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Snow Leopard bites Office 2008

Feeding Snow Leopard with juicy Office 2008 discs caused a few problems for our New Zealand correspondent.
Written by Juha Saarinen, Contributor on

NZ Mac maniacs were rewarded last week when the Snow Leopard OS X 10.6 upgrade finally arrived.

That is, some people got it on Friday, but it looks like a bunch of people had to wait a few more days, while couriers rushed around the country to deliver the discs.

I got a copy of Snow Leopard to upgrade the kids' 13-inch white MacBook, bought about six months ago. It's much-loved by the children, and I felt a bit bad about slapping on a new operating system upgrade without *cough* backing up and stuff, but it all went well.

The MacBook seems to run as well as before, with apps opening marginally but perceptibly quicker. With a mere 2GB on-board though, I have a feeling more RAM would've sped things up more than the Snow Leopard upgrade.

There didn't seem much point of booting into the 64-bit Snow Leopard kernel because the only thing that happens is that the video card appears to run hotter — goodness knows why. Guess more RAM is the answer here too.

With Apple bestowing Snow Leopard upon New Zealand, Cupertino's old frenemy Microsoft decided to launch Office 2008. The Mac Business Unit product manager flew over from Australia (she's a Kiwi, actually) and talked to a bunch of journos through the new features in Office 2008 and gave out review copies, which was most kind of her.

I'm not going to review Office 2008 for Mac here, apart from saying that it still appears to be very different from Office 2007 and the upcoming 2010 for Windows. The upgrade from Office 2004 to 2008 isn't exactly major, but I guess some people will shell out to upgrade their old productivity apps. Buying the full Business Edition costs NZ$699 with a NZ$599 introductory offer, and it may be a harder sell than the cheaper Home and Student Edition that costs NZ$269. You lose out on the business features like collaboration online with the Home and Student Edition, however.

I decided to install Office 2008 on the above mentioned MacBook to try it (and the kids want Word and Excel for some reason) so I slapped in the first DVD. The optical drive on the MacBook made some whirring and clunking noises for 20 seconds then spat out the disc. No error message appeared. I tried again, but got the same result so I put the disc into the DVD drive on my Windows box, thinking maybe I could copy over the files to a USB memory stick and install from there.

No go — Windows Explorer said the disc was 0 bytes in size.

Convinced that I had a corrupt disc, I asked Microsoft for another review copy and it was very kindly obliged. To my surprise, the new installation disc behaved exactly the same. Put it in, whirr, clunk and out it came.

This didn't seem right, so I tried a few other discs in the MacBook's drive, and it read them just fine. The drive read the second disc with Office 2008 extras without problems too. Obviously, there was something very special with the Office 2008 installer disc.

A bit of googling revealed that Microsoft is using a PowerPC binary as the Office 2008 installer. As you may or may not know, Apple's trying to kill off that old architecture; and on Snow Leopard, PPC support via the Rosetta translation shim is optional. If Snow Leopard detects that you are trying to run a PPC binary, it asks to download Rosetta so that you can do just that. Except that little feature didn't work with the Office 2008 DVD.

There was no obvious way to download Rosetta from apple.com so I got it from the Optional Installs package on the Snow Leopard disc. Ignoring the dire warning about having installed old crud and that I now need to get a package for X Server 10.5.8 (!) I popped in the Office 2008 DVD again and...

...the installer started up as it should.

I tried this out on a friend's old 17-inch Intel MacBook Pro before and after upgrading to Snow Leopard, which confirmed that this does indeed seem to be caused by Rosetta missing in OS X 10.6.

I'm not sure how Microsoft will solve this one, because it's not obvious what to do when your Mac just regurgitates the Office 2008 disc without an error message. It's clear that the best solution would be to include Rosetta with the disc since PPC installer is not installed on Intel Macs, but that requires a recall of current Office 2008 boxes. That's probably not an option at this stage, so Microsoft support will be busy if lots of copies of Office 2008 are sold.

Next up, I need to figure out why Word 2008 crashes immediately in Snow Leopard when you switch to the much-vaunted notebook view. It doesn't do that in Leopard, interestingly enough. Hints and tips welcomed.

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