Microsoft Updates on Office on Apple Silicon-Based Macs

Posted on November 12, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Mac and macOS, Microsoft 365, Office with 13 Comments

Microsoft has issued a somewhat confusing statement about how and when those with Apple Silicon-based Macs will be able to run its Office productivity suite.

“The latest release of apps including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, and OneDrive can be installed on devices that are based on the Apple Silicon architecture,” a new post to the Office Support website explains, clearly enough. “For the best experience, install the November 2020 release (build 16.43), or later. This release of Office includes the latest optimizations for macOS Big Sur, which is the first operating system to support Apple Silicon.”

Microsoft then notes that this initial release will work only via emulation: Apple Silicon-based Macs use a “translation layer” called Roseta 2 to run what we’ll now call legacy x86-based Mac software. That’s good and bad. On the good news front, there are no functional differences when using an Apple Silicon-based Mac. “Users [will have] access to all features in Microsoft’s apps including support for third-party add-ins. End-users and business customers can use existing methods to install and deploy Office.”

On the bad news front, Microsoft never addresses the performance issues with running legacy software in emulation, though it does note that “the first launch of each Office app will take longer as the operating system has to generate optimized code for the Apple Silicon processor.” After that, “app launches will be fast.” But there’s no word on what app performance will be like.

That’s almost certainly because Microsoft, to date, does not have actual M1-based hardware to test on. Instead, it has been using the A14-based developer kits that Apple provided over the summer. Those devices do not necessarily provide an accurate performance or compatibility picture, but it’s even more likely that Microsoft is unable to publicly discuss the experience.

Looking to the future, yes, Microsoft is porting Office to the Apple Silicon architecture so that these apps will run natively in the future and offer better performance. But there’s no word on when we can expect to see those versions appear.

“We’ve already started the process of moving Mac apps to universal binaries,” Microsoft says.
In the future[,] we will natively support both Apple Silicon and Intel chipsets within the same executable.”

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