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First Steps: Configure Office 365 First Release Settings

Signing up to a cloud service like Office 365 means you're on board for whatever changes the vendor deploys to customers. That is one benefit of cloud services, but some customers see it as a risk and prefer to at least make sure they are not the first customers to receive new features. Other customers prefer to be slower to receive new features to allow time for following appropriate change management processes and preparing end user communication. Microsoft accommodates these needs with the concept of First Release for Office 365 tenants.

When a new feature or change is developed for Office 365, Microsoft first releases it to their own internal development team, and then roll it out to their corporate user base. For some developments there may also be a preview program that customers or third party vendors can take part in to see the early versions of the feature and provide testing feedback.

When the time comes to release a feature to the general customer base, it first goes to tenants who have opted in for First Release. The First Release customers will receive the new feature anywhere from a few weeks to a few months ahead of the general customer base.

Gaining access to new features first is appealing to some customers, such as those who provide consulting or training to other customers. In return, First Release customers must accept the risk (albeit a low risk) that some bugs or problems might appear in the feature as it is rolling out. You should not be taking part in First Release if you're not willing to accept that risk.

To view your First Release configuration, log in to the Office 365 admin portal and navigate to Settings, and then Organization profile. Then, click on the Edit button next to Release preferences.

The options you can choose from are:

  • Standard release – your tenant receives updates as they roll out to the general Office 365 customer base. You might still receive updates before or after other tenants because features roll out in stages instead of to all customers at once.
  • First release – your tenant will be among the first to receive updates.
  • First release for selected users – individual users you select in your tenant will receive updates before the rest of your organization's users.

By default, an Office 365 tenant is configured for Standard release.

You can check the release configuration for a tenant by connecting to Exchange Online and running the Get-OrganizationConfig cmdlet.

Note that in the example above, StagedRollout shows that “First release for selected users” is configured. If you've configured your tenant for staged rollout, you can check the list of individual users who are enabled for First Release by connecting to Office 365/Azure AD and running Get-MsolUser.

For a quick count, run the following command instead.

You can't use PowerShell to configure First Release for your tenant or for individual users yet. This capability will hopefully be added to a future release of the Azure AD PowerShell module.

If your organization is not willing to have full or partial First Release for your production tenant, but still want early access to features for testing and training purposes, then you should create an Office 365 test tenant and configure it for First Release.

Paul is a Microsoft MVP for Office Servers and Services. He works as a consultant, writer, and trainer specializing in Office 365 and Exchange Server. Paul is a co-author of Office 365 for IT Pros and several other books, and is also a Pluralsight author.
Category: Blog

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