Getting New Power Pivot Features & Other Office 2013 Updates

New Power Pivot Features Released

Have you heard that Power Pivot just got a new Synonyms feature?  Synonyms associate column (attribute) names in a data model with alternate terms so that the Q&A Natural Language Query functionality in Power BI will be able to return results when users search for data using various terminology. Metadata like this will continue to to be more and more important in terms of making the user experience better, but metadata actually isn't what I want to write about today…today I want to focus on how to get new features like the Synonyms in Power Pivot as quickly as possible.

Starting with Excel 2013, Power Pivot is integrated into Excel’s data model. That makes Power Pivot currently dissimilar to Power Query which requires updates to be downloaded and installed. 

Just how do you get Office 2013 updates anyway?

How you get updates depends on how you installed Office 2013. There are two ways to install Office 2013:

  • The Click-to-Run type of installation, or
  • The traditional MSI Windows-based installer

I was inspired to investigate further because, when I checked for the new Synonyms feature in my version of Power Pivot, I didn’t have it yet.  This is because I currently have an MSI-based installation rather than Click-to-Run.

Most installations these days are Click-to-Run by default.  The MSI download media is typically only available to Microsoft customers who have a volume license agreement for Office 2013 or MSDN subscribers.

What is Click-To-Run?

Click-to-Run is a mechanism to install and update Office 2013 software products. It has been around a very long time, but has evolved to be much more sophisticated these days.

Like a traditional software installation, Click-to-Run still installs the Office programs on your local machine and uses local machine resources. However, the installation process is done via streaming which is broken up into small chunks to take it easy on bandwidth.  Even if you use Office 365 or Office on Demand sometimes, if you download the software package it does install and run from your machine.

By default, if you installed Office 2013 using the Click-to-Run method, the machine will receive automatic updates for Office 2013 (such as the update to Power Pivot mentioned at the very beginning of this blog entry). It handles installing the updates in the background during a time when the user isn't actively using components which need to be updated.  Although, depending on the kind of update, it’s possible the user will see a notification or a request for the app to be closed so it can proceed.

Interestingly, Click-to-Run is considered to be virtualized which means that all the Office 2013 program files are isolated.  This isolation allows programs to co-exist (such as Office 2010 and Office 2013 side by side).  The virtualization also allows it to continue to receive updates independently of Windows updates.  The streaming and virtualization behavior of Click-to-Run is based on Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) technologies.

The biggest benefit of Click-to-Run is that the updates are pushed automatically which means you don't need to install updates, service packs, or patches.  Users will probably love this – system administrators, well, maybe not all of them will love it. Click-to-Run also touts the benefit of being able to start using the software before it's finished installing.  It can do this because it sets up the most commonly used features first and continues to finish in the background.  These commonly used features are known as the “First Run Experience.” 

How to Check What Office Version You Have and if It's Click-To-Run or Not

To check the version that is installed:

  1. Launch Excel ( or any other Office app) and create a new workbook
  2. Choose File > Account

This is what it looks like if you do *not* have Click-to-Run:

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If you do have Click-to-Run, you will also see this option on the Account page:

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If automatic updates are enabled in the Update Options, then you should be getting the latest Office 2013 updates as they are released.  Although, new functionality like Synonyms that works in conjunction with Power BI for Office 365 will not arrive via updates (**See update at the bottom of this entry).

What if You Don't Have the Updates You Want?

If you’re in a corporate environment, chances are you won’t have much control over this as IT policies will dictate how Office is installed and updated.  System administrators are likely to handle installations using the Office Deployment Tool (ODT). 

If you do have the Click-to-Run version of Office 2013, make sure that updates are turned on (File > Account > Office Updates section).

If you have the MSI version of Office 2013, you have two choices:  One is to wait until the updates come through via the Windows update process (if it doesn’t conflict with your IT corporate policies, you can allow Windows updates to install automatically under Control Panel > Windows Update > Change Settings) or until you upgrade to the next version for certain updates like Synonyms (**See update at the bottom of this entry).  The other choice is to uninstall Office 2013 and reinstall it using a Click-to-Run version.  From what I’ve read, I believe you are able to keep your same product key.

Before you choose to reinstall Office 2013 with the Click-to-Run method, beware of the following limitations:

  • Not all add-ins and apps will behave the same way
  • Some functionality isn't available (such as SharePoint BCS or Edit in Datasheet functionality)

The full list of known issues can be found here:  http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/excel-help/click-to-run-known-issues-HA101850565.aspx.  On the positive side, search functionality in Outlook is more full-featured with the Click-to-Run.

There are multiple choices for where to download the Click-to-Run software from depending on how it was purchased.  You probably want to start with “My Office” found here:  https://office.microsoft.com/en-us/MyAccount.aspx or this link:  www.office.com/downloadoffice

Another way to download the Click-to-Run version of Office 2013 would be to log onto your Office 365 account.  Click the gear symbol at the top right, then Office 365 settings, then Software.  If you have the type of O365 account that provides the Office suite, then you’ll see the software listed there.  Additional FAQs can be found here:  https://downloadoffice.getmicrosoftkey.com/Home/SupportFAQ.

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** Update on 2014-02-26

Service Pack 1 for Office 2013 has been released.  However, the Synonyms functionality is not part of SP1 for MSI installations as described above. All indications point to Synonyms not being part of the MSI installation until the next version of Office.  Theoretically this makes sense for most customers because the Synonyms only works with Q&A which is part of Power BI for Office 365.  And, if you have Office 365, you probably have the Click-to-Run installation.