A new semi-annual version of Office 2016 is released every six months
With Excel 2007, 2010 and 2013, Excel users became used to an Excel product that only had a feature update every three years (that had to be purchased).
Excel 2016 has moved to a different model to release new versions (often called Software as a Service (or SaaS). In this model consumers pay a rental fee (rather than an outright purchase fee) to receive regular updates. This means that there is no need to release a major new version every three years, instead a more gentle update is provided (via the semi-annual update channel) every six months.
From January 2018, a new semi-annual version of Excel (that is still confusingly called Excel 2016 for the moment) will be released twice each year (in January and July). The current version (1708) was released on Jan 9, 2018. The next semi-annual release is due for release on Jul 10,2018. This brings Office in line with Windows 10 (that also follows the SaaS model with semi-annual major version updates around the same date).
We have responded to this change by updating our Excel 2016 paper printed books and e-books (in January and July each year) to keep up with the new versions. Purchasers of our e-book package automatically receive updates (to their 2016 e-books) free of charge so that their Excel 2016 e-book is always up-to-date with the latest Excel 2016 version.
The move from perpetual licenses to subscriptions
The perpetual license model
Software used to be purchased in a box at a store and then installed onto a computer using an installation CD. This type of product is often called a perpetual license, boxed copy or one-time purchase.
In this model, a new version was released every few years. The four most recent Office versions have been: Office 2007, Office 2010, Office 2013 and Office 2016.
When a new version was released it would usually have many new features. During the life of the release, no new features would be added and updates would be restricted to bug fixes of the features in the original release.
You can still purchase an Office 2016 perpetual license. Perpetual license holders don’t get access to the new Excel versions. They are locked into the feature set that existed when Excel was first released (in late 2015).
Recently Microsoft have announced that a new perpetual licence Office product will be released in Fall 2018. This will be called Office 2019. Many industry insiders have speculated that this will be identical to the July 10, 2018 semi-annual update which seems logical. Once again, perpetual licence holders will be "frozen in time" to this version while subscribers will enjoy features introduced in the January 2019 semi-annual update (and all subsequent updates).
Nobody knows if there will ever be another perpetual licence version (for example Office 2022). Microsoft will not comment so it is likely that this decision has not been made. It seems likely that (even if there is an Office 2022) perpetual licence versions will eventually be discontinued.
The Subscription model
In 2011 Microsoft introduced Office 365. This enables users to purchase the right to use Office (and all future versions of Office) for a monthly or annual subscription. At the time of writing the cheapest monthly subscription cost $6.99.
When Excel 2016 was released, Excel 365 subscribers didn’t have to make any extra payment to upgrade to the new release. Office 2013 perpetual license holders, in contrast, had to buy the new release. Excel 365 subscribers also have access to the new Excel versions (released in January and July each year) and will probably see their product re-badged as Office 2019 around July 2018.
For users of the subscription model, updates are not optional
The new update strategy expects and requires users to continually update their computers. Users that do not keep their software current will not be supported. For most users, updates will be configured to happen automatically. You’ll learn how to make sure that your computer is configured to update automatically in: Lesson 1-2 Check whether your Excel version is up to date.
Professional users of Excel expect every new feature to be thoroughly tested before use in business-critical operations. Businesses often develop important mission-critical applications, add-ins or macros that a new Excel version could cause to fail.
For this reason, Microsoft offer two update channels.
Users in this channel will receive new features via a monthly update as soon as they are available. This is the default channel for most home users with an Office 365 subscription plan and cannot easily be changed. If you are a monthly channel user, Microsoft will only support you if you accept the monthly updates.
It is more likely that new features added in the monthly channel will have bugs, as they will not have had the same level of testing as those using the semi-annual channel.
This is the channel that is set (by default) in versions of Excel that are targeted at business users and cannot easily be changed. Users in this channel will receive a new Excel version twice each year (in January and July).
The new Excel version release given to semi-annual channel users is always four months behind the monthly channel release. This means that all features will have been used (and thoroughly tested) by monthly channel users. As any new features will have been effectively tested by millions of monthly channel users and by corporate IT departments, new features introduced in the semi-annual channel can be expected work reliably.
A pre-release version of the upcoming semi-annual channel release is also made available (for testing by corporate IT departments) four months before release. This is the version we use when writing the next edition of our books/e-books so that they are ready for publication when the next (semi-annual) Excel version is released.