A lot of folks do not understand that there are several different types of releases we provide for the Office suite of products. These are:
- Main Product Release (also known as the RTM version of a product)
- Service Packs
- Security, Interim Updates or Hotfixes
- Public Updates
- Cumulative Updates
Main Product Releases and Service Packs get the most thorough amount of testing. These releases do not come very often, as major product releases are usually every three years and service packs are approximately once a year.
Interim Updates, better known as hotfixes, are generated for customers to address a specific issue. These have the least amount of testing done and are recommended only to be applied if you are experiencing that specific issue.
Public Updates are releases contain Security and Non-security related updates. Non-security updates in a Public Update would be things like new Junk email filters. These come out usually every couple of months. These updates are usually very specific and are NOT necessarily cumulative. A lot of testing goes into these types of releases.
Cumulative Updates come out usually every one to two months. As the name implies, like service packs, they include all previous fixes. So, if you have no updates applied you do not need to apply the February, March, and April ones…you can just install the April update and you’ll get all the fixes from the February & March updates.
However, the problem is that most customers do not realize that they should be deploying the cumulative updates. Many times I’ve been contacted to work an issue, usually a calendar issue, and find that the customer’s workstation only has the latest service pack on it plus any security patches. While that’s good (definitely better than not having those items installed), many times the last service pack is almost a year old and there’s a much newer cumulative update available that fixes a lot of problems.
An example from not long ago was that I had a customer that was having a ton of calendaring problems. They were at the latest service pack (Outlook 2007 SP2 in this particular case), but that was released in April 2009. Here it was late 2010, over a year since SP2 had been released (SP2 is the last service pack for Office 2007) and they had not applied any other fixes other than security patches. We went through the list of calendaring fixes that had been made in cumulative updates since SP2’s release and found there were 23 fixes!!! That’s a lot of calendaring issues…most of which they were experiencing!
I worked with them to get the latest cumulative update deployed to all workstations and all their calendaring problems went away (some issues required old meetings to be recreated since applying an update does not go through the existing items and change/fix them). They now are very diligent about deploying the latest cumulative updates.
In some cases, we even add new functionality in a cumulative update. Exchange 2010 introduced the Personal Archive feature which only Outlook 2010 could support. Due to feedback from customers, the product group added support for Personal Archives to Outlook 2007…via the February 2011 cumulative update (the March 2011 cumulative update fixed some issues, but the point is the feature was added to the cumulative update).
One key thing to understand is that while Service Packs and Security Updates will be made available to users through Microsoft Update/Windows Update, Office Cumulative updates are NOT made available that way. So, if your users use Microsoft Update/Windows Update, they are not going to get these updates. If you’re using SCCM/SMS or another product, that team needs to be aware of these updates and push them to your users…in most cases I’ve found they only push service packs or things that are published via WSUS, which these cumulative updates are NOT.
Information on the latest service pack and updates for the various Office products can be found here: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/office/ee748587
So, the key takeaway is to make sure you're deplyoing the latest cumulative updates to your users to help reduce the issues you'll see...and get relief for problems your users may be experiencing.