Learn how to install Office 2013 with Group Policies or SCCM

To successfully deploy Office 2013 across a network, you'll need Group Policies or tools such as Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager.

Microsoft Office 2013 has been out for close to a year now, and your organization may be considering deploying the software suite. However, the traditional wisdom doesn't apply to Office 2013 deployment on a network. Here's a look at why you may need to change your approach to how to install Office 2013.

Using Group Policy for Office 2013 deployment

The process of using Group Policy to install Office 2013 involves writing scripts. Don't fret if automation is not your forte -- it's relatively simple to access the files to deploy, kick off the installation on a computer and manage the installation process. Group Policy is the way to fire off those scripts, either upon computer startup using a computer Group Policy Object or upon login with a user GPO.

Using deployment scripts with GPOs is a particularly useful technique in environments where everyday knowledge workers don't have local administrator rights on their machines. Since installing Office would require admin access, these users would be prevented from kicking off the setup process themselves.

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The computer startup script runs in the context of the Local System account, which does have unfettered access to protected areas, so the installation can proceed apace. You also get the benefit of using the tools included with the Windows client and Windows Server licenses you already paid for, with no additional deployment software costs.

What's different about Office 2013 compared with previous versions of Office? For one, there are a couple of different Office 2013 editions -- the Click-to-Run edition, which streams the program files down to local computers, and a traditional Microsoft Installer (MSI)-based version that is available only to volume-license customers.

You can't use the traditional software installation capabilities of Group Policy because Office 2013 Pro Plus uses multiple MSI files for all of the code versus one single MSI file for the whole suite. The overarching setup executable is just that -- an EXE, not an MSI. Group Policy doesn't know how to handle that, at least from an installation perspective. You have to use a script to manage this process.

To get started using this procedure, follow these steps:

  1. Copy the Office installation files to a network share. Verify that any computers that are targets for the deployment can access the share and also give Read rights to the Authenticated Users group. For MSI-based Office, just copy all of the files up to the share. If you are licensed only for the Click-to-Run version of Office, then use the Office Deployment Tool for Click-to-Run to bring the files down to a central network share.
  2. Write a script that kicks off a silent installation of Office 2013. Since you are installing upon computer startup in the context of a system account that has no way to get interactive input from a user, you must deploy a silent installation so that no user intervention is required. For MSI-based Office 2013, you use a config.xml file that resides on that network share that acts as an answer file. You need to make sure that file contains the following lines:

<Display Level="none" CompletionNotice="no" SuppressModal="yes" AcceptEula="yes" />
<Setting Id="SETUP_REBOOT" Value="Never" />
<Setting Id="REBOOT" Value="ReallySuppress"/>
<Setting Id="AUTO_ACTIVATE" Value="1" />

Then you can kick off the installation in the script using a command like this: 
\\server\share\Office15\setup.exe /config \\server\share\Office15\ProPlus.WW\config.xml

For the Click-to-Run version of Office 2013, you need to build a configuration.xml document -- not to be confused with the config.xml used above. This is a separate file. There are numerous options available for this document; check TechNet for a detailed reference on how to build this file if you are licensed only for Click-to-Run.

  1. Finally, create a GPO and link a startup script to that GPO. You can put the script in the following universal location: %systemroot%\sysvol\domain\Policies\{GPO ID}\Machines\Scripts\Startup

Using software deployment tools to deploy Office 2013

You might have invested in a software deployment tool such System Center Configuration Manager, which can certainly be used to deploy Office 2013 as well. The steps above will continue to apply in terms of creating both the network share that sources the installation files for your wider deployment, as well as developing either the config.xml or configuration.xml files that create the environment for a silent installation of the Office suite. Just remember a couple of rules of thumb for using a deployment tool:

  • For global organizations, make sure your network source file share is close to the computers that are being targeted.
  • Consider a waved rollout so that your network isn't streaming files to 300 computers at 9:00 a.m. on a Monday morning.

Once you understand how to install Office 2013 using Windows Group Policy or software development tools, you should have an easier time with the actual Office 2013 deployment.

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