If you used the new Office 365 web-based installer to install the Office 2013 Customer Preview on your PC, you’ve experienced the wonders of Click-to-Run: Lightning-fast install times, automatic updating, friendly side-by-side usage with previous Office versions, and seamless integration with the underlying OS. Click-to-run has been around since Office 2010, but in Office 2013 it really comes of age.

Click-to-Run is also the basis of another new Office 2013 feature, Office on Demand.

Click-to-Run is an evolution of the Office Setup functionality that’s been around since the days of floppy disks and has evolved over the years to support different install media and far more sophisticated methods for blasting software onto users’ PCs. With Click-to-Run, however, Microsoft is removing many of the roadblocks from previous Office installs. You don’t need the Setup media on-hand, or a large MSI file accessed over the network: Instead, with Click-to-Run you can stream the Office bits to your PC and be up and running far more quickly, before, in fact, the full install is complete. All you need is an Internet connection.

(Note: Related benefits include the ability to install Office 2013 on up to five PCs associated with your account, manage these PCs through a central Office 365-based site, and provision and deactivate installs on individual PCs on the fly.)

Click-to-Run has always used Microsoft’s Application Virtualization (App-V) technologies under the covers: This came with some advantages even in the first version, such as the ability to install a new Office version side-by-side with a previous version, but also came with some limitations. For example, in Office 2010, a Click-to-Run install required a weird Q: drive in Explorer that was necessitated by the App-V version of the day.

With Office 2013, Click-to-Run retains all of the advantages of the original version but comes with several key advantages. The Q: drive is gone, for example, but it goes well beyond that. The install and regular execution of the Click-to-Run applications is significantly faster, and the applications integrate better with the underlying OS and with normally-installed applications. You can choose between 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Office 2013 (though 32-bit remains the norm, and you cannot mix and match between 32- and 64-bit versions of Office on the same PC). You don’t need to type in a product key, either: This product key is tied to your account and applied automatically since you signed in (in this case to Office 365, though other Office 2013 install points will eventually become available).

When you install Office using Click-to-Run, a tiny bootstrap application is initially downloaded—shades of Office on Demand—and, when run, it begin immediately streaming the most-frequently used parts of Office behind a default First Run Experience (FRU), which should look familiar since it’s actually PowerPoint 2013: Your streaming dollars at work.

wrapping_up

After a few introductory bits and a meager couple of minutes (typically), you can actually begin using Office, even though all of it is not actually on your PC yet. The way Click-to-Run works is that it will download the most often used bits first, but if you explicitly run a different application, it will of course grab that first. You may have to wait a few seconds to a few minutes the first time, but after that, the application, and the rest of Office, will work normally.

And yes, since this seems to be confusing, Office 2013 does in fact work offline even when installed using Click-to-Run. The streaming install occurs only once, at initial install, and after that it works like any other Office install from the user’s perspective.

Click-to-Run installs of Office 2013 can be repaired if something goes wrong and uninstalled far more cleanly than a “normal” install of Office. (Frankly, I expect C2R to become the “new normal.”) But the big deal, post-install, is that these installs of Office can be automatically updated as needed over time, not just with product updates (new features) but also with security fixes. Click-to-Run versions of Office are always up to date, and you’ll always be secure without having to do much more than occasionally OK a change because applications are running.