Your own Microsoft 365 lab; where it’s safe to click save

As you may know, I recently started a blog 😊. I wanted a personal lab or sandbox environment for it, to experiment with the new stuff being released all the time. It’s been a while since I created a Developer tenant, so I decided to write something about it.

Warning sign: environmental hazard
Warning: hazardous to the (production) environment.

I also have access to labs through my job, using the awesome Customer Digital Experience (CDX). I really wanted a separate, personal, independent lab for this blog, though.

If you came here looking for instructions on how to use labs in CDX, I will actually explain that as well a bit further on in this post.

But, as CDX is only available to Microsoft Partners, FTEs or MVPs (ah, the day shall come), I’m going to start with the other option.

One of us! One of us!

First of all, though, let me welcome you to the ever-growing community of Microsoft Endpoint Manager enthusiasts! Let’s build you a lab!

Unless you came here through a search quest, in that case welcome to whatever Microsoft community you’re going to use this lab for! Still happy you’re here!

Free labs! Get your free lab here!

Screenshot of the sign-up process for Microsoft 365 Developer Program
We have cookies, too!

So, this Developer tenant… Anyone can create one, and it comes with twenty-five M365 E5 licenses! All you need to do is join the Microsoft 365 Developer Program. You can sign in with your Microsoft account, your work account, or a Visual Studio ID.

“But”, I hear you say, “I don’t know any of them fancy programmer languages”! Don’t worry, you’re still a developer in the eyes of this program. It’s kind of a lab-for-all.

Also, I highly recommend anyone starting in M365 to learn some PowerShell. It will come in handy, I assure you.

Setting up shop

Setting up your profile is easy-peasy: provide the requested details and press “Next” a couple of times. You’ll be asked simple things like your country/region and your interests.

Don’t worry, you can change these settings at any time. Just edit your profile by clicking on the little cogwheel icon on the right-hand side of the title bar.

Location of the profile button in Microsoft 365 Developer Program dashboard

After signing up, you’ll find yourself on your very own dashboard. You are now a proud member of the Microsoft 365 Developer Program! Let’s go and get some of those yummy benefits.

Click on “Set up E5 subscription”. Once again, this process is very (very) easy, and you only need to fill in some no-brainer fields. The most challenging part being thinking up a name for your tenant.

Making up nearly, but not quite unprofessional names is hard (but so much fun).

You’re all set up

Spinning progress bar
Spinny thingy

That’s it. After the spinny thingy disappears, you are greeted by a screen giving you all the information you’ll need on your subscription/tenant, capable of all the E5 coolness. Except Windows and Audio Conferencing. Those aren’t in there.

Also, don’t bother looking for MDE. It’s not in there either, for now.

Your tenant will expire after 90 days but can be extended indefinitely. If you don’t actively use it, it will be removed. You’ll have received several warnings by then, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise 😊.

If you want you can now select some data packs to populate your tenant. It saves you the hassle of creating users and that kind of stuff. For more information about the Microsoft 365 Developer Program, check out its docs page.

Partner-bots, transform and roll out!

Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots
It’s really, really hard to find a royalty-free picture of a robot-vehicle-hybrid in blue and red, but I think I did it.

If you’re a spoilt brat, like me, eligible to use Customer Digital Experience (CDX) , that might be the better option for you. CDX is part of the Microsoft Transform toolset, which contains all kinds of goodies to show off M365’s cool tricks, like on-demand demo environments and presentations.

Most notably (for this post), CDX also allows you to create one year-long, extendible, M365 E5-licensed tenant. You can also create five 90-day tenants but be aware that these can’t be extended.

If you’re a Microsoft FTE, you’re allotted more than that. I don’t think you would need this post then, though 😊.

If you’ve never used the portal before, you will be asked to sign-in, set some profile stuff and agree to the Terms of Use.

"Not authorized" error in Customer Digital Experience portal
Look at the cute doggo!

Sometimes this portal spawns an error after signing in, telling you you’re not authorized and doubting your Microsoft Partner status.

For some reason, the portal doesn’t ask you to consent to the required access (among other things it needs to access your Partner Center to check eligibility).

There’s an easy fix: add the parameter &prompt=consent to the sign-in URI it redirects to (the one starting with Or just click here for a generic sign-in URI. Which sounds kind of phishy, come to think of it, but I promise it’s legit.

Start your tenancy…

So, let’s create a tenant real quick, just to show you the ropes. Go to My Environments (you’ll land in My Tenants) and click on Create Tenant. The selections are conveniently numbered, so I’ve used them here as well:

  1. Select type:
    You’ll find that Quick Tenant is pre-selected. Unless you’re a Microsoft FTE or MVP, you can’t change this to Custom Tenant. Not to worry though, Quick Tenant comes with all bells and whistles.
  2. Select period:
    Make the right choice here. Remember: 90-day tenants are finite and cannot be extended, 1-year tenants can be extended indefinitely and allow long-term use. Unless you’re a Microsoft FTE or MVP, you only get one 1-year tenant, so use it wisely. I suggest you reserve this for your own lab.
  3. Select tenant location:
    I’m sure you know which location suits you best, so select that one.
  4. Select your content packs:
    So. Many. Options. Content packs basically define what comes pre-configured and/or populated. I suggest you use either Microsoft 365 Enterprise Demo Content or Microsoft 365 Enterprise with Users and No Content for your lab environment.

You might see some content packs drifting in and out of availability. The provisioning packages, maintained by Microsoft, adapt to changes in tech and licensing and sometimes that takes a little longer than expected.

Yesterday, while setting up, the with Users and No Content option was unavailable. Today, while reviewing, the Demo Content option is unavailable and I’m advised to use with Users and No Content for the time being.

…and move in

form for Contoso demo tenant

That’s it. As soon as you click on Create tenant (and agree to the Terms of Use), your tenant will be provisioned (almost instantly). Get crackin’!

Legal mumbo-jumbo (but hey, I’m no lawyer): play nice and don’t use these benefits for anything other than demoing, POCs, and self-learning (R&D). Be aware that you do not own these tenants and Microsoft is allowed to access and repossess them at any time.


  1. Rohan Harmalkar said:

    Thank you for sharing this valuable info.

    April 20, 2022

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