terabyte of OneDrive storage per user, and each user gets to install Office on as many systems as they want. For around $100 (or less in school) for 5 users it’s a solid deal.

What’s wrong with it? (why I’m writing this post) #

So, subscription software kind of sucks as it lures you into paying money constantly. That’s not the complaint I hear and experience (because it’s a silent problem until the company decides to drive their quality into the ground or turn up the cost). No the problem here is that, by default, Office updates monthly and installs apps most people will never use with no option to remove them. I had clients who clung to Office 2003 until just a few years ago. Almost a solid 15 years with those versions and the main issues come down to security risks, Outlook 2003 not supporting modern mail servers, and issues with syncing files (for Onedrive users). If you took those issues out, it mostly worked fine. 15 or so years vs 30 or so days between updates.

Trying to solve the above problems #

I have not had universal success with the below, but if you want to try, let me know how it goes. You can always uninstall and use the regular installer to get this back to normal. Your settings should be retained.

Larger businesses have an IT department that handles deployment of employee accounts and manages the installation of Office using volume license keys. Microsoft provides much better options for this class of user because businesses don’t tolerate systems having downtime because Microsoft wants to install an update on a whim.

The tool used for Office deployments is the Office Deployment Toolkit. Reading over Microsoft’s documentation, they do support the Home & Office Retail editions of Office 365 with it, they just don’t document much about it for this use case. I even went out of my way to frequent a few sysadmin channels and ask about using it for a home install, nobody tried it.

Getting the ODT tool to work #

The Overview of ODT page talks mostly of ProfessionalPlus, which isn’t what I’m usually working with. You need to dig down to their Product ID Page. Notice on here that:

The following Office 365 product IDs are supported by the Office Deployment Tool in Office 365 deployments:

    O365ProPlusRetail
    O365BusinessRetail
    VisioProRetail
    ProjectProRetail
    AccessRuntimeRetail
    LanguagePack

Yeah no, none of those are things we’re using. Look down the page a bit more:

In addition to these product IDs, the following non-Office 365 product IDs are supported by this tool:

etc
etc
etc
O365HomePremRetail
etc
etc
etc

I’m no expert, but that one product ID sure looks like an Office 365 product ID for the Home edition. It looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, but Microsoft doesn’t consider it a duck. Oh well, whatever the tool is supposed to support it.

With the above in mind, grab the ODT from the Overview page above, it’s going to be a small zip file with some xml files and a setup.exe. Don’t run the exe. You want to work with the x64 XML unless you have an old system with no ram. If you are coming from a 32-bit version to a 64-bit version you may want to investigate using MigrateArch.

This last step will ensure that Office 365 is set on the semi-annual channel. You could stop here and follow along on next steps, but there’s more to be done with this file.

Cutting the crap #

Office 365 comes with a lot of things many people don’t use. I don’t use Outlook, I use Onenote but not the old ass 2016 version Office includes on top of my system version, and I’ve never once used Access. With ODT’s XML file and the ExcludeApp options we can configure it not to install these things. The full list of programs is found on the Configuration Options Page.

My File #

You can use what I have as a reference. It works for my laptop to install only Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.

<Configuration>

  <Add OfficeClientEdition="64" Channel="Broad">
    <Product ID="O365HomePremRetail">
      <ExcludeApp ID="Access" />
      <ExcludeApp ID="Groove" />
      <ExcludeApp ID="Lync" />
      <ExcludeApp ID="OneNote" />
      <ExcludeApp ID="Outlook" />
      <ExcludeApp ID="Publisher" />
      <ExcludeApp ID="Teams" />
      <Language ID="en-us" />
    </Product>
  </Add>

  <Updates Enabled="TRUE" Channel="Broad" />

  <Display Level="None" AcceptEULA="TRUE" />

  <Property Name="AUTOACTIVATE" Value="1" />

</Configuration>

Once you have your file configured we can now install Office:

Problems to look for #

For new systems the above seems to work fine. For systems that had a previously installed Office, I’ve seen problems.

Final Thoughts #

Office is a big piece of complicated software. Microsoft doesn’t recommend the above method because it obviously lacks substantial testing. I’m unhappy that they don’t provide a update preference and application selection step in their retail installer, there’s literally no good reason they can’t do this.

 
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