Becoming an Office Insider against my organisation's wishes

Backstory

I was browsing through Twitter, as one does, and came across this Tweet from The Verge.

So I thought, let's try this out! Surely it'd be easy to join the Beta Channel for updates.

Investigating

This is where it gets tricky. I use a Microsoft 365 subscription on Windows under an education license; I am not the administrator of my subscription.

According to Microsoft,

“If you have an Office subscription through work or school, your Microsoft 365 administrator manages Insider builds. You won’t see the option to install or manage Insider builds unless your administrator has enabled it.

I didn't see the option to install Insider builds. However, I did come across this message on the same page.

Note: If you a Microsoft 365 admin, see Insider deployment options for administrators.

I am not an admin, but I thought to myself, can I configure and deploy the Insider build myself?

Configuring Microsoft 365

This was actually pretty simple. Firstly, I downloaded the Office Deployment Tool from the Microsoft Download Center (sic) yeah I use Australian English.

Then, Microsoft has this nice tool that lets you generate a configuration file for the Deployment Tool, and you don't even need to sign in to an account whatsoever —– hooray for admin tools without an admin account.

Overview of the Customization Tool (sic)

Update channels.Update channels.

There is one problem! Take a closer look at the update channels which we can select. Where's Beta Channel? Let's export the configuration anyway to examine what's going on.

<Configuration ID="36de9885-523d-4d38-ad3d-c2c1ef23e160">
  <Add OfficeClientEdition="64" Channel="Current">
    <Product ID="O365ProPlusRetail">
      <Language ID="en-us" />
      <ExcludeApp ID="Groove" />
      <ExcludeApp ID="Lync" />
    </Product>
  </Add>
  <Property Name="SharedComputerLicensing" Value="0" />
  <Property Name="SCLCacheOverride" Value="0" />
  <Property Name="AUTOACTIVATE" Value="0" />
  <Property Name="FORCEAPPSHUTDOWN" Value="FALSE" />
  <Property Name="DeviceBasedLicensing" Value="0" />
  <Updates Enabled="TRUE" />
  <RemoveMSI />
</Configuration>

Taking a closer look, it looks like we can adjust the Channel field to our liking. Thankfully, Microsoft has a nice writup in their docs about the Office Deployment Tool and the attribute values for each channel.

Update channel Attribute value
Beta Channel BetaChannel
Current Channel (Preview) CurrentPreview
Current Channel Current
Monthly Enterprise Channel MonthlyEnterprise
Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel (Preview) SemiAnnualPreview
Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel SemiAnnual

Cool. Let's change Current to BetaChannel.

And our final configuration.

<Configuration ID="36de9885-523d-4d38-ad3d-c2c1ef23e160">
  <Add OfficeClientEdition="64" Channel="BetaChannel">
    <Product ID="O365ProPlusRetail">
      <Language ID="en-us" />
      <ExcludeApp ID="Groove" />
      <ExcludeApp ID="Lync" />
    </Product>
  </Add>
  <Property Name="SharedComputerLicensing" Value="0" />
  <Property Name="SCLCacheOverride" Value="0" />
  <Property Name="AUTOACTIVATE" Value="0" />
  <Property Name="FORCEAPPSHUTDOWN" Value="FALSE" />
  <Property Name="DeviceBasedLicensing" Value="0" />
  <Updates Enabled="TRUE" />
  <RemoveMSI />
</Configuration>

Deploying Microsoft 365

This was very easy to do and didn't overwrite or reset my current Office settings. Futhermore, my license stayed applied.

In the folder where the Office Deployment Tool is located, I added the configuration file as Configuration.xml. setup.exe is the original file name of the tool.

All we have to do is run setup.exe /configure configuration.xml in PowerShell and voila! The Beta Channel appears to be installing.

As an aside, check out Windows Terminal! I love using this on Windows.

Results

After installation, I can confirm that the Beta Channel is now selected and receiving updates.

Successful installation of the Beta Channel.Successful installation of the Beta Channel.

Conclusion

There are a few important things to note after doing this successfully. – Microsoft 365 Admins can control whether a user can adjust their update channel through their own account or any Office application. – Users can bypass admin installation settings and customise their own install using the Office Deployment Tool, a tool intended only for admins. – There is probably a simpler way to do this through editing the Windows Registry, but the registry is a scary place which I don't want to explore. (Why does regedit.exe still look like it's from Windows 95? The inconsistency of Windows' UI is really irritating.)

Overall, this was a relatively simple process and didn't take too long to figure out how to accomplish the desired result.

Thanks for reading! – N

Update – the next day

There is an easier solution! Run reg add HKLM\Software\Policies\Microsoft\office\16.0\common\officeupdate /v updatebranch /t REG_SZ /d BetaChannel in an elevated shell, and perform an Office update. There is no need to create your own build and build configuration; it is a simple registry edit after all!