Leave those bits alone!

The MacBU released a new update to Office 2008 this past Tuesday, to bring the suite to version 12.1.2. There are a number of important fixes in this update, including changes to Word’s boot sequence that can bring a dramatic improvement in boot speed (the exact speed gain will vary a lot depending on a number of factors), major speed improvements in floating point calculations in Excel, and a slew of other items.

Shortly after the update went live, I started seeing recurring reports of people being unable to apply the update. Typically, the updater starts to run, and then mysteriously (from the user’s perspective) says “You cannot install Office 2008 12.1.2 Update on this volume. A version of the software required to install this update was not found on this volume.”, even though the user has Office 2008 installed and has been using it.

We’ve seen these reports regularly, and they almost always happen because of one of four reasons:

  1. The user has renamed the Office 2008 folder or some application name inside it
  2. The user has deleted some part of the Office 2008 folder they didn’t think they needed
  3. The user has run a tool such as Monolingual to remove extra languages from Office
  4. The user has run a tool such as Xslimmer or Monolingual to remove extra code architectures from Office

In an ideal world, our installers could handle these cases and complete the install, but installers are complex beasts, and in the interest of reducing complexity, doing any of the above actions is unsupported. Let’s get into each of the issues:

Supporting the renaming of the folder or an app adds complexity because then we have to derive heuristics to guess what bits on your hard drive might be Office. A heuristic is by definition a guess, and for every time we guess right, we might guess wrong. As a very simplistic example, if we have a heuristic that says “look in the /Applications folder for any folder that contains the word Office, and assume that is the Microsoft Office 2008 folder”, then what happens if some other app uses a folder with that name? We’d have to add another rule that says “ok, then look for an app inside that folder named Microsoft Word.app”. That rule can fail too, if users rename the app to be just Word.app. So, we could add another rule, and another, and suddenly the updater complexity just to find Office becomes unmanageable. I don’t think Apple allows their apps to be renamed or moved, either (although I’ve been told by an Apple engineer that they do. I’ll have to check on that.)

Supporting the deletion of parts of Office adds complexity because updates are not necessarily full file or bundle replacements. Some updates are just patches of the executable, or of sub-resources in the app bundle. If you have deleted a particular component that a given update wants to modify, you can end up with only a partial version of that component updated and the rest missing. Office is designed to act together as a suite, and as such, dependencies between the various apps and libraries can change at any time under the hood. If you’ve deleted a library that version 12.1.1 of Word doesn’t need, but version 12.1.2 does, your install of Office would be completely broken if we updated Word after you deleted the now-needed library. So, we err on the side of caution and refuse to update the suite if it has been modified by deleting components.

Supporting the removal of ‘unnecessary’ languages with an app like Monolingual is basically the same scenario as above, although a bit less risky. Interestingly enough, since very few parts of Office actually ship with multiple languages (I think that only MERP, the Help Viewer, and one or two other items have more than one language), removing the ‘extra’ languages only saves you a few KB of disk space, which is pretty small compared to the overall size of Office. Again, however, if you’ve modified Office by removing parts of it, we can’t tell up front whether the bits you currently have on disk will work with the updated bits the updater wants to install, so we err on the side of caution and refuse to update the suite if it has been modified by deleting languages.

Supporting the removal of ‘unnecessary’ architectures with apps like Xslimmer or Monolingual adds complexity because we don’t know exactly what has been done to the software. Did the tool adjust the loader commands in the Mach-O binary? What if we’re patching the binary instead of replacing it? It’s always safer to do nothing to your current install than it is to blindly make changes based on an unknown current state, so we err on the side of caution and refuse to update the suite if it has been modified by deleting architectures.

Some web forums have posted a workaround that involves copying the updater to a write-able location and then modifying one of the scripts inside the installer, so that the installer always blindly goes ahead and applies the update.  That may appear to work, but leaves your Office install in a possibly precarious and probably unsupported state.  [Update: I did a little digging into this script in the updater, and it is checking a number of specific files to make sure they match their expected state.  It is pretty obviously not validating every file in the Office suite (for performance reasons, maybe).  If we’re not validating every file, then it is possible to update some modified file, which undermines my own discussion here.  Hmph.  I’ll have to talk to the folks at work to get the background on this script.  My guess is that we check a representative sample of files to see if they’ve been modified, since the usual suspect processes modify almost every file in the suite.  If one of this set of files has been modified, it’s likely that the rest of the suite has been changed too, and it’s safer to abort the update.  Again, that’s just my guess.]

Now, having said all that, I think the current user experience is not ideal and could be improved. One change might be to tell you that we did in fact find what looked like Office, but that we detected some change that is unsupported (such as language or architecture deletion, etc), but even doing that adds some heuristics, and if we’re looking by name and don’t find the right name, then the current error message is technically correct. So, we’ve got some thinking to do about this.

Hopefully this post explains some of the reasons users are seeing the updater error message. If you are seeing it for reasons I haven’t listed above, please add a comment.

36 thoughts on “Leave those bits alone!”

  1. Way back in the OS 9 days you could locate an application by its creator code. Doesn’t LaunchServices keep track of applications linked to their identifiers (things like com.microsoft.office.word – just making that up, mind you)? Basing the search on filename is fragile and bound to run into nasty problems – no matter if Apple does it.

  2. Joshua, yes, it does, but multiple versions of Office apps have the same bundle identifier (and Apple has instructed us to never ever change them, for various reasons). So, when we search by bundle ID, we don’t know if we will get back Word 12, or Word 11, or Word 10, etc. So then we have to add version checking (which, actually, we already have) but then we’re starting down the rabbit hole of complexity…

    I totally agree that searching by pathname is fragile. That’s why it’s so complex to manage if you want to support alternate locations or names.

  3. What’s the next step down the rabbit hole after version checking? Seems like you just check the plist…and you’re done. And if you already have version checking anyway…what’s the issue, again? And couldn’t you just fall back to asking the user to locate the programs for you when all else fails?

    I don’t mean to sound like a jerk here, I just don’t understand. The rest of your post makes perfect sense, and I agree with it wholeheartedly, but the freedom name your apps whatever you want and keep them wherever you want is one of those little touches that has always formed a part of what makes the Mac great.

    Another question: can we safely delete individual programs from the suite? When I upgraded to 2008, I kept Excel 2004 installed (but only Excel; I deleted the others). I didn’t delete any support files, just the programs. I was able to update to 11.5.1 just fine, so I suppose it should be fine, but I just want to confirm because parts of your post imply that deleting these programs may not be a good idea.

  4. Ryan, I agree that it would be nice to handle arbitrary renaming of the apps. In actuality, very few people do it, and adding support for it just adds complexity to the updaters. It may not be as complex as I think, but it is non-zero, and any non-zero cost is one to consider avoiding.

    Regarding removing apps — I’d recommend against doing so. If you only want one app in the suite, just buy the standalone SKU for that app. As for Office 2004, you obviously bought the full suite then, and now only want to keep Excel 2004 alongside Office 2008. As you’ve empirically seen, the updater seems to work (that’s an older VISE-based updater, not an Apple PackageMaker-based updater) and the logic for locating apps is different in there, but I wouldn’t rely too heavily on it. Since you have the “whole suite” registered for updates, that’s the updater you’re going to get, and I doubt we do super-extensive testing on applying the whole-suite updater to a cut-down install.

  5. Hi!

    First, I’m french, so excuse my english which can be a little rusty (I don’t know if we said that in english). Next, thanks for the speed improvement, it was a necessity!
    Just few questions, I don’t know if this is the goog place for that. I meet some annoying problems and I would know if are you abreast of these problems and if you work on them :

    1) I’m working on a big document in Word 2008 (a thesis) and I’ve a very detailled plan (like 1.1, 1.1.1, 1.1.1.1, 1.1.1.2, etc.). I’ve opened the “Navigation” folding to facilitate the access to the different point of my thesis. After a moment, when I scroll the Navigation folding’s content, and when I click on a title, the list jumps to its former position when I click on the wanted title, and it’s an another title that was selected (e.g. I go from 5.4.1 to 2.1.1 by scrolling the list and when I click on the title 2.1.1, it’s 4.2.2 or something like that whiwh is selected). When I’ve done a important “distance” in the list I have to click, scroll, click, scroll… click to reach the goog title! :(

    2) Sometimes when I check spelling, Word stop checking and says “An error occurs during the grammatical checking. Word will put a stop to this session” (translated from french) and I was unable to check the rest of the document. :(

    3) Word writes an incredible amount of ” Microsoft Word[55632] CGBitmapContextGetData: invalid context ” in my Console (more than 4000 times!)

    Thanks for your answer, and good luck.

  6. Hi Eric, Good post but when I bought the new Office 2008 I installed everything completely and did not remove, rename, or alter anything. There are things I do not use (entourage — use mac mail now) but nothing was removed. I was fine up to 12.1.1 upgrades also, again just ran the installer and did nothing to files. So then why did that happen with me having started from a clean 12.0.0 when I purchased 2008 through 12.1.1 and then failing?

    You also mentioned on Macintouch about the post I mentioned where someone said to alter the script. I prefered to do that because darn it I was not going back and spending time pulling my disk out, reinstalling everything and then going through upgrades to get back and hope the heck that 12.1.2 worked, that did not apparently work for some people so it is something more. I wonder if there are issues with the two recent security upgrades by Apple that have happened this summer?

    Just my two cents!

  7. Erik,

    maybe if you guys stop cramming stuff down people throat (sorry if I seem harsh) your users would not feel the need to “move” stuff away. Office comes with 127 font files taking 128 MB, including Abadi MT Condensed Extra Bold which pardon me but I do not consider it necessary, or not?

    Why don’t you offer some options for installing stuff? So that if I want to use Word and Excel I do not need to install 1561 items for a total of 1 GB and more.

    Wasn’t the creed of Bill Gates to give customer choices? Is Microsoft the new Ford: I can have anything I want as long as I install everything?

    Sorry for the rant, but MacBU seems to be a little of of touch.

  8. Michele, I believe the fonts are optional to install, as is clip art and other items. My complete install of Office 2008 is just under 1GB. When you do an install, the default is the “easy install” which installs everything, but there is an option to customize your installation and deselect some of the packages.

    I’m sorry you find the current size of Office to be such a problem.

  9. I’d love it if you could fix the update installer to install to data volumes. Please. I hate having to manually hack the installer to get it to work correctly. The finding logic works like a charm once you permit it to operate. :/

  10. I was running Word 2008 12.1.0. When I saw the 12.1.2 update, I realized I had not installed 12.1.1. So I installed 12.1.1 yesterday without any problem.

    Then i tried to install 12.1.2, got this error message: “Installing this software requires 8.0KB of space. You cannot install Office 2008 12.1.2 Update on this volume. A version of the software required to install this update was not found on this volume.”

    I haven’t made any modifications to my Office 2008 that I remember, and the 12.1.1 update didn’t have any problems. I have the installer logs for 12.1.1 and 12.1.2 if your interested.

    I have been living in the outliner in Word since 1985, and use Word 2004 extensively, but up-to now Word 2008 has been unusable because of it’s slow performance, so I was very interested in this update.

  11. The user has renamed the Office 2008 folder or some application name inside it—NO I have not.
    The user has deleted some part of the Office 2008 folder they didn’t think they needed—No I have not.
    The user has run a tool such as Monolingual to remove extra languages from Office—NO I have not.
    The user has run a tool such as Xslimmer or Monolingual to remove extra code architectures from Office—NO I have not.

    Any other suggestions? I have three Office 2008 installs on three Macs all running 10.5.4. All are well maintained, and have the same Apps installed. Two 12.1.2 updates went fine but one borked with the software not found on this volume message. I have no logical explanation other than something is pooched in the Office installer.

  12. It is some consolation to learn why the update will not work for me, thanks.

    I’ve used Monolingual for many years without previous interference with updates.

    I suspect many users, generally frustrated by updates anyway, will not care to mess with re-installing or figuring out a workaround.

    Skipping the update is the path of least resistance. Acceptable outcome?

  13. Russ, Mark, and Robert, I have no idea what’s up with your updater problems. I’ll contact you separately by email and see if we can identify what’s going on.

  14. Dan, you can always choose whether or not to apply an update. If saving a few MB of disk space is more important than having the latest, most secure, and most bug-fixed version of Office, then that’s your choice. There are some very worth-having fixes in the 12.1.2 update, and I’m pretty sure there will be more to come over the months and years ahead.

  15. A very welcome upate, and good to see you dropping by Macintouch.
    Was happily surprised to find one nagging annoyance was fixed — word documents downloaded with safari used to get a “.dot” suffix appended to the filename (e.g, “myfile.doc” ==> “myfile.doc.dot”). Any insight on what was causing that? I’d balked at trying to narrow it down and hadn’t seen any online discussion of it.

  16. MDHills, we made a change to the Info.plist for each of the Office apps in 12.1.2 to hopefully fix the problem. Without going into too much detail, it was due to some interaction between file typing code in the OS and some particular settings in Word/Excel/PowerPoint’s info.plist files. The bug is not entirely gone, however, (in our internal testing the opposite effect can sometimes occur, where “foo.dot” becomes “foo.dot.doc”) and we continue to work with Apple to craft a solution.

  17. Also wanted to toss a compliment in here for you stopping by the MacInTouch site and letting us know the MacBU cares and is listening. It’s so nice to see someone from a huge corporation such as Microsoft take the time to answer people’s concerns about their product. I think you guys do a great job and I’ve been very happy with my Office 2004. I’ll certainly be updating it to Office 2008 when I get a new Intel Mac!

  18. Erik,

    is not the size that I find problematic. I have about 2 TB in hard disks. Is have things installed behind my back. How am I supposed to know that if I do an easy install I’m going to end up with a font menu that is a mile long, full with fonts I’ve never heard of?

    This is the warning: “An important set of fonts used by the Office user interface, Office themes, and many Office documents, including documents created by Office for Windows. This option is intended strictly for users who carefully manage their font libraries. If duplicate fonts are found, they are overwritten by the Office fonts.”

    So again I have to assume that Abadi MT Condensed Extra Bold is really important and I end up with a Font menu which is a mile long.

    Do you see it?

  19. Same thing just happened to a friend—he just bought Office 2008 and clean installed it on a clean Macbook-just returned from Apple with new screen, new hard disk loaded with 10.5.4 and keyboard. Downloaded the 12.1.2 update and tried to run it; got the same message about the software not being found on the volume.
    There is a bug somewhere in the installer.
    OARS, when I switch on Track Changes with changes displayed on the screen but not printing, then do some extensive text editing and then run the spellchecker, the spellcheck field will often display the text for both and before and after the editing simultaneously and all mixed up. This is quite a major bug that seems to persist though every version of Office 2008 so far. Have you ever see it?

  20. Well I don’t know… I am still using Office 2004 and it seems to me that Office 2008 is still slow, buggy and crash prone… I mean if it ain’t broke…

    One thing that does annoy me is that the updater for Office seems to take ages to run.. it seems to search the whole damn HDD looking for files – and each time it has found one it seems to start searching from scratch for the next one… and then the next one… sigh….

  21. As a Mac die-hard, I just wanted to say thanks, Eric. It must be tough being MacBU at Microsoft, and I’m sure you get pummeled from all sides. While I haven’t been totally won over by O2k8 vs. O2k4, I’m glad that there is continued development and forward progress.

  22. I had the misfortune of being required to use Excel on my mac recently and I can say, without a doubt, that there is huge huge problem with Office 2008:

    You released a shoddy product!

    Ignoring all the typical UI and functionality issues, everything from the folder hierarchy (come on, this isn’t windows, os x has organization) to the microsoft user data folder that pops up in the wrong place, to the repeated messages about normal.dot (admit it, no regular user knows what the heck that is, and the need to modify it when all I did was make a new doc and save it is just stupid), to the insanely buggy and unreliable updates (installed full suite since excel alone wouldn’t update. Every single update has failed and required a reinstall. Do not even try to tell me there’s something wrong with my office install, I know what I’m doing) just reeks of poor programming.

    I think it’s really rude that all I hear from the MacBU is “you are screwing up, quit expecting robust software” instead of “look guys, we released mediocre software, here’s how we’re going to fix it.”

    “Now, having said all that, I think the current user experience is not ideal and could be improved.” DOES NOT cut it. That is PR bs and conveys no sincerity at all. Admit it, office is shameful and is evidence of a considerable lack of skill and organization within the Mac BU.

  23. I have also not altered anything and the install will not work for me either. Is there going to be an update to the updater or do I need to attempt to do a fresh install?

  24. I’m sorry, but not permitting custom installs, especially for enterprise environments, is BS.

    Example: I have 3 labs. I need Office in those labs. But I don’t need Entourage in those labs.

    With the current version of PackageMaker it doesn’t seem that difficult to permit this.

  25. So to clarify, can we use the updater or not if we have chosen a custom install?

    I have Word, Excel and Powerpoint installed, but did not want Entourage. (I need the Exchange support and kept the 2004 version.) I can’t remember if I used the custom install or just deleted Entourage later.

  26. I’ve found another case where this install fails. I have Office 2004 (minus Entourage) and Office 2008 (Entourage only) installed. Nothing’s changed in either installation.

  27. I’m checking to see if we have any known issues with updating partial installs and will get back to folks. If you want a direct reply, use the ‘Contact Me’ link at the top of the page to send me an email.

  28. I am unable to run the update (SP1) to office 2008 and haven’t made any of the modifications noted here. Is there a workaround or do I need to reinstall the software? I was hopeful that the update would fix a problem I have with Word and Excel, which won’t run (close down before launch)

  29. I had a problem installing this update using the GUI. I have my Applications directory on a separate partition for backup reasons. When running the update from the GUI, it finds no volumes on which it can install. So, I run the installer from the cli like so:
    % installer -pkg Office\ 2008\ 12.1.2\ Update.mpkg -target /Applications

    This takes several hours. It seems to be stuck running the volume_updatable python script. After what seems to be approximately 10 hours, the install does finally complete. However, from several machines on our network I see messages in syslog (from Linux) like this:
    Sep 25 12:11:28 hostname1 rpc.mountd: mount request from unknown host 192.168.0.1 for /usr (/usr)
    Sep 25 12:11:28 hostname1 rpc.mountd: export request from 192.168.0.1
    Sep 25 12:11:28 hostname1 rpc.mountd: mount request from unknown host
    192.168.0.1 for /home/nfsroot (/home/nfsroot)
    Sep 25 12:11:28 hostname1 rpc.mountd: export request from 192.168.0.1

    And from Solaris hosts like this:
    Sep 25 15:10:40 hostname2 nfssrv: [ID 713913 kern.notice]
    NOTICE: nfs_server: client (192.168.0.1) sent NFS request from unprivileged port
    Sep 25 15:10:40 hostname2 last message repeated 5 times

    The host (192.168.0.1) is the host on which the update was being installed. So for some reason one of the scripts is trojan-style requesting mount-points from every host on (so far as I can tell) 128.10.0.0/16 subnet. Seems overly aggressive when looking for a software installation that I already told was in the /Applications location.

    Has anyone else seen this behavior?

    A co-worker mentioned trying to apply the patch without NFS running to see if I get the same behavior. I’ll report back with results.

  30. i think its retarded of you guys to simply dismiss those of us who needed to free up some space.

    this is so typical, not just of microsoft, but god complex codewriters in general, to simply ignore the problems of those who really didn’t do anything wrong.

    give us the ability in the installer to TELL IT we ran an app that killed some files, and tell it to try installing anyway. what is the harm in that? some people seemingly are smart enough to hack the dmg and get it to ignore this stupid obstacle, and had no problems thereafter. why screw good customers like me who have no hacking ability?

    shame on you for being so imperious and unhelpful.

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