Welcome to 2001, Microsoft!

Thursday, 2007-09-13; 15:42:00

Via the DFLL, I found this entry at Mac Mojo, the Office for Mac Team Blog Weblog, penned by Dustan Gourlie. He writes:

As part of our investigation for each new version of Office for Mac, we talk to our “Customer Council” which is made-up of different groups of Office for Mac users, including IT admins. Over the years, when we have asked about their experiences with the deployment of Office, the feedback has been that the current system works, but it would be nice if we would streamline things by moving to a .pkg format.

First off, you need to launch an investigation and talk to a “Customer Council” to figure out that your installer sucked? Are you serious? Does your organization not actually have to manage the installation of Microsoft Office on your own computers? And is it not alarming that you've heard about these problems “over the years”, yet you've done nothing to fix them until now?

I seriously can't believe that they haven't run into this problem themselves. Do they use iWork to write all of their documents? At least one other comment expresses surprise that Microsoft hasn't run into this problem before.

Secondly, it's such bullshit that “the current system works”. BULLSHIT. Here's what I said less than three months ago about my own experience managing Microsoft Office installations:

See, when I want to update an application for a lab of 30 Macs, I don't want to use the auto-update mechanism, chiefly because it's impractical to download the same update 30 times over. At the elementary school, not only would it sap the bandwidth if all 30 downloads were done at once, but even an individual download of the 50 MB updater still takes about five minutes or so. I also need to perform all the updates all at once and without any interaction so that I can issue the update and get on with my day, without babysitting each and every installer.

So I go to the developer's website (in this case Microsoft's) and download the latest update to the software. Surely I can download the installer, copy it to all the 30 client Macs, and then launch them, right?

Well guess what? That latest installer you just downloaded? It's not a combo installer. You'll have to get the previous version downloaded and installed before you can install this one. This is true, for example, of the Office 2004 10.3.4 update as well as the Office 2004 10.2.6 update. I can remember at least one case where I downloaded the latest version, which required the immediate previous version, which itself required me to download the version previous to that. Only if you are blessed with one of the more significant updates do you get a combo installer from Microsoft.

Microsoft's updates are also VISE X installers. Unlike standard Apple installer packages which can be distributed easily via Apple Remote Desktop, these things require manual interaction. You have to copy them to each Mac, open them on each Mac, put in the administrator login and password on each Mac, click "Continue" a couple times on each Mac, wait a minute and a half for each installer to verify that the previous update has been installed, and then delete the installer from each Mac once it's done installing.

You have to do this process for each installer. Remember that installers from Microsoft often have dependencies, which means you might have to go through this process twice or three times for each machine. It's precisely because of these horribly-designed installers that I hardly ever installed Office updates unless there were problems, just like Nat apparently does.

When organizations don't ever install updates except when there are critical problems, the current system does not work, it's horribly broken.

Gourlie continues:

In addition to the change to the Apple Installer, we’ve provided IT admins greater ability to customize their deployment with optional font installations. This option will be available through the custom installation portion of the Office Installer. For the best experience with Office 2008 for Mac, we recommend that you install the fonts provided, but we do want to give IT admins/users increased control around what gets installed on their system.

Apparently, Office 2008 will allow you to ... *gasp* ... not install fonts if you don't want to! What is this, 1990? Installers, even craptacular VISE installers, have allowed you to do this since System 6!

To be fair to VISE: on the Classic Mac OS, VISE installers weren't craptacular. If I recall, you couldn't remotely deploy any of Apple's classic Mac OS installers either, so that problem was universal to all installers, not just VISE's. But on Mac OS X, all of Apple's installers use the Apple package format which can be deployed remotely, and as I mentioned in my “On Installers” entry, VISE has no plans to implement such a feature in their installers. So on Mac OS X, VISE installers are craptacular.

Now, what I really want to know is if this means Microsoft has fixed their draconian install-fonts-for-each-user-on-your-computer “bug”. (I put bug in quotes because this is so horrendous that, again, I can't believe that Microsoft hasn't encountered this problem.)

In Office 2004, here's what happens. You can either install Office via the installer (which I guess installs all the fonts), or you can do a drag-and-drop installation from the CD. Then, on the first launch of Microsoft Office, it checks if you have all the necessary components installed, and if not, it does an on-the-fly installation before loading up the Office application that you're trying to launch.

One of the things that this auto-installation procedure installed is fonts. If you don't have the Office fonts installed, it would install these fonts for you. But get this, instead of installing them in the system-wide /Library/Fonts/ folder, it installs them into the current user's font folder.

Take a minute. Do you see the problem?

If you have many users for the various computers in your organization, the fonts get installed for each user. On each computer on which they use Office.

What happens is that as each user uses a particular computer, Office installs another set of the exact same fonts into the user's Fonts folder. The fonts weigh in at around 500 MiB total. Every time a new user comes to a computer and launches Office, another 500 MiB of disk space gets wasted.

If only 10 different users use a certain machine, that's just under 4.4 GiB of space completely wasted. If, on the other hand, you have classes that use mobile laptop carts, and students aren't necessarily assigned specific laptops, you could have as many as 30 accounts with these extraneous fonts installed. And that's for just one classroom. If you have three classrooms of 30 students each, eventually you might have around 43.5 GiB of space wasted on each laptop. Just for fonts.

The fix is to make sure that the fonts are initially installed in the /Library/Fonts/ folder (which could probably be done via the VISE installer, or manually via drag-and-drop provided you know which fonts are the Microsoft fonts).

Here's another bug that Microsoft should be fixing:

Microsoft Office applications use a "safe save" that stores files in the TemporaryItems folder that's on the same volume as the file. With a shared file system, the path is:

/.TemporaryItems/folders. (local UID) /TemporaryItems.

However, when one of the users logs out of the local client, the "/.TemporaryItems/folders. (local UID) /TemporaryItems." directory is deleted, preventing any other currently-logged in users that are using the same UID from saving from Microsoft Office applications.

At the rate Microsoft is fixing the horrible problems with Office, I expect these two problems to be resolved in, say, Office 2021... at which point Apple will be in another transition and Microsoft will again stall at getting a native version of Office out.

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