I've been confused about this because of ambiguous language since Microsoft Office 365 launched. I remember spending an hour or so trying to figure out a definitive answer at launch time. I've spent about 15 minutes doing the same now, and I just want to get this sorted now, once and for all.

I remember when Office365 originally launched, Microsoft was saying that they would not be providing "updates" for customers who decided to purchase the normal, old-school, "perpetual" licenses (retail copies or otherwise). I also remember them saying that if you bought a Product Key card (also a perpetual license) that Microsoft would "remember" the moment that you activated and downloaded a copy of Office using the Product Key, and would always save a "snapshot" (presumably of that build) of Office, and that you would never be able to update that either.

What has never been clear to me is what they meant by "update".

As I see it, there are four (or five) categories of "updates."

  1. Security fixes

    No new functionality: these were usually small patches and hot fixes

  2. Bug fixes

    Restoring original functionality that doesn't work as promised or intended: theses were usually small patches and hot fixes

  3. Minor feature updates

    New functionality within the same major version: these were larger patches

  4. Major feature updates

    These usually corresponded to service packs (Windows X, SPx), or new physical releases (Windows 8.1, Windows Server X R2)

  5. New major versions

    These usually included new major functionality as well as a new look and interface and corresponded to major new releases (Windows 7 to 8 to 10)

So it is clear to me that if I have a valid Office 365 subscription, I get all of the above. What is not clear to me is which, if any, of the above kinds of updates does a perpetual (physical or digital) license entitle me to?

Microsoft seemed to be implying to me that I wouldn't get any of the above, which seems ridiculous. At the very least, I should be entitled to (1.) security fixes and (2.) bug fixes with any license I buy. I could also reasonably see another line drawn somewhere between (3.) minor feature updates and (4.) major feature updates. I would never expect to get a (5.) major new version - that has always required a new license.

Does any one have a definitive answer to this?


Although all Microsoft products are supported within the company's Product Lifecycle Policy, the exact level of support varies depending on which type of Office you use. Large companies may have a separate support agreement, which can change things a bit, but we'll focus on consumer support here.

Lifecycle policies, briefly explained

Modern Lifecycle Policy (Office 365)

Office 365 is covered by the Modern Lifecycle Policy, which can be summed up as follows:

  • Support lasts until you stop paying, as long as you keep the software reasonably up to date.
  • Microsoft will give you one month (30 days) of notice for major, breaking, updates which you must apply to keep using your subscription

Fixed Lifecycle Policy (Perpetual releases)

Perpetual, year-numbered releases of Office are covered by the standard Fixed Lifecycle Policy. The Fixed Lifecycle Policy may be summed up as follows:

  • Support lasts ten years from the product's initial release date
  • Mainstream support (free help from Microsoft) lasts at least the first five years
  • Extended support covers the last five years, and is paid per-incident
  • Service Packs, if released, extend Mainstream support by one year

How lifecycles affect upgrades

According to Microsoft, the differences between lifecycles, in terms of upgrades anyway, are as follows for each type of upgrade:

  1. Security patches:

    • Fixed: Five years of patches, unless something really bad happens to affect the product. Really bad stuff is patched per-incident for free. (See: Updates to Windows XP patched ransomware vulnerability). Service packs extend this by one year.
    • Modern: Patches for as long as your subscription lasts, usually released monthly.
  2. Bug fixes:

    • Fixed: Five years of fixes. Service packs extend this by one year.
    • Modern: Fixes for as long as your subscription lasts, usually released monthly.
  3. Minor feature updates:

  4. Major feature updates:

    • Fixed: None, these are bundled for the next major version.
    • Modern: Not included in all update rollouts, but you should receive these whenever one is released, usually twice per year.
  5. New major versions:

    • Fixed: None, these are entirely separate.
    • Modern: Delivered alongside or slightly sooner than the Fixed release, assuming you maintain your subscription.
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  • 1
    I appreciate the detailed reply, and it seems a reasonable implementation of update policy by Microsoft. I can't find the original sources I read back when Office 365 was first released, but I swear Microsoft used very scary language - something along the lines of them creating a snapshot of the Microsoft Office package at the date that you activate your keycard online, which you could always re-download later, but then never being eligible for any updates after that point. That always seemed very unfair to me, but I also assumed they were just really pushing people hard towards Office 365. – Daniel Sep 9 '18 at 12:52
  • @Daniel [Microsoft referenced a] snapshot, which you could always re-download later, but then never being eligible for any updates after that point. [...] There was a lot of information and misinformation circulating prior to and just after the launch of Office 365 -- I wouldn't be too surprised if some tech site misquoted an overeager Microsoft PR drone. – Andrew Sep 9 '18 at 19:47

At the moment security and bug fixes for perpetual installation are distributed regularly via WSUS. This is the case for versions of Office prior to 2016.

Although feature updates are at the discretion of Microsoft, security and bug fixes will be provided as long as the version of Office is supported.

More information about the update life cycle for Office 2016 can be found on Microsoft's support site: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/lifecycle/search?alpha=Microsoft%20Office%20Professional%20Plus%202016

I hope I have not misunderstood your question.

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  • You said "prior to 2016". So what about 2016 (and even 2019)? – Daniel Sep 9 '18 at 11:48
  • by take example of 2016 Lifecycle start at 9/22/2015 Mainstram support will end 10/13/2020 (should be confirmed, I'll do research on it tomorrow from work) at this point the features updates should be stopped, and until the end of the extended support date 10/14/2025 security and bug fixes will still released. – AtomiX84 Sep 9 '18 at 12:06

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