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Microsoft aligns its different Office code bases as of the latest Mac Office release

January's release of Office 2016 for the Mac includes lots of new features. But more importantly, it now brings the underlying code base of Microsoft's various Office flavors into alignment.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Anyone remember this post from 2014? How Microsoft is taking on the cross-platform challenge with Office.

Credit: Microsoft

It looks like Microsoft finally made it.

The latest new release of Office 2016 for the Mac (Mac Office 2016 version 16), which Microsoft released on January 18, is the one which finally helps Microsoft achieve its long-term goal of unifying he underlying Office code base for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS.

Microsoft principal software engineer Erik Schwiebert tweeted the achievement (as noted by Paul Thurrott on Thurrott.com).

Microsoft has been working for decades to try to align the different Office codebases. As officials outlined back in 2014, the strategy was to maximize the shared common logic across the different operating systems where Office would run, while maintaining, where needed the native APIs needed to make Office feel native to each of the platforms where it runs. All the shared Office code was written in C++.

A quick history lesson, courtesy of a Fall 2017 presentation from Schwiebert to a Mac admin user group. The Mac Office code base is 30 years old. ("We have people working on the product younger than the code itself," quipped Schwiebert.)

Microsoft bundled its various Office apps together in 1990, even though there was little shared code between them. At that time, Microsoft officials wanted to create a common code base for Windows and Mac apps and tried with a version of Word that was codenamed "Pyramid." But it didn't work and never shipped.

By 1997, the Office apps shared a lot more code, but after Office 1997, the Windows and Mac code bases parted ways and was forked. Over the past ten years -- from 2008 to 2017 -- Microsoft has been trying to undo the code split from 1997 by slowly and incrementally refactoring the codebase, Schweibert said.

Microsoft's strategy was to split the code into a large middle layer (between the platform layer and native UX layer) that would include shared common logic across the different operating systems. Microsoft had teased these layers apart during that time so that Office was no longer a single set of apps written to a least common denominator.

Office for iPad, when it initially shipped in 2014, made use of the converged codebase as of the second release in 2017, as did Office for Android, Office for Win32 and, as of January 18, Mac Office.

While Microsoft isn't promising 100 percent feature parity across its various Office flavors, officials say the shared cross-platform code means Microsoft should be able to light up new Office features more quickly and closer to simultaneously. And customers who use Office on different platforms should see more fidelity across the versions as a result of this work.

If you want the full rundown of what's new in the January update to Mac Office (Version 16.9.18011602), here's the list of features.

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