A Brief History of Mac Office

Pip asked about my experiences with Mac Office’s previous compiler transitions. Now that I stop to recall, that is an interesting topic. I joined Microsoft in September 1996, right before Win Office 97 shipped. (I had actually been an intern the summer before, when the product was optimistically called Office 96 internally!) I worked on Win Excel for a few months, and then joined the MacBU when it was formed.

Prior to the formation of the MacBU, the Win Office team really was the entire ‘Office’ team for both Mac and Win products. The debacle known as Mac Word 6 was one of the reasons the MacBU was formed. When we sprung forth, we took a copy of the integrated Win+Mac Office source code with us, and that source became Mac Office 98.

The ‘interesting’ part of that project is that we developed Mac Office 98 using the same tools that the Win Office team used — Microsoft Visual C++ version 4.0. (Remember how I said that we inherited code that was deemed acceptable to a compiler that wasn’t incredibly standards-compliant at the time?) MSVC4 had a PowerPC cross-compiler (it was used for the PowerPC version of Windows NT) that ran on PCs. So, we edited and wrote our code on the PC, compiled it on the PC, and then pushed it over the network to our Macs and debugged it remotely. The process worked reasonably well but could be horrifically slow, especially if you were trying to view a large memory window.

Well, we managed to ship Mac Office 98 and 98-J, and then turned our attention to what eventually became Mac Office 2001. We knew there were some major limitations to our current dev setup:

  1. The MSVC compiler had a customized set of Apple OS headers, making it very hard to roll out new headers for new Apple technologies (such as the rapidly evolving QuickTime)
  2. Dev productivity was not optimal due to waiting for files to be copied over the network every time
  3. Our system required static IPs for our Macs, which ate up corporate network resources unnecessarily
  4. Various and sundry other issues
  5. We were the MacBU, for Pete’s sake! Why were we working on PCs?

Some MacBU folks began to investigate switching over to CodeWarrior (version Pro 5, or so, i think.) Since I was rather new still, having been at Microsoft for less than two years at that point, I was not involved in the planning or decision-making for that switch. I didn’t actually do much of the conversion work either, being fully involved in making Mac Excel 2001 use Unicode internally. I do recall the conversion taking several months (perhaps 6 all together?) That transition had its own set of headaches, just like our current move to Xcode.

For example, while MSVC only ran on the PC, it could be command-line driven and we had a whole set of scripts, makefiles, custom tools, and other goodies that we used to build Office. All of these had to be redone to work on the Classic Mac OS without a command line. Each custom tool had to be converted from a cmd-line tool to a CodeWarrior plugin. Interestingly enough, we’ve converted now many of them back to cmd-line (Perl and Python where we could; C/C++ still for others) to use with Xcode. Also, CodeWarrior’s parser was picky in different ways from MSVC, so yes, we had scads of errors and warnings to slog through then, too.

Overall, the MSVC -> CodeWarrior transition was shorter and perhaps smoother than our move to Xcode, but Office was a lot smaller then too. We didn’t have Entourage yet, we hadn’t spent 5 more years adding features or migrating more code from Win Office (they hadn’t yet shipped a new version after Office 97 yet), etc. So, it is a little hard to directly compare the transition.

So, all the way back to Pip’s comment: yes, this is at least the 2nd major compiler transition we’ve made. I don’t know what tools were used on versions of Mac Office prior to Office 98 (Rick Schaut would know about Word 5.1 and Word 6). MPW? Maybe, but that would have been a really long time ago!

3 thoughts on “A Brief History of Mac Office”

  1. You haven’t mentioned anything about the fact that Mac Office versions all the way through Office 2001 were written in a mid-level interpreted language called “pcode.” Was that a consequence of using MSVC4?

  2. As far as the transition to CodeWarrior versus transition to Xcode, I don’t know, I still have pretty vivid memories of SetJmp. (There’s a funny story for some rainy afternoon in blogland.)

  3. That’s weird you are married with two kids… but what to say about the cat and the computers?… You must live in a very liberal state!

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