What Is First Release in
The First Release features in Office 365 allow you to preview and test the latest updates and features of the Office productivity suite before they're released to all Office 365 users. You can turn this on for your entire organization or just a subset of your employees - for example, your IT team or a testing/QA group.
Who can get First Release?
To take advantage of First Release features in Office 365 you are required to have a plan that includes the Office desktop applications. Business Premium, Enterprise E3 and Enterprise E5 are eligible for First Release while Business Essentials and Enterprise E1 are not eligible.
Note that if you have First Release enabled for a user and then switch them back to Standard Release they will likely lose access to the new features that haven't reached Standard Release yet.
We use the First Release versions internally because we're a technical firm and we need experience with the new features before our clients receive them. We do not recommend using this setting for the majority of your end users but it's perfect for your more advanced users or for testing with your other software.
What updates will I get?
Just because you have opted in to the First Release cycle does not mean you will get the updates as soon as they are available. Microsoft generally does phased roll-outs within each release level.
You can see the current features and the planned features in the Office 365 Roadmap.
How Microsoft manages releases
First Release is not as bleeding-edge and unstable as it sounds - it's the last step before general availability and the software has already gone through several testing stages. It's easiest to think of the release stages as concentric rings:
- Ring 0 - Feature Team - The development ring where the team writing the software does their testing.
- Ring 1 - Office 365 Team - Release of the first beta to the entire internal Office 365 team.
- Ring 2 - All of Microsoft - The stage where all Microsoft employees receive the feature to discover any issues.
- Ring 3 - First Release - The testing level available to those subscribers that have turned on this option in 365. We'll enable this below.
- Ring 4 - Standard Release - General availability to everyone. Features moved to this ring are slowly released to all Office 365 tenants over a period of a few weeks.
Verifying your release channel
Let's check and see if you're presently on the Current Channel. Assuming you have Word installed on your desktop, open it and select File/Account. Under the Product Information section you will see your subscription and the channel to which you are currently assigned.
Note: Make sure that you have Office installed from Office 365 (Click-to-Run) and not a standalone copy.
How to turn on First Release Features in Office 365
With an administrator account, sign in to Office 365 at https://portal.office.com and go to the Admin Center. In the left-hand menu, pick Settings and Organization Profile. Under Release Preferences your current setting will be shown:
Select Actions/Edit and then pick First Release for Selected Users:
Then add your users and save your settings:
The end result:
Update and verify your Office release
It will usually take an hour or two before the First Release version is available to you. Open Word and select File/Account. If First Release for Current Channel is not shown then select Update Options and click Update Now. It may not let you update immediately so just be patient and eventually you can install the First Release version. The result will be as shown below:
While not recommended for all users, First Release in Office 365 is a helpful way to prepare for changes coming to all your users ahead of time. Enable the release for your advanced users and check the Office Roadmap to see what has changed.