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Microsoft unveils a Universal version of Office for Apple silicon
Seeking something perpetual for Windows on Arm? You can make do with a 32-bit Intel emulation
There were fresh salty tears from Microsoft fans overnight as the company posted an Arm version of its Office suite. For Mac users.
A tweet from Microsoft principal software engineer Erik Schwiebert told Mac Office insiders to start their engines and, sure enough, a fresh Universal build for those picking up Apple's latest and greatest chippery dropped a few hours later.
MSFT plans to push a Universal build of Mac Office 2019 to the Beta Channel (formerly “Insider Fast”) by the end of today.— Erik Schwiebert (@Schwieb) November 11, 2020
We don’t have a public date or version for a final release; this is an initial peek for customers to test on hardware they may be acquiring this week... :)
According to Apple, "a universal binary runs natively on both Apple silicon and Intel-based Mac computers, because it contains executable code for both architectures." So no troubling of the Rosetta translation layer.
While very much "an initial peek", the impending arrival of a universal build of Mac Office 2019 has generated a little gnashing of teeth from some Windows users, noting that Microsoft appeared to be favouring platforms other than its own.
It does, after all, have form. Just ask the Windows Phone users who glumly watched competing platforms prioritised while their own favoured mobile operating system withered and died. Even those with new Surface Duo devices have had to look on as Samsung phones were the first to gain multi-app support in Microsoft's Your Phone.
It is fair to say that Windows on Arm has not been the highest priority for Microsoft. Its own browser, Chromium Edge, arrived late to the game and developer darling Visual Studio Code has only turned up in recent months.
A fully native version of Office has yet to put in an appearance, although Microsoft 365 will deposit a release "optimized to run on a Windows 10 PC on an ARM-based processor" if asked.
Those wishing to run the perpetual licensed version of Office 2019 will unfortunately have to go down the full Intel emulation route, which is currently 32-bit only (although Microsoft has said that 64-bit support would be turning up in the not too distant future.)
Users with long memories will recall the Surface RT devices of yesteryear that featured a fully native version of Office as well as numerous compatibility issues.
The more hybrid approach of today (for Office 365), where some system components run natively while others maintain the backward compatibility to which Microsoft is committed, should avoid a repeat of the RT fiasco even if all the performance gains of a fully native Arm version of Office has yet to be realised. For that, it seems, you'll need an Apple Mac. ®