Friday, 08 July 2016 10:37

Microsoft previews 64-bit Office for Mac

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It's been years coming, but Microsoft is finally preparing to release a 64-bit version of Office for Mac.

OS X has supported 64-bit executables since 10.5 Leopard (or 10.4 Tiger for command line applications), and has had a 64-bit kernel since 10.6 Snow Leopard.

The main advantage of 64-bit (in this context) is that applications can address more than 4GB of memory. When working on large amounts of data this allows faster processing, as there's less need to swap data in and out of memory.

But 32-bit applications still work, even where a 64-bit operating system is running on a 64-bit Mac, so there wasn't much pressure on developers to create 64-bit versions of applications that weren't routinely used with large amounts of data.

So Adobe Photoshop has been 64-bit since 2010, but Microsoft Office is still 32-bit.

But that's about to change.

Microsoft this week made a 64-bit version of Office 2016 for Mac available via the Insider Fast channel. (The Office Insider program provides a way for users to access the latest product builds, so it's essentially a beta program.)

According to the announcement, "we've been hearing from customers... that 64-bit versions of Mac Office are desirable to enable larger address spaces, better performance, and new innovative features" and so "we're currently preparing to release the Office apps in full 64-bit".

The main problem with 32 to 64 migration occurs when an application uses plug-ins/add-ins. In general, those items need to match the application and so users can't mix 32-bit add-ins with 64-bit applications.

That appears to apply with Office, although there are exceptions depending on how the add-ins were created: "Office add-ins (add-ins using the JavaScript-based APIs) are not impacted by this change."

Microsoft is encouraging add-in developers to prepare for the general availability of the 64-bit version of Office for Mac.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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