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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Comments (13)

13 responses to “Microsoft Updates on Office on Apple Silicon-Based Macs”

  1. jdjan

    Early adopters of Apple Silicon should expect hiccups. If you are going to be relying on your Mac to make a living then, for goodness sakes, stick with Intel for the time being.

    Paul - it's been reported that the universal binary is available for fast-ring insiders, so hopefully it shouldn't take too long before it rolls out. And, you know, perhaps it is best that Microsoft doesn't rush this if they haven't had access to the actual hardware that Apple is shipping. It's a pretty major transition - why not take the time to get it right?

    • phil_adcock

      In reply to jdjan:

      I agree if it working with mission critical desktop then do not update right away. My mac while it's my preferred device I don't really consider it my daily driver...I purchased it second hand and my HP laptop is my primary desktop device right now. I use the full office suite on it and mac only runs up to El Capitan as it's a Mid-2009 model.

  2. glenn8878

    "In the future[,] we will natively support both Apple Silicon and Intel chipsets within the same executable.”

    So Windows on ARM will benefit as well, but it takes Apple to motivate them. That's so lame because Windows on ARM was such a long project and they delayed emulation for x64.

  3. malexand

    According to Eric Schwiebert at Microsoft on his Twitter feed ( Office for Apple Silicon is available in Office Beta Channel.

  4. sykeward

    I've been reading a lot about Rosetta 2 and what it sounds like it does is evaluate an executable to determine what calls it uses, then creates a block of x86→ARM translation code specifically for that app. If that's the case, it works less like a traditional emulator and more like the "shims" Windows uses for app compatibility modes, and x86 performance would be much closer to ARM-native than it would otherwise be. I'm eager to see what it looks like in the real world, but this could be a true breakthrough.

  5. behindmyscreen

    In reply to rbgaynor:

    Because Apple abandoned 32 bit support and forced those who converted to use APIs and technologies that make moving to ARM easier.

  6. glenn8878

    In reply to rbgaynor:

    Why wouldn't Windows on ARM take advantage of universal binaries if they are on the same ARM technology? There is commonality in using the same chip technology.

  7. Alastair Cooper

    It surprises me that they don't have a good enough professional relationship with Microsoft that they couldn't give them access to M1 slightly early, under strict conditions of course.

  8. wright_is

    It took Microsoft something like 3 - 4 years to transition from PowerPC to Intel - most of Excel's formulae were written in PowerPC assembler, I believe. They had to completely re-write that code for Intel.

    Hopefully they used the opportunity to make it more portable, but maybe they still needed the raw performance that assembler offers...

  9. sammyg

    Some software vendors have already updated their apps. If you go over to a more Apple centric site they list them as they come out. Affinity photos has a new universal app that runs natively on the M1.

    After updating my MacBook last night I opened up OmniGraffle Pro (Visio on the Mac) and was offered an update, which is universal and will run natively on Intel and the M1.

    Personally I only need a handful of apps to be converted and I will make the move. I use OmniGraffle, Secure CRT/FX, MS Office, Teams, Edge and Affinity on a regular basis. I user other stuff, like Zoom, but I could use the browser version or emulation.

    Adobe CC, all of the apps will be critical for this to be successful. They have time as Apple is probably working on bigger and more powerful versions of the M1 to replace the Intel Xeon's in the iMac Pro and Mac Pro.

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