The little-(un)known Secrets of using Office 365 ProPlus and Office 2019 on a Virtual Desktop environment – survival guide


The year 2018 started with rumors around RDmi and ended with Microsoft announcing Windows Virtual Desktop, releasing Windows 10 1809, and, perhaps most importantly, making important changes to how Office is delivered. This article will give you a clear view of the changes and what you can expect in 2019. Read more about Windows Virtual Desktop over here.

Besides this, Microsoft also announced changes in support for Office 2019 and Office 365 ProPlus on a Virtual Desktop environment. It’s maybe a good idea to write this down in an article to give you a clear view of what’s going on and what’s changes in the next versions.

Change before you have to…

This article will help you to understand what version you need to use in your environment – based on the Operating System that you’re using – so you know what to do proactively when you change to a complete Office 365 licensing model for your Office subscription-based licenses.

Note: This article applies to every Virtual Desktop solution that uses a Windows OS, such as Citrix, VMware, Nutanix Frame, Parallels, and CloudJumper.

Microsoft acquires FSLogix

First, let’s start with some good news! Most of you already know, but for the people who were offline in the last couple weeks, Microsoft bought FSLogix – the company that I currently work for. Our DigitalWorkspace vision now continues as part of Microsoft!

“Being part of this company was a great learning experience. The acquisition is the reward of doing awesome work as a team and having an exceptional product that addresses challenges in the most simple way possible, combined with excellent work from our supporting partners around the globe!”  – Christiaan Brinkhoff

Read the complete – and official – announcement article here.

This acquisition takes place at a perfect moment, as Microsoft is changing the way of approaching Office for every Windows platform, and–obviously – for the release of the new Windows Virtual Desktop service on Azure!

FSLogix adds the following features to the Microsoft portfolio:

  • Outlook caching + Windows Search support
  • OneDrive for Business (and Files On-Demand) support
  • Native SharePoint support in Windows Explorer
  • Office 365 ProPlus computer activation license roaming
  • Skype for Business GAL caching
  • OneNote caching
  • Microsoft Teams support for Virtual Desktops

The reason why FSLogix supports OneDrive and Teams is the underlying technology. FSLogix Apps are using an advanced filter-driver technology, which lets the operating system think that there is no redirection active to a persistent container (VHDx) location. This approach makes it possible to use OneDrive and Teams, because those applications are too sensitive for roaming profile solutions.

Furthermore, the other change is leaving the volume licensing version of Office, which always came in very handy on non-persistent/stateless environment due to the activation of Office. For example, when a Virtual Machine reboots, the Office activation process could connect to an internal KMS server, which remembers the activation count based on the computer ID, and automatically activate Office each time.

Within Office 365 ProPlus, which is part of several different Office 365 E3 and above licenses, this isn’t possible anymore, so we need a new approach.

I’ll explain them later in the article. But first…

A closer look at the field

The following VDILIKEAPRO survey results show a 30% growth in Office 365 usage via Enterprise Agreement. Customers who leverage Office 365 services mostly have an E3 or higher license, so why should you buy them again simultaneously prior to KMS/Volume due to only MSI installation support for a non-persistent environment?

Microsoft changed the way of supporting Office for Windows 10 as well as Windows Server 2019. In my personal opinion, this will drive adoption of the use of Office 365 ProPlus, which effectively means that this number within the graphic will increase even more next year!

The differences between Office 2019 and Office 365 ProPlus

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Microsoft announced the change in Office support/release management at the Ignite Conference in September 2018. However, not everyone knows the differences between the versions, so I hope to give a good explanation of what the major differences are.

Office 2019 – is a perpetual based – annual term license – Click-to-Run (C2R) installer  – includes Key Management Service (KMS) and Multiple Activation key (MAK) support

Office 365 ProPlus – is a – user-based – subscription licenses – Click-to-Run (C2R) installer – with user and shared computer activation (explain the complete process for Virtual Desktops later on in the article)

Microsoft will provide security and reliability patches for Office 2019, however, it will have no new features added to it. Office 365 ProPlus will get major and minor new features added to it on a weekly basis.

See below how the different versions apply to either Server and Desktop OS. 

Keep in mind that Office 365 ProPlus is the way to go for future on-premises or Cloud Windows 10 Virtual Desktop implementations. And as well as Windows 10 Multi-User implementations as part of Windows Virtual Desktop on Azure!

Office 2019 is only supported on Windows Server 2019 RDS!

What previous Office version(s) will be supported in the future and what not?

Microsoft finally released the future of how we need to deal with Office on a Virtual Desktop environment in the future. Lots of rumors were saying that there wouldn’t be any supported for Office 2019 rather than Office 365 ProPlus on Windows Server 2019.

Interesting notes are:

  • Service products stay in sync with each other
  • Windows Virtual Desktop only supports Office 365 ProPlus
  • Office 365 ProPlus will always be supported with Windows 10 SAC
  • Office 365 ProPlus on Windows Server 2016 will be supported through October 2025
  • Office 2019 is only supported on Windows Server 2019
  • Windows Server 2019 doesn’t support Office 365 ProPlus

See below the future roadmap of all the other supported Microsoft Office versions (official Microsoft document).

As follow up, I recommend you to watch the following Ignite session about Office in Virtual Desktop environment

The challenge: How do we need to approach Office in the future on Virtual Desktop environments?

As mentioned in the previous section, we used (and still do) use normal, perpetual licenses based on Key Management Services (KMS) activation for Office Professional (volume licensing), or Multi Activation Key (MAK) based on VDI – especially non-persistent environment.

The new approach is all about online activation – all based on the specific user license within the Office 365 subscription model. Downloading Office 365 ProPlus from the Office portal will result in a Click-to-Run Online installer of Office. Though it works great for physical PCs, laptops, and Surface devices, it wasn’t originally designed for non-persistent Virtual Desktop environments.

The software can be found in the Office 365 dashboard portal under the option “Install Office.”

The installation process looks like this, and it’s doing a lot of stuff on the background…

Troubleshooting

Are you getting the error “Administrative Privileges Required” when Installing Office 365 Click-To-Run as local Administrator? The error can occur in any version of Windows, up to and including Windows 10 Multi-User Build for Windows Virtual Desktop. The issue appears to pertain to the default Administrator account that is created on the operating system and can be observed occurring when creating a new Windows 10 Virtual Machine on Azure. 

Solve the issue by creating a new local user with local administrators rights – or just use a domain administrator account rather than the local administrator account of the Virtual Machine.

Run the Click-to-Run installation as that new user

The installation takes place in the following 5 different stages

The installation takes about 5 – 10 minutes, obviously depending on your internet connection.

Another important thing to mention about Office 365 ProPlus is that you’ll get the following error if you install Office 365 out-of-the-box after downloading the bits from portal.office.com on an RDS (or Citrix, VMware, etc.) server. (See also this official Microsoft support article about Office licensing on terminal services)

A similar error like below will show up your screen in your RDS/TS environment

The only way to solve this is by using computer-based (designed for TS environments) activation rather than user-based activations (designed for single user environment). You can configure the licensing token to roam with the user’s profile or be located on a shared folder on the network, which is especially helpful for non-persistent/stateless VDI scenarios.

See the process to solve this – and to make Office 365 ProPlus licensing roaming possible – through one of the steps below.

What are my options for Office 365 ProPlus on Virtual Desktop Environments?

The first option is by using a configuration.xml with the Click-to-Run installation through the Office Deployment Toolkit (ODT). The process works as follows:

Note: Make sure you assign each user a license for Office 365 ProPlus and that users log on to the shared computer with their own user account.

The Office Deployment Tool, combined with a simple text file, is used to install Office 365 ProPlus on the shared computer, and to enable shared computer activation for that computer.

Add the following lines when you create the XML file.

An example of a complete configuration.xml file, including the lines above:

Perform the ODT installation, and include the configuration.xml as a parameter

Setup.exe /configure “configuration.xml”

Remember that a user is allowed to activate Office 365 ProPlus on 5 other devices.

Note: Using Office 365 ProPlus with shared computer activation enabled doesn’t count against that limit!

Are you experiencing any troubles during the setup, please check this troubleshooting article to put you in the right direction.

What if you’ve got an existing Office 365 ProPlus installation?

If you’ve already deployed Office 365 ProPlus, you can enable shared computer activation on a computer by using Registry Editor to add a string value of SharedComputerLicensing with a setting of 1 under:

When you’re using FSLogix Office 365 Containers, the SharedComputerLicensing option needs to be activated in either the registry or ADMX key settings to activate the mounting of the two credential and licensing folders within your profile.

The FSLogix software makes sure to include the following two folders as part of the Container technology:

  • %localappdata%\Microsoft\Credentials
  • %localappdata%\Microsoft\Office\16.0\Licensing

If you’re not an FSLogix customer:

You can also enable shared computer activation by using Group Policy.

This policy setting is found under:

Computer Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\Microsoft Office 2016 (Machine)\Licensing Settings

The Office 365 ProPlus License will now be shared/roamed through your RDS/TS environment without the need to reactivating every single time!

Other best practices on using Office 365 ProPlus on Virtual Desktops

Single sign-on (SSO) recommended: SSO delivers a better user experience and reduces the number of times a user is prompted to sign in for activation. With SSO configured, Office activates with the credentials the user uses to sign in to Windows if the user is also licensed for Office 365 ProPlus – all automatically without user interaction!

Note: This can be accomplished by either using Federation with ADFS as well as Pass-through authentication within AzureAD Connect.

Without SSO activated, the user always needs to sign in to the first Office 365 product they launch through the manual setup screen below.

When the activation is finished, you’ll see the following line added in the options – about Office – menu.

When you switch to portal.office.com– the Office 365 Portal.

Go to accounts, followed by Install status.

You’ll see your RDS/TS Computer Activation listed as one of the 5 activations that are possible within your Office 365 user license.

Other Office 365 – Teams and OneDrive – services on Virtual Desktops demystified

Microsoft changed how they approach installing software on a Desktop and Server OS machine. As an example, OneDrive and Teams are two applications that are completely installed in the users profile rather than in the all users profile (Program Files).

Teams installation folder location – %userprofile%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Teams

OneDrive installation folder location – %userprofile%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\OneDrive\

This creates extra challenges for a Virtual Desktop environment, especially when you talk about non-persistent/stateless VDI. If you want to use both of these Office 365 software products with this type of VDI use-case, you’ll need to use a software solution such as FSLogix. Both products need to have a filter driver technology in place to trick the operating system on the redirection. It’s the secret sauce of the FSLogix Apps agent.

Note: Microsoft is working on a change to support per machine install for OneDrive and Teams.

OneDrive automated installation

If you have to deal with large OneDrive implementations, you definitely want to automate this process rather than doing it yourself for every user. There are several scripts active in the Community for doing this. One of them is the originally created OneDrive script from Chris Twiest. I’ve made some edits to it and will post it here. The script now includes a check if the VHD location is available – to avoid overloading the local drive when it’s not available, and has some enhancements around the profile path.

When you have no UEM or advanced management solution, there is also a possibility to run the script silently by using the command below as part of the Run registry location. 

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run 

C:\WINDOWS\system32\WindowsPowerShell\v1.0\powershell.exe -noprofile -sta -WindowStyle Hidden -File “C:\TEMP\OneDriveSetup.ps1”

Note: Keep in mind that the script needs to be performed after the initial logon process to not involve the initial logon speed.

Teams automated installation

To automatically configure Teams for every user, you can use the script created by Paul Cunningham, a fellow MVP for Office Servers and Services. The script needs to run after the initial logon process. It can be configured in your existing UEM solution, such as AppSense, Citrix WEM, or likely others. Or just pace the script simply in the Run key in the registry. Note: I’ve made a minor change to the script to run in without path given in the command – with this version you can run it automated while storing the Teams installation file in the C:\Files (or any custom) location.

But first this… Microsoft Teams is very storage intense from a consumption perspective. It requires 3 GB of disk space for each user profile. Another thing to mention is that currently, no vendor supports Teams for AV/Web Conferencing offloading, such as Citrix and VMware do for Skype for Business. 

Use the following article of Paul’s blog as follow up >> https://practical365.com/collaboration/teams/deploying-microsoft-teams-desktop-client/ 

The script can be found over here as well https://gallery.technet.microsoft.com/scriptcenter/Install-Teams-Desktop-b1ffd424

Office on Virtual Desktop performance impact over the years

A newer version of Office always has an impact, just for the simple reason that new features are added and asking for more resources, and the latest Office version 2019 has almost the same performance decrease as the previous version, Office 2013.

Note: Office 365 ProPlus isn’t part of the list. However, I expect that the density impact of Office 365 ProPlus will be similar to Office 2019. The impact is based on a vanilla virtual machine without any optimizations. It’s based on the impact on the vanilla image of the virtual machine compared to the previous version of Microsoft Office in Office version row of the table.

*The following results are based on previous LoginVSI measurements with the different products on the same specific hardware.

What if you are running Office 2019, and want to use Office 365 ProPlus?

If you run Office 2019, and want to In-place upgrade from 2019 to Office 365 Pro Plus, you can do so by using a new ADMX setting which is provided in the latest Office 365 ProPlus ADMX feature set.

Note: You can download the ADMX key, which includes the setting below, over here.

Are you experiencing any troubles during the setup, please check this troubleshooting article to put you in the right direction.

I hope this helps to have a better understanding of the different options for Office 365 on a Virtual environment.

Hope to see you back soon – and feel free to leave a comment if you’ve any questions.

Cheers,

Christiaan Brinkhoff

Christiaan Brinkhoff

Christiaan Brinkhoff

Christiaan Brinkhoff works as Cloud Architect and Technology Evangelist for the Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) and FSLogix team within Microsoft (ExtOps) and is the owner of christiaanbrinkhoff.com IT Consulting. In addition to his work, he shares his passion for Cloud innovation by speaking at large international conferences, writing articles for vendors and external community programs, such as VDILIKEAPRO, WhatMatrix, as well as on his website. This community-related work got him the privilege to achieve the following three - Microsoft Valuable Professional (MVP) for Microsoft Azure, Citrix Technology Professional (CTP), VMware vExpert - vendor awards. There are currently only five people in the world that have all these titles combined.
Christiaan Brinkhoff